The death of Pole Pole

The short, miserable life of Pole Pole, London Zoo’s last African elephant, ended in the early hours of October 18, 1983 when a lethal injection of etorphine was administered by the zoo authorities ‘for humane reasons’.

For more than two years she had been kept separate from her own kind and for the last month confined to a sleeping den while preparations were made for a move to Whipsnade. In the run-up to the proposed move she was repeatedly darted from a tranquiliser gun – apparently to see how much sedation would be needed. One of the metal darts is reported to have broken off in her neck, causing a massive swelling.

The transportation itself was bungled when the zoo authorities crated her, fully drugged, 14 hours before a crane and manpower from the Royal Engineers were due. She collapsed from exhaustion and stress and, although the authorities claimed she was soon back on her feet, they subsequently contradicted this statement by saying she never regained mobility. A week later, they say her foot was examined under anaesthetic and, upon her failure to get up, she was destroyed.

Dilberta, the orphaned Asian elephant who arrived at London Zoo, aged two, from Sri Lanka, was to spend 20 years at the Regents Park enclosure before being moved to Whipsnade in 2001. She died there in 2006.

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