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An around-the-clock effort to save a sick baby Asian elephant that gained international attention after the newborn was rejected by its mother last month ended Tuesday when the calf unexpectedly slipped into a coma and died at the Calgary Zoo.

"It's a tough time for us here at the Calgary Zoo," said Alex Graham, the zoo's president, as he fought back tears at a news conference yesterday. "In a very short time, we became very fond of a very special little girl, and [Tuesday] we said goodbye."

The three-week-old calf had garnered national and international media coverage and well-wishers after news spread of its tenuous chance of survival. Late yesterday, zoo officials and a kindergarten class at a Calgary school posthumously named the calf Keemaya, Hindi for miracle.

The 110-kilogram elephant was born on Nov. 16 after a problem-free 21-month gestation.

Zoo officials said the elephant's health problems began when its grandmother and 14-year-old mother, Maharani (Rani), quickly spurned the newborn. The problems were compounded when the wrinkly baby developed an infection that required antibodies and a plasma transfusion.

However, even as late as a week ago, it seemed the elephant was getting better, and it gained the strength to walk, kick a ball and even pull out its feeding tube. But that progress was downgraded recently because the infection did not go away and the elephant developed internal ulcers. An autopsy was planned to determine the cause of death.

The Calgary Zoo has had two trouble-free elephant births, including Rani's in 1990, but officials there said it was not uncommon for elephants in captivity and in the wild to reject their young.

Mr. Graham praised the zoo's more than 20 veterinarians and zookeepers who tended to the elephant 24 hours a day. A cot was set up in the elephant's pen so someone was always at the baby's side.

Initially, they tried to sedate Rani so the calf could feed from its mother, but after that failed, they spent several days coming up with a feeding formula and obtained a recipe from the Houston Zoo, which is hand-raising a three-month-old elephant.

Even after obtaining the recipe, it was often daunting to feed the sick elephant its daily required 16 litres of the formula of goat's milk, coconut oil and a special milk replacement. "They did everything humanly possible, and then some, to keep this little elephant alive," Mr. Graham said. "Unfortunately, nature makes its own choices."

The elephant's care cost the zoo tens of thousands of dollars, and a trust fund was set up last week to help with the mounting costs.

As well as donations, the zoo had been bombarded with letters and phone calls from around the world, including Norway and Sri Lanka.

Carol Buckley, executive director of the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, expressed regret about the baby's death but wants zoos around the globe to learn from it.

"Hopefully, it will create pressure on zoos that breed to think out the process a little bit more," she said, adding that strict breeding guidelines should be followed.

Ms. Buckley said that in the Calgary Zoo case, the baby elephant's mother likely was too young. "Currently, the philosophy is that no matter what, you breed elephants and you make elephant babies because you need them on exhibit."

Field research on Asian elephants shows that females ideally should give birth between 18 and 20, Ms. Buckley said. "Their society is very wise. They don't let babies breed for practical reasons."

Calgary Zoo officials have disputed that criticism repeatedly, and said that while the mother was young, Rani should have been ready for motherhood. "What utter nonsense," Mr. Graham said, adding that Asian elephants as young as 9 have reproduced.

He said there are plans to breed Rani again as soon as the elephant is physically ready. "We must do that. If we don't take the progressive steps to reproduce the Asian elephant, at some point in the future there will be no Asian elephants left."

The Calgary Zoo is part of the Species Survival Plan, an international network that breeds Asian elephants in captivity.

Asian elephants, which can live between 50 and 70 years in the wild, are on the endangered list of the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species. There are about 300 Asian elephants in zoos in North America and 38,000 to 50,000 in the wild.

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