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Topeka Fire Department Helps Rescue Elephant

Four years ago, when the Topeka Zoo’s elephant program was identifying goals for its Geriatric Elephant
Management Plan, it identified a need to be able to assist an elephant back up on its feet. With the goal
identified, staff began working on a plan to address a down elephant.

Elephants typically don’t lay down for extended periods of time in part due to their body mass. In the
event where an elephant is sick or injured, if it stays lying down for too long, body processes can begin
that may cause the elephant to die. The older an elephant gets, the more concern this causes.

Focus at the zoo was placed on developing the ability to lift an elephant anywhere it was down in either
the indoor or outdoor habitats. “The first phone call we made was to the fire department,” said Zoo
Director Brendan Wiley. “They were willing to help.”

A team was assembled for some table top discussions. Around the table were zoo staff, firemen, crane
operators, tow truck operators and others that had some experience with lifting heavy awkward
things. Not long after the first meeting in 2013, the fire department brought someone new into the picture
– the Animal Search and Rescue team of the Emergency Equine Response Unit. Once or twice a year
over the last three years, Topeka Zoo staff, Topeka Fire Department personnel and the Animal Search and
Rescue team have trained on different down elephant scenarios. Each training led to enhancements in
both equipment and technique. This morning, that training paid off.

When staff arrived at the zoo this morning, Shannon, a 35 year old African elephant, was down. She was
lying on her side in an indoor space with the other elephants standing guard. Staff tried to encourage
Shannon to stand up. She simply couldn’t do it. At approximately 7:30 this morning, the Down Elephant
Emergency Protocol was initiated. Working together the zoo, the Topeka Fire Department Technical
Rescue Team and the Animal Search and Rescue Team began the process of getting straps under
Shannon’s side and attached to a rigging system. A tripod was erected around her. When all was ready,
the rigging was attached to a specialized hoist that began to lift Shannon up.

With the majority of Shannon’s body weight off the ground, she was given an enema for rapid
hydration. She began to try to get her feet under her and failed. Several attempts later, she was able to
stand and support her own weight. At approximately 11:30 this morning, she was released from the
straps that had helped her stand.

During the procedure, zoo veterinary staff administered several medications. Staff were able to retrieve
blood samples which will hopefully help identify the underlying cause. Shannon will be staying inside
for the rest of the day. Currently, she is eating and drinking well but she needs to be kept under close

“What I witnessed this morning was incredible,” said Wiley. “When I first saw Shannon lying there, I
didn’t think she was going to make it. Even with all the preparation we had put into this, I was still
amazed by the commitment and determination of our firefighters and colleagues from Animal Search and
Rescue. They saved an elephant today.”