Just weeks after welcoming two new girlfriends to the bison herd at Lords Park Zoo in Elgin, its longest bison resident, Po-Key, has died.
Po-Key was born and raised in the Elgin zoo and raised bison calves there.
The zoo's vet visited Po-Key Monday and gave her injections to help her back hips after she appeared to be having trouble walking to the hay trough. "Judging from the way she walked, I was suspicious of a back injury, perhaps a pelvic injury or some kind of tumor or cancer," said Bill Morrissey, the veterinarian who oversees all animals at the Lords Park Zoo. At that time, she was still able to walk and was eating, he said.
"We were hoping that it might be arthritis," said Laurie Faith Gibson, co-founder of Friends of Lords Park Zoo. "Unfortunately, this morning it was very clear that it was not."
Sometime Monday evening, Po-Key got stuck in a mud hole within her enclosure.
Morrissey and other employees spent Tuesday morning working to free her from the mud. Once Po-Key was free, Morrissey administered some additional steroids and propped her up. But by Tuesday afternoon, Po-Key was no longer able to to hold her head up.
Morrissey euthanized her about 4 p.m. Tuesday.
Po-Key was up in her years -- she was born in spring of 1991 -- and a typical bison lives to be 20 to 26 years old.
Even in her advanced age, she remained at a good weight -- more than 1,000 pounds -- and was well-card for, Morrissey said.
"Twenty-plus years old for any type of wild animal is an extraordinary length of time for them to live," Morrissey said. "She lived much longer than she would have had she lived out in the wild, and she didn't have to suffer as she would have if she had been in the wild."
A few weeks ago, she openly welcomed two new bison -- Drew and Becky -- to the bison enclosure. The bison were donated from Brookfield Zoo to keep Po-Key company.
"Becky and Drew have been very good to her. They've let her eat first at the trough," Gibson said. "At least she had some friends for a little while, and a new pen."
A post on the zoo's Facebook page read, in part:
"Rest in Peace dear, we have loved you and will miss you. Thank you for all the memories that crisscrossed our generations in Elgin from Bison Feeding programs or just long walks in beautiful Lords Park to visit with you."