The new cheetah that died at Wellington Zoo reacted badly to an anaesthetic before leaving Christchurch, but was given the green light to travel to the capital.
Five-year-old brothers Shomari and Cango left Orana Wildlife Park in Christchurch on Wednesday, and Shomari was found unconscious on arrival at Wellington Airport about 4pm.
Vets immediately started working on Shomari but, by 11pm, he was dead.
Orana Wildlife Park chief executive Lynn Anderson said both cheetahs were given a low-dose anaesthetic to help get them into crates in the morning.
This was followed by another injection to reverse the effects of the drug once they were secure.
While Cango had a "textbook response" to the anaesthetic, Shomari was visibly struggling.
Vets followed standard procedure and gave him a sedative to assist with his recovery.
He was given another health check and approved for travel after Orana vets and Wellington Zoo discussed his improved condition, she said.
"If we had any concerns at that point, we would have called it off . . . Shomari had significantly improved by the time he went to the airport, and there was no doubt he was OK.
"All of the staff are just devastated with this tragic and sad loss."
In the past year the park's vets had used the same anaesthetic procedure on about 2000 animals, and fewer than 1 per cent reacted badly.
Cango and Shomari had previously undergone surgery and not reacted to anaesthetic.
Wellington Zoo general manager of animal care Mauritz Basson said an autopsy would confirm the cause of death.
The results would take a few weeks to come back.
Shomari would then be disposed of as required by the Ministry for Primary Industries.
Orana Wildlife Park head keeper Rob Clifford travelled with the cheetahs, who were hand-reared, along with siblings Kunjuka and Mazza, when they were rejected by their mother shortly after their birth in 2009.
Yesterday, Cango was settling into his new enclosure with the help of Clifford, who was introducing him to the Wellington Zoo keepers who would take over his care.
Resident cheetah Charlie had been moved to a new enclosure to make room for Cango and Shomari, but would not be housed with Cango, after his brother's death.
- The Dominion Post