elephant calf


You May Call Her Qinisa

Little elephant Qinisa is one cute girl!

You can stop calling her baby girl or not! But if you want to call the Safari Park’s female African elephant calf, who was born on August 28, with her official name, here it is: Qinisa, a Siswati word that means to act with energy, act determinedly, fulfill one’s word, or speak the truth. The name is pronounced (!) EEN-EE-seh (! is a tongue pop instead of a q sound).

Her name is very fitting, as Qinisa has been determined (successfully, I might add!) to develop fastest of the 12 calves born to the herd of African elephants at the Safari Park. At only one-week-old she was sucking water into her trunk and using it to pick up objects like sticks. I watched Qinisa do that today, and she sure seemed like a pro! This dexterity has not been seen at such a young age, according to Curtis Lehman, San Diego Zoo Safari Park animal care manager. This skill had been documented after a couple of weeks of age among the other calves.

She has mastered her nursing technique!

Qinisa seems to be spending the least amount of time nursing compared to the others, but she obviously seems to be getting more than enough milk from her mother, Swazi! Curtis thinks she may have also mastered how to nurse quickly, since she is averaging a weight gain of 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) per day. The calf has gained 40 pounds (18 kilograms) in her first 21 days of life. She’s growing much too quickly for my personal taste, but just right for normal calf development.

The Elephant Team is still documenting Qinisa’s developments. They were out today with clipboard in hand taking notes every time she nursed. Beside her quick learning curve, they also observe how other elephants interact with her. The other elephants interact with Qinisa whenever Swazi allows it. Big brother Mac is playing nice; then again, he’d better, or Mom would have a word or two with him. Apparently, the adult females only interact occasionally, since they know to keep their distance from a protective Swazi, the herd’s matriarch.

But our two young female baby-sitters, 6-year-old Khosi and 5-year-old Kami, seem to have the most access to the calf and continue to compete for baby-sitting rights. Kami and Emanti get to hang out with the trio of Swazi, Mac, and Qinisa overnight, so Kami has the upper hand to get more baby-sitting time. Kami was never far away from Qinisa while I watched this morning. She was so gentle with the calf, I couldn’t help but smile. Swazi seems to now be taking advantage of the two baby-sitters and wanders away from Qinisa when she naps, but not for long. If Qinisa wakes, Swazi comes back quickly.

Yadira Galindo is a senior public relations representative for San Diego Zoo Global.


Elephant Baby: Grand Entrance

Welcome, little girl!

The stork arrived with a big bundle of joy at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, delivering a female African elephant calf at 3:39 a.m. today! The 205-pound calf and her mother, Swazi, are on their feet and bonding. It appeared that Swazi’s water broke early Sunday morning. From previous experience, keepers knew that labor does not necessarily start immediately, so they continued 24-hour watch over the expecting mother. Signs of labor finally began nearly 48 hours and the calf was born shortly after and was on her feet within a few minutes.

The average gestation period for African elephants is 649 days or 22 months. A newborn calf averages 200 to 268 pounds. Our newest calf weighs 205 pounds. She is mother Swazi’s second offspring. Her first born, 2 1/2-year-old Macembe, was present at the time of his sister’s birth. Later that morning, “Mac” was separated from Swazi and his newborn sister to give mother and daughter a chance to bond and nurse. Mac stood close watch in an adjacent yard with two other young elephants to keep him company. All of the youngsters were very curious about the new addition. They gently reached their trunks out to touch and smell the calf.

Swazi and her calf will continue to bond in a separate yard from the rest of the herd while the newborn gets steady on her feet and learns to follow her mother closely. Mom is positioning herself as a good mom would to allow calf to nurse, and the youngster is now nursing!

The Safari Park is now home to 13 elephants: 4 adults and 9 youngsters. The adults were rescued in 2003 from the Kingdom of Swaziland, where they faced being culled. A lack of space and long periods of drought created unsuitable habitat for a large elephant population in the small southern African country. Swaziland’s Big Game Parks officials felt they had two options: kill this group of elephants or export them to a zoo willing to care for the pachyderms.

