Oregon Zoo's Asian elephant Tusko euthanized

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — An elephant at the Oregon Zoo has been euthanized following a decades-old leg injury that had impaired his mobility.

The Asian elephant named Tusko was put down Tuesday, after staff determined that they could no longer provide treatment for him.

Zoo officials say the past few days had been rough for Tusko, as he was no longer able to put weight on one of his limbs, often laying down and had trouble getting back up.

He's the second elephant to be euthanized at the zoo this year: Rama was euthanized in March, also due to an old leg injury.

Tusko was born in Thailand more than 40 years ago. He was brought to the US and forced to travel for decades as a circus elephant, before coming to the Portland zoo in 2005. At the zoo, he sired two elephants, Samudra and Lily.

Animal rights activists this week blamed the zoo for Tusko's death. In Defense of Animals said Tusko "suffered for years and died from captivity-related conditions." The group said confinement, unnatural conditions and limited space cause a range of problems for captive elephants like Tusko, including arthritis, joint, leg and foot problems.

Those statements are not accurate, said the zoo's elephant curator Bob Lee.

"The issues with both Tusko and Rama stemmed from decades-old injuries rather than foot problems, and both date back to a different era of elephant care," said Lee.

Specifically, Lee said, Rama fell into a moat that once surrounded the elephant area. Lee says the zoo doesn't know what happened to Tusko, but his injury occurred many years before he arrived to Portland.

Zoo staff has learned lot about caring for elephants over the past 60 years, Lee said, so Tusko's living situation in Portland was very different from that he faced years earlier.

"He had a great home with our elephant family," Lee said of Tusko's time at the zoo. "His 10 years here were the longest he'd ever stayed in one place, and he received an incredible level of care."

Earlier this month, the zoo officially opened a new elephant habitat called Elephant Lands. Zoo officials say the six-acre area, which includes indoor and outdoor space, is designed to promote animal welfare and herd socialization, encourage natural foraging behavior and allow the elephants to choose how they spend their time.

The $57 million exhibit was funded through a 2008 zoo bond measure and with private funding.

Considered highly endangered in their range countries, Asian elephants are threatened by habitat loss, conflict with humans and disease. It is estimated that fewer than 40,000 elephants remain in fragmented populations from India to Borneo.

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