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Dec 1, 2008

Death of an elephant

The public relations strategy used to effectively communicate the euthanasia of Rosa, the African elephant

Rosa was one of the three elephants rescued from Chipperfield’s farm in 2000. Since arriving at Colchester Zoo, with male Tembo and, another female, Opal, Rosa had seen a real change to her life. She no longer had to perform in the circus or travel long distances between towns and she went on to give birth to a male, Jambo, back in 2004.

However, after the birth, Rosa showed signs of discomfort, particularly whilst passing urine, so Colchester Zoo assembled a team of experts to investigate her symptoms including the zoo’s consultant veterinary surgeon, Dr John Lewis, staff from the International Zoo Veterinary Group and Dr Thomas Hildebrandt and Robert Hermes of the Berlin Institute of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine.

Lengthy anaesthesia enabled the team to use endoscopy and ultra sound images to try and diagnose the problem. It revealed polyps and evidence of scarring in the vagina that could affect the nerves in the pelvic area. The veterinary team concluded that surgery was not a viable option and prescribed pain killers when she appeared to be in discomfort. However, over the following months, the bouts of discomfort increased to the point where Rosa was on a permanent pain relief programme. Her condition was under constant review in consultation with Dr Lewis.

Once the pain relief treatment was no longer proving effective Rosa was examined for a second time. Although the polyps had grown, no other conditions were found and the decision was taken to try a brand new drug to try and help relieve her discomfort. This shrank her uterus and created an early menopause.

However, after continuous monitoring over the following six months no improvement was seen at all. The Zoo was left with no other option but to euthanize Rosa. A PR plan was put into operation when the first anaesthesia became necessary and this was continued until her eventual euthanasia to ensure that Colchester Zoo effectively communicated to all stakeholders to ensure that the information was as positively reported as possible.

Colchester Zoo

COMMENDATION received in BIAZA Awards 2008 for Best public relations project

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