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The Minnesota Zoo in Apple Valley has announced that their two remaining musk oxen were preemptively laid to rest over fears that the warming state would make their final days more difficult.
Zoo officials announced the decision on their website on May 13, writing that the pair of “elderly musk oxen had been showing progressive age-related health issues.”
“Their health further declined this spring as the weather warmed,” they said in a tweet on May 14. Followers called the news “incredibly sad” and “a heartbreaker.”
In the zoo’s farewell message, they explained that rising temperatures during the past decade have affected the health of the herd, which started growing in 1978 when the zoo acquired male and female oxen from breeders in Calgary and Winnipeg, Canada. The families went on to breed 65 calves. But by 2010, zoo workers “started noticing changes,” which they attributed to “increased summer heat and humidity.”
Since 2000, Minnesota has racked up many of its warmest days on record — with the average temperature having risen by 2 degrees since 100 years ago, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“It seems even Minnesota has now become too far south for this species to thrive,” the zoo wrote.
Zookeeper Cindy Bjork-Groebner said in a statement on the musk oxen, “We saw firsthand just how much the seasons and temperature and humidity played a role in how they thrived or not.”
Though musk ox is native to the arctic tundra, the Minnesota Zoo had long been home to the herd thanks to the state’s historically chilly climate during much of the year. However, the rising average summer temperatures have proven detrimental to the cold-weather creatures.
“You could tell they were thriving when the temperatures were colder, and then the minute the heat and humidity hit, that’s when I really started watching and could notice changes,” Bjork-Groebner said.
The decision to euthanize the two last oxen was the result of “a long conversation between veterinarians, curators and zoo leadership,” added Dr. Taylor Yaw, manager of the zoo’s animal health department. “We have a responsibility to these animals. When it comes to a point that we can’t manage clinical health issues, this is the most humane choice we can make.”
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