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Emaciated elephant rescued from Florida owner dies at Tennessee sanctuary

Emaciated elephant dies Ned was a ton underweight six months ago when federal officials took him from his owner in Hillsborough County and sent him to a sanctuary in Tennessee. Even with special care there, he lost another 700 pounds. He died Friday. Former owner Lance Ramos, said the animal was a picky eater and a necropsy showed ulcers in Ned’s internal organs. Sanctuary director Carol Buckley blamed Ned’s digestive problems on the stress of circus life.

Photo courtesy of the Elephant Sanctuary

Emaciated elephant dies Ned was a ton underweight six months ago when federal officials took him from his owner in Hillsborough County and sent him to a sanctuary in Tennessee. Even with special care there, he lost another 700 pounds. He died Friday. Former owner Lance Ramos, said the animal was a picky eater and a necropsy showed ulcers in Ned’s internal organs. Sanctuary director Carol Buckley blamed Ned’s digestive problems on the stress of circus life.

Ned should have lived to be 60 or 70. He should have weighed another ton.

The Asian elephant died Friday at age 21, six months after federal officials seized him from a Hillsborough County owner and placed him at the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee.

In the care of circus trainer Lance Ramos, Ned weighed 7,500 pounds.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said Ramos, also known as Lancelot Kollman, violated the Animal Welfare Act.

A necropsy showed ulcers in Ned's intestine, pancreas and other organs.

Ned was a picky eater, Ramos said Monday.

"So when they took the elephant from me they thought that I had starved and neglected it," he said. "And it still died. So they must've starved and neglected it, too."

Sanctuary founder and director Carol Buckley said Ned avoided foods that made him sick. But that was most foods. One day he loved watermelon. Then, he got abdominal cramps bad enough to leave the stuff alone.

A healthy elephant eats 20 hours each day. Ned skipped food for several hours at a time.

Specialists couldn't determine the cause of his emaciated condition and couldn't stabilize him. He was malnourished and couldn't absorb nutrients.

He ate, but not enough. And without nutrients, it was as if he ate nothing at all.

Ned's last weigh-in: 6,800 pounds.

Buckley blamed Ned's digestive problems on the stress of circus life. He was born in captivity at Busch Gardens and sold for a circus career at age 2.

Ramos, who owned Ned for two years, considers himself just an easy scapegoat. He disputes the USDA's charges of improper care and handling of an animal.

"I've been around elephants all my life," Ramos said. "There was something wrong with that elephant."

Sometimes, Ned ate. Sometimes, he didn't. And when he drank water, he'd lift a back leg to ease the pain in his belly.

Ramos said he tried everything.

Working with circus animals has been the business of his family for 100 years.

But for Ramos, it could be over. A U.S. circuit court ruling revoked his USDA license last month after the agency's 2005 charge of physical abuse and inadequate veterinary care for two young lions.

The ruling is not yet effective, and there is a chance for appeal.

USDA spokeswoman Andrea McNally wouldn't say whether Ned's death — even under sanctuary care —might affect pending charges against Ramos. Their inspectors built the case based on Ned's apparent suffering and Ramos' inability to help, she said.

"The determination about the animal suffering was made at that point," McNally said.

When Ned arrived at the sanctuary, he mistrusted people.

"He acted like he thought he was going to get hit," Buckley said.

He never seemed comfortable.

On Wednesday, he wouldn't even stand up. On Thursday, workers thought he showed signs of increased stress and pain.

Buckley and veterinarians talked for 45 minutes about euthanasia, she said. It would have been a first at the sanctuary.

After their discussion, Ned seemed oddly relaxed.

He was his most peaceful in the early hours of Friday.

Then came a familiar song, or rumble, from the elephant's chest.

"It wasn't urgent. It was very calm," Buckley said. "A second rumble, then an exhalation of air. And then he was gone."

Ileana Morales can be reached at imorales@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3403.

Emaciated elephant rescued from Florida owner dies at Tennessee sanctuary 05/18/09 [Last modified: Saturday, May 23, 2009 12:41pm]
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