A Turkmenian markhor is dead at Utah’s Hogle Zoo following a sparring match with a fellow male markhor, the zoo announced Saturday.
Markhor are an exotic Asian goat-like species native to central Asia and the Himalayas, according to a news release. They have large spiral horns and broad hooves, which allow them to live in mountainous terrain between 2,000 and 12,000 feet.
The incident occurred late Friday morning, the release states. The Hogle Zoo’s veterinary team was immediately called while other animal care team members performed CPR on 7-year-old markhor Dusti.
Though it’s unclear what happened during the sparring match, the necropsy (animal autopsy) showed signs of immediate death, likely from a head butt or broken neck.
Markhor keeper Rachel Blake said in the news release that Dusti’s death will mean a big hole in the herd.
“It was a sad shock for us to rush over there and find him gone,” Blake said. “Dusti is definitely going to be missed.”
Erica Hansen, community relations manager for the Hogle Zoo, said nothing like this has ever happened before at the zoo.
Hogle Zoo personnel called other zoos to see if they’d had sparring deaths among markhor but haven’t yet heard of any comparable incidents. They have heard about sparring deaths among mountain goats, however.
Hansen said sparring is normal behavior in markhor, used to establish hierarchy and assert dominance, and animal caretakers don’t want to prevent it.
Sparring is also special from a zoo perspective because guests love the animals’ show of strength and agility, she said. Markhor are built for sparring, which makes Dusti’s death a “really strange” thing, she said.
She said the remaining two markhor are still eating, taking treats and training in the aftermath of Dusti’s death, but they’ll now be sparring to decide “who’s top dog.”
Hansen said the markhor herd was initially comprised of four males that came to the Hogle Zoo in 2015. One was recently sent to another zoo for breeding purposes, so with Dusti’s death, the herd is down to only two.
It’s too soon to say if the zoo will replace Dusti, but the markhor exhibit is definitely big enough to house another animal, she said.
The markhor exhibit is designed with multiple climbing areas and rocky hillsides, mimicking the animals’ native terrain, the news release states.