Fire Crew Helps Elephant Regain Her Footing at Zoo


She’d fallen and she couldn’t get up.

But a Los Angeles city fire crew equipped with a winch helped Tara, a 4-ton African elephant at the Los Angeles Zoo, get to her feet Sunday after she apparently couldn’t stand on her own.

Zoo officials discovered Tara lying on her side about 8 a.m. Sunday, near a wall outside the recently renovated elephant barn. The zoo’s other three pachyderms were also outside. The animals usually sleep standing up but sometimes lie down and nap for as long as 30 minutes, so zoo officials didn’t immediately know whether Tara was napping or had fallen, said zoo veterinarian Ramiro Isaza.

But when the other elephants made their way to the barn for breakfast, Tara--a 31-year-old with recent health problems--remained on the ground.


“She might’ve been in such an awkward position, she couldn’t get up,” said senior animal keeper Jeff Briscoe.

Briscoe and other zoo officials first tried to enlist Gita, a 5-ton Asian elephant, to nudge Tara to stand. But because Tara has been at the zoo for three decades, and therefore ranks higher in the elephants’ social order, Gita was reluctant to push her.

“It’s . . . socially unacceptable,” Briscoe said. “Gita wouldn’t touch her.”

Zoo officials injected fluids and a steroid to boost Tara’s strength, but were still unable to get her to her feet. So shortly before 10 a.m., animal keepers called the Fire Department, which sent out a rescue truck with a crane-like boom to pull Tara to her feet.

Rescuers secured two broad slings under Tara, who seemed to question the wisdom of the operation.

“She did not particularly care to be strapped at all,” said city fire spokesman Jim Wells. As keepers wedged bales of hay beneath her to keep her upright, the winch set her back on her feet. Tara began trying to shake loose as soon as she regained her footing.

She was “8,000 pounds of bucking anger,” said zoo spokeswoman Gilda Franklin.

Animal keepers led Tara inside the barn, where they fed her water and electrolytes. Isaza said she would be tested and watched for 24 hours.


Tara has suffered a number of ailments, although officials said she has been recovering. She had lost about 1,000 pounds in the last several months, but keepers have attributed that to a massive boil on her rectum. Briscoe said that veterinarians have treated the boil and that Tara is back to her usual weight.

Earlier this year, blood tests showed microbacteria in Tara’s system, and Isaza said she is being tested for tuberculosis.

In March, Annie, a 29-year-old zoo elephant, died from a salmonella infection.

Recent elephant troubles at the zoo began in 1992, when an African elephant died in a crate as handlers were about to transfer him to a Mexican zoo.