At the San Diego Zoo and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, elephant studies are underway on nutrition, daily walking distance, growth and development and bioacoustic communication. In Africa, a San Diego Zoo Global scientist is studying human-elephant conflicts as well as habitat range and use. In 2004, the nonprofit organization committed to contributing $30,000 yearly to Swaziland’s Big Game Parks though 2014 to fund programs like anti-poaching patrols, improved infrastructure and the purchase of additional acreage for the Big Game Parks. In addition, San Diego Zoo Global supports other elephant conservation through donations to the International Elephant Foundation, an organization that funds elephant conservation projects around the world.

The family can be seen daily at the Safari Park’s elephant habitat or via Elephant Cam or Safari Park iPhone app.


Elephants: Calf of Umoya

Umoya and her son

As many of you know, there were some difficult circumstances following the birth of Umoya’s calf on May 12 of this year (see post, A May Elephant Baby) at the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park, so it’s been a big relief to their adoring and caring public, their keepers, and our veterinary staff that things have worked out so well for the both of them.

The little guy currently weighs 290 pounds (132 kilograms) as of July 4. He’s figured out some of the social hierarchy within the herd, namely “watch your step” around Swazi. He’s learning to play with half brothers Ingadze, Lutsandvo, and Swazi’s calf, born in April (see Newest Elephant Calf).

Nap time!

Umoya’s son is very easy to entertain if you have a hose in your hand. Big sister Kami shares the babysitting duties with Mom, but for the most part he stays pretty close to Umoya. Because of this, whenever Umoya ventures into the big pool, junior follows right behind her without any hesitation. If the water level is such that he can remain standing, he’s usually right underneath her, dipping his mouth into the pool for a drink or three (he likes to drink). If the pool level is higher, he’ll actually swim around her. If his head goes under, he’s already figured out the trunk-periscope thing, which is just hilarious to observe. He really loves the water, more than any of the other calves have at this age.

If you get the chance to come to the Wild Animal Park, make sure you visit the Elephant Viewing Patio for the 11 a.m. Elephant Rush and also later in the afternoon, when the elephants are more likely to be swimming in the pool. You might be lucky and get to observe a “Baby Pool Party” from a great vantage point. And if Umoya decides it’s time to cool off, you’re sure to see little munchkin #3 sliding in right behind her!

Curtis Lehman is an animal care supervisor at the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park.


New Calf: A Cute Bit of Trouble

You know those cute shirts that stores sell for infants and toddlers? The ones that say things like, “Grandma loves me,” or “Don’t blame me, blame my brother!” I think I know which one would seem appropriate for our newest elephant calf at the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park: “Here comes trouble!”

This “little” guy may be the youngest, but as the largest calf born to the Park herd, he is quickly catching up to half-brother Lutsandvo, the male calf born on Valentine’s Day of this year (see post Newest Elephant Calf). I was at the exhibit the other day and could not believe how feisty he is! Watching him play with Lutsandvo was like watching a couple of preschoolers play King of the Mountain. The newest calf didn’t stop there, either. Later, he challenged Ingadze, his half-brother born in March 2009. This baby seemed to be interested in playing with any of the other young elephants in the area.

It will be interesting to watch him as he grows to see how long his behavior is tolerated by the other elephants. If you haven’t had a chance to see his shenanigans yet, plan a trip to the Wild Animal Park soon!

Karen Wiese is an interpretive writer for the San Diego Zoo.


Newest Elephant Calf

As of May 11, the Wild Animal Park’s newest calf (born on April 12, 2010) weighs 312 pounds (142 kilograms) and continues to gain about 2 pounds a day. Son of first-time mother Swazi, he was our biggest baby at birth at 268 pounds (122 kilograms). The as-yet-named calf has become an efficient “nurser” and also enjoys “nursing” from #1 Auntie, Lungile (who’s not lactating), and occasionally his dad, Mabu, who’s definitely not lactating and has this bewildered look on his face! The baby nurses like clockwork about every half hour and for about two minutes total each time.

