Zoo Elephant Loses Her Entire Family — And Now Her Best Friend Too
"Lammie has likely suffered significant grief” 💔
Lammie the elephant has lost everyone she knows — her parents, her brothers and now her longtime partner, Kinkel. Not surprisingly, she is devastated.
Johannesburg Zoo, where Lammie has lived for the entire 39 years of her life, believes it can help Lammie by getting another captive elephant to be her friend. Yet animal welfare advocates believe this could do more harm than good — for both Lammie and the newcomer.
While Lammie has only known life at Johannesburg Zoo, her parents, Jumbo and Dolly, lived in the wild until they were captured and brought to the zoo in the 1970s. They had four babies together, including Lammie and her two younger brothers, Umfaan and Johnti, as well as a stillborn calf.
In 1990, Umfaan was sold to a facility in Johannesburg when he was 6 years old — it’s not clear if he’s still alive. Johnti was sold that same year to Peaugres Zoo in France. He was only 18 months old at the time, and he died 16 years after his arrival at the zoo from an unknown cause.
A decade later, Jumbo and Dolly died, too. In 1999, Jumbo passed away from an “infection” and “enteritis,” and Dolly was euthanized the following year after Lammie accidentally fell on her during a medical procedure, causing Dolly to dislocate her knee, Humane Society International (HSI).
Audrey Delsink, executive director of HSI/Africa believes that Lammie would have deeply mourned the loss of each family member.
“Elephants are social and sentient beings, and studies have demonstrated that wild elephants demonstrate behaviors associated with grief, self-awareness and compassion,” Delsink told The Dodo. “Thus, it is not unreasonable to state that Lammie has likely suffered significant grief.”
“It has been well documented in the wild that elephants grieve when one of their family members dies,” Delsink added. “It is also known from zoos, that if an elephant loses its partner, it can grieve to the point of dying in some cases.”
In 2001, Johannesburg Zoo acquired another elephant named Kinkel, who’d been caught in the wild in Botswana after he injured his trunk. While it’s not always guaranteed that two unrelated elephants will get along, especially a male and female, Lammie and Kinkel became very close.
However, Kinkel died this past September, likely due to his ongoing colic, an illness characterized by severe abdominal pain— and something that tends to particularly impact captive elephants.
“Colic usually affects an elephant when there is a sudden change in feed or fodder, or even rotten food such as lucerne or hay that has got moldy from storage, and fatal cases normally involve lack of water intake or dehydration,” Delsink said. “Even under the most attentive care, elephants can be susceptible to bouts of colic, particularly if they are middle- to old-aged, poor drinkers, have tooth problems and a history of colic episodes. Colic can also be related to high-protein fodder and too little roughage, such as branches, which are an important part of the elephant diet [in the wild].”
Kinkel also suffered from constipation from eating sand in his enclosure, and this may have contributed to his death, too, Delsink explained.
“The sand constipation might be an indication that Kinkel tried to relieve the pain by ingesting sand if no branches or other roughage was available, or alternatively he was trying to obtain vital minerals which were missing from the food,” Delsink said.
Kinkel’s death brought on a fresh wave of grief for Lammie.
“On Monday‚ she was seen trying to help Kinkel get up,” Nonhlanhla Sifumba‚ MMC for community development in Johannesburg, told Times Live in September, shortly after Kinkel’s death. “She refused to eat on Tuesday. Alice‚ her zookeeper‚ suspects that she was aware that something was wrong. Elephants are known to grieve. We know that she trumpets whenever she is happy. We are not sure how she will express her emotions in this situation.”
Since Kinkel's death, Lammie has lived alone in her enclosure, which doesn’t offer her many things to do — and is even downright dangerous for the captive elephant.
“Amongst other things, the enclosure has limited shade, has only a small mud wallow, has no water feature for her to bathe or submerge herself in, there is no sand for her to dust bathe in (a measure of protection from the sun), and most concerning is the moat around the enclosure, which poses a serious danger should she fall into it,” Delsink said.
“Above all, any type of environmental enrichment is severely lacking; this should be especially provided for now that she is alone,” Delsink said. “Enrichment should include various types of food presentations to keep her busy and physically and mentally active.”
The zoo has revealed that it would like to get a new companion for Lammie — yet Delsink and other animal welfare advocates don’t think this is a wise idea. For one, there’s no telling if Lammie and the elephant will get along, especially if the new elephant turns out to be dominant and bullies Lammie. Secondly, bringing a second elephant to the zoo would mean separating that elephant from his or her family.
“Acquiring another elephant is simply repeating the cycle,” Delsink said. “When Lammie or the new elephant die, the zoo will be in exactly the same situation.”
Johannesburg Zoo did not immediately reply to The Dodo’s request for comment.
Delsink believes the best solution for everyone would be moving Lammie to an accredited sanctuary, especially one that replicates wild living conditions as closely as possible.
“There are two sanctuaries that have been earmarked,” Delsink said. “At this stage in the negotiations, they have requested not to be named. However, both are designed specifically for rehabilitation and rewildling through protective care. And in both, Lammie would have a social group which she could integrate into and find assistance.”
Of course, moving Lammie to a sanctuary would leave the zoo without an elephant — but Delsink believes this would be a positive step forward.
“Since the year 2000, a total of 37 zoos in … Europe have closed their elephant exhibits, including London’s Regent's Park, because they could not provide adequate keeping facilities and acknowledge that, as a species, elephants fare very poorly in zoo exhibits which cannot meet their social and physiological needs,” Delsink said. “This is exemplary and is the ethical, correct and responsible approach.”