Amid a record-breaking attendance year for the Fresno Chaffee Zoo, zookeepers are mourning the death Sunday of the 29-year-old Malayan tapir, Moe. Kelsa, a 24-year-old female tapir, is now the sole inhabitant of the exhibit she once shared with Moe.
Moe’s body has been sent out for a necropsy to determine the cause of death, said zoo marketing director Ciara Castellanoz. But in tapir years, “he was elderly,” Castellanoz said.
It’s too early to know if the zoo can acquire another Malayan tapir, an endangered species.
“First we have to talk with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the Species Survival Plan,” Castellanoz said. The SSP program oversees the breeding of certain animals to make sure the populations stay diverse and sustainable, according to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
Born at the St. Louis Zoological Park, Moe was brought to the Chaffee Zoo in 2011. Castellanoz does not know if Moe lived elsewhere before his 5-year stint at the Fresno zoo, but she said Moe was one of the oldest tapirs in captivity. They typically live 25 to 30 years, whether in captivity or the wild.
Tapirs typically live 25 to 30 years, whether in captivity or the wild.
Malayan tapirs can be found in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, and subsist on grass, plants, twigs and low-hanging fruit. Moe’s species is the largest of the four tapir species.
Moe was one of several animals that died at Chaffee in 2016, including Catalina, a 9-year-old California sea lion, and a female warthog piglet named Makena. The year’s births included lion cub Kijani, six red wolf pups, four warthog piglets and two red-ruffed lemurs.
Moe’s death comes during what is an otherwise wildly successful year for the Fresno Chaffee Zoo. While official numbers won’t be out until the first week of January, the zoo has already surpassed its attendance record of 808,914 from last year.
More people have come to the zoo in recent years, steadily increasing attendance. In 2010, the zoo counted 443,251 attendees. If the rate of increase remains the same as it has been for several years, the zoo is on track to double attendance between 2010 and 2016.
Castellanoz credits the success to the opening of the African Adventure exhibit in October 2015 and Sea Lion Cove, which opened in 2012.
“We opened a lot of new exhibits, and Measure Z (helped),” said Castellanoz. “Sea Lion Cove and African Adventure are both big draws.”
Measure Z, which voters initially approved in 2004 and renewed in 2014, is a tenth-of-a-cent sales tax for improvements and operations at the zoo.
The zoo is ending the year with its annual Zoo Lights event, during which attendees enjoy hot chocolate, cookies and holiday music while watching the animals among the Christmas lights.
Zoo Lights runs through Friday from 5 to 8 p.m. Tickets for Fresno Chaffee Zoo members are $7 for adults and $5 for children ages 2-11; for nonmembers, tickets are $9 for adults and $7 for children ages 2 to 11. Younger children have free admission.