POSTED: Sunday, January 29, 2012 - 11:37pm
UPDATED: Wednesday, February 1, 2012 - 11:41am
EL PASO - The oldest California sea lion at the El Paso Zoo died on Thursday due to a possible veterinarian error.
Last Thursday, Cleo, the oldest of the bunch, was given too large of a dose of anesthesia when zoo officials were attempting to perform a medical check for a separate illness. The overdose may have been a contributing factor in her death, however officials are still investigating the exact cause of death.
"We're mourning the loss of Cleo,” said Steve Marshall, the zoo director. He says the situation is even sadder because Cleo's twin sister died back in 2010 due to a heart disease. Recently, Cleo, a 25-year-old sea lion, started to look sick.
"She was showing some of the same symptoms of her sister, she was off her diet, she had not gained her normal winter weight," Marshall said.
Zoo officials attempted to draw blood voluntarily, something the sea lions are trained to cooperate with, but Cleo resisted the process. They were forced to take the next step and sedate her.
"Sedation and anesthesia is risky," Marshall said. "Under sedation, sea lions are at a higher risk than other exotic species here at the El Paso Zoo and that has to do with their diving physiology."
Marshall says the vet was given a wrong number in the formula for dosage and miscalculated the amount of the sedation drug she was administered. Upon realizing this, zoo officials said the vet immediately gave Cleo a reversal drug to offset the overdose. Marshall told News Channel 9 that "human error does occur" and that zoo staff has "taken a lesson from this."
A mother and son visiting the sea lion exhibit noticed there were only two sea lions.
"Oh he loves the sea lion exhibit downstairs," said zoo visitor Rachel Palmer. "He loves the sea lion that likes to bark at him."
When she learned that one of the seal lions died she told News Channel 9, “yeah it makes me sad."
Marshall said that the death was hard on the staff, because they bond with the exhibit animals.
"It's also hard on our community because our mission is to celebrate the value of wild animals," he said.
NewsChannel 9 asked about whether there will be disciplinary action towards the vet but they were unable to comment because the case is still under investigation. As for the actual cause of death, the El Paso Zoo could not confirm if the anesthesia was what killed Cleo until the investigation is complete.
Marshall says the zoo did not violate any rules and from now on, there will be two vets present when animals are sedated.