ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOX)- Cri Cri, the harbor seal who fell ill en route to the St. Louis Zoo from a Canadian theme park, is in poor condition. Two seals, Nunavut and Atlantis, died Friday during transport; a fourth seal, Peanut, is doing well at the St. Louis Zoo.
Cri Cri was brought to the Indianapolis Zoo after exhibiting signs of distress.
According to Karen Burns, a spokeswoman for the Indianapolis Zoo, Cri Cri is being specially taken care of, but she is in serious condition.
“We are providing around-the-clock veterinarian care, but the prognosis is grave,” Burns says.
The seals were to make their home at Sea Lion Sound, a multimillion-dollar exhibit that is scheduled to open June 30.
Steve Feldman, a spokesman for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums says the seals were among thousands of animals transported each year to accredited zoos, usually to build genetically diverse, healthy populations for breeding.
According to zoo officials, what went wrong during the 12-hour drive from London, Ontario is still unknown.
Zoo’s vice president of animal collections, Jack Grisham says the animals looked healthy during a border inspection with USDA and U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials and during a routine check two hours later. However, at the next stop, one seal was found dead and a second seal was distressed, and despite treatment, eventually died. Cri Cri was then taken to the Indianapolis Zoo, which employs a staff of marine mammal specialists. The animals were accompanied from Ontario by St. Louis Zoo curator Steve Bircher, and were transported by an independent hauler who moved five sea lions from Sea World San Antonio to St. Louis six weeks ago.
“We used the same individual, the same equipment, the same crates, and that went well,” Grisham says, who did not name the hauler, but said the zoo has used the company for more than two years.
Zoo officials say the move complied with federal and international standards for the transportation of mammals.
The animals were transported in mesh crates- mother Peanut, 19, and daughter Nunavut, 12, in one crate and mother Cri Cri, 19, and daughter Atlantis, 11, in the other. Each crate was 88 inches long, 51 inches wide and 65 inches tall. The trailer was air-conditioned and had a misting system to keep the seals moist, Grisham says. They were not sedated.
“We want them to be fully awake,” Grisham says. “We just make sure they are acclimated to the crate as much as possible and are comfortable.”
The animals came from Storybook Gardens, a municipal theme park in London, Ontario. Storybook Gardens manager John Riddell says for the past several years, the city has been moving its animals to accredited zoo and sanctuaries with better living accommodations. Londoners are crushed by word of the animals’ deaths.
“It’s been emotional for sure,” Riddell says. “Our community is stinging right now. They were our most popular zoo attraction. They weren’t performing animals, but people enjoyed visiting them and watching them be fed.”
Riddell says Peanut and Cri Cri had arrived at the park in 1993; Nunavut and Atlantis were born there. All were in good health and were accustomed to crates, he says.
Grisham says the St. Louis Zoo transports about 200 animals each year. The last notable death occurred in 2006, when two Andean bears died en route from St. Louis to Sedgwick County Zoo in Wichita, Kan.
Transporting zoo animals is not always an easy task. It can be expensive and complicated. The St. Louis Zoo budgets about $118,000 a year for transportation costs.
Grisham says some animals can be shipped by air or land alone, but more essential species must have somebody accompany them.
“Some reptiles, bird species, a lot of mammals can be shipped by air or land without anyone accompanying them,” Grisham says. “Some of the more critical species, such as marine mammals, always have somebody escorting them.”