Just like Lutsandvo before him (born February 14, 2010; see post New Elephant to Love), he’s learned that older half-sisters Khosi and Kami are really nice and Lungile especially so. He’s enjoying playing with Lutsandvo more and more each day, and they get into a lot of head-to-head shoving matches to see who’s tougher. The little guy is not quite independent like Lutsandvo is, but he’s starting to participate with him in the mud bog pile-ons with half-brothers Ingadze and Impunga, and Khosi and Kami.

The calf has become very good at letting us getting a weight on him, but he’s now refusing to leave the scale area afterward. Every baby has gone through this phase; it’s like they realize they can finally control something, such as the gate that would shut behind them when they were younger but now will not shut if they linger in the doorway. It only lasts a few weeks at most, but it comically chaps our hides every time. We’ve called every baby “bad baby” during this phase! Ah, the joy they bring.

Curtis Lehman is an animal care supervisor at the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park.


New Elephant to Love

In the wee hours of the morning on Valentine’s Day (February 14), a group of campers at the Wild Animal Park’s Roar & Snore sleepover were roused from their slumber by the sound of elephants trumpeting. It wasn’t until the sun came up in the morning, though, that they discovered an elephant had been born. These lucky campers had experienced an elephant herd announcing the birth of its newest member!

To learn more, and see the little cutie for myself, I went to the Park today and chatted with Curtis Lehman, an animal care supervisor. What a tiny boy the calf is, compared to his mother, Ndlula, but he instantly won my heart. When I arrived, keepers had just finished cleaning the main exhibit yard and were letting the herd back in. Mom wandered over to a mud wallow, and Baby (the calf does not have a name yet, so that’s what the keepers call him for now) stuck to her like glue on her right side. Ndlula scooped up some mud with her trunk and splashed it on her left side, scooped up some more and splashed it on her back, and then scooped up another trunkful and splashed it on her right side, where Baby was standing. Boy, did he get a faceful of mud! I was shocked, but Curtis just chuckled and explained that mama elephants sometimes get pretty focused on their own needs first; Baby didn’t seem to be any worse for wear.

This is Ndlula’s second calf; her firstborn is Vus’Musi (or Moose), who turns 6 on February 23. Usually, an elephant at the beginning stages of labor shows some signs of discomfort and the calf inside her shifts in preparation for birth. Keepers will put the expectant mother in the smaller upper yard and begin night watches (so far, all but one of our calves have been born at night). In this case, though, Ndlula seemed pretty “normal” when the keepers left for the day, so she was allowed to stay in the main yard with the rest of the herd. And that’s where she gave birth, at around 2 a.m., surrounded by her herd to offer protection and comfort!

After spending his first full day in the upper yard, so keepers could observe calf and mother to make sure both were doing well, Baby now has free reign to explore the large yard during the day and get to know the rest of the herd. Curtis says the calf is an agile little guy, already learning how to navigate the hills and valleys of the big yard. The four other youngsters in the herd are excited to have a new playmate and try to get close to Baby for a play session or two. But he’s still sticking close to Mom for now, as it should be. Come see our newest love!

Debbie Andreen is an associate editor for the San Diego Zoo.

Here’s video of the calf’s first day…


Elephant Calf Learns the Ropes

Umngani leads Ingadzi, Kami, and Khosi.

Umngani leads Ingadze, Kami, and Khosi.

If you haven’t made it up to the Wild Animal Park to see our new baby elephant, you’d better hurry: he is growing up fast! (See post, Baby Elephant.) At only 3 months of age, Ingadze is almost 400 pounds (180 kilograms) and is quickly learning the tricks to being an African elephant.

Just this past week he learned how to swim in the big pool. Using his trunk as a snorkel, he followed mom Umngani out into the deep end, doggy paddling the whole way with big sister Khosi and half sister Kami there to help. When they are in the shallow end, all the elephant youngsters like to dog pile onto one another; Khosi and Kami, always with a watchful eye, make sure the boys Impunga and Musi don’t play too rough.

Khosi and Ingadzi stay close