Brevard County, FL (Florida Today) -- One of the original animals at Brevard Zoo, a tapir named Pee Wee, died Wednesday during a medical procedure to his toe.

He was 21.

It was the second sad day during the past month for zoo staff, which also lost a 4½-year-old cheetah in May to pancreatitis.

PeeWee, a 550-pound male Baird's tapir, had long been suffering a chronictoe infection and died during a procedure to surgically treat theinfected toe.

Always a popular attraction, Pee Wee lived at Brevard Zoo since its inception in 1994. He had come to Brevard from a Miami zoo.

"He was a great animal, he'll really be missed," said Keith Winsten, Brevard Zoo's director.

The exact cause of Pee Wee's death remains uncertain. Tapirs can live up to 30 years.

"We don't know at this point," Winsten said. "During his procedure, his vitals started dropping, we stopped the procedure."

But the tapir could not be saved.

PeeWee was one of three tapirs at the zoo. He had been housed withJosephine and sired six offspring while at the zoo, including Tootsie,the baby female Baird's tapir, born April 6. Baird's tapirs, thenational animal of Belize, have historically been found in southeasternMexico through northern Colombia to the Gulf of Guayaquil in Ecuador. InBelize, they're known as the mountain cow.

Wildtapir populations have been in decline and are believed to number lessthan 5,500 individuals. The International Union for Conservation ofNature, a global environmental group, currently lists the species asendangered.

As ofearly this year, the captive tapir population consisted of 22 males and10 females in 19 accredited facilities, including Brevard Zoo.

Since2005, Brevard Zoo has funded tapir field conservation projects throughthe Institute for Ecological Research in Central America. The zooprovided funding for four radio collars to track tapirs and collect dataregarding their habitat use and foraging. The zoo's Quarters forConservation program is expected to provide up to $3,000 to supporttapir field conservation programs this year.

WhenPee Wee passed away, Brevard Zoo staff had already been mourning thedeath of Basil, a 4½-year-old female cheetah they had to euthanize inMay after the animal suffered a sudden onset of pancreatitis.

"He's had a good long life," Winsten said of Pee Wee. "He's gonna be missed."

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