By Simón Rios
NEW BEDFORD — The Buttonwood Park Zoo elephant who escaped from her barn during one of the coldest nights of the year contracted frostbite on the ears.
"It could've been tragic but she's doing extremely well," said zoo director Keith Lovett.
After keepers neglected to lock a door, Ruth, 55, one of the zoo's two Asian elephants, escaped on Jan. 5 from her heated barn during the early morning hours of the Feb. 3 storm. She stood in the freezing weather for up to two hours.
Lovett said the elephant also contracted hypothermia — a lowering of the body temperature — though that was resolved in the hours after she was returned to her barn.
The elephant is taking antibiotics and is being monitored by zookeepers around the clock. Lovett said Ruth's frostbitten areas are healing, with "good health tissue growing in" affected spots.
"She's actually loving that because she's getting the extra attention all night long," Lovett said.
The zoo's admission that the elephant had contracted frostbite — which Lovett said was determined in the days following the incident — comes as the California nonprofit In Defense of Animals ranks Buttonwood fourth among the country's "Ten Worst Zoos For Elephants."
"It's high time for the zoo industry to stop paying lip service and start taking meaningful action to improve conditions for the hundreds of elephants languishing — and dying prematurely — across North America," said Nicole Meyer, Director of IDA's Elephant Protection Campaign, in a press release.
The organization said the Buttonwood Zoo's elephants both suffer from captivity-caused problems including chronic foot disease, arthritis and aggression.