• Motswari, a rare Cape vulture, died in a freak hailstorm in Colorado on Monday.
  • She and seven other vultures had been shipped to the United States as part of desperate efforts to keep the species alive.
  • Motswari tangled with an electricity line at age eight months, and was disabled. She was 13 years old at her death.

An endangered Cape vulture was killed in a hailstorm at a zoo in Colorado on Monday.

The 13-year-old Motswari was killed as visitors were pelted by fist-sized hail that injured several people, knocked out car windows, and also killed a zoo duck.

In a statement on Tuesday the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo said the "unprecedented" storm had come out of the blue, leaving thousands of visitors – and animals – to scramble for safety.

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"Even animals that use their on-exhibit dens and shelters on a daily basis were prone to confusion by the fast onset of the storm, and also suffered confusion by the onslaught of hail. Just as there were injuries to guests who were caught unaware, there were also injuries to some animals," the zoo said.

Several staff were injured trying to help animals, Cheyenne Mountain said, though the priority had been human safety as skylights in supposedly "safe" areas were damaged as the storm raged.

There were an estimated 3,400 people in the zoo at the time of the storm.

Motswari was rescued after flying into power lines at age 8 months, which left her unable to fly, and later relocated to the United States as part of a breeding and awareness programme involving the specialised conservation group VulPro.

See also: A game reserve bordering the Kruger built a high-tech fortress the size of a major city – and reduced poaching by 96%

Cape vultures are now considered extinct in Swaziland and the remaining populations in Namibia and Zimbabwe are thought to be non-breeding. In South Africa they are threatened by poisoning, but power lines tend to cause the greatest number of injuries.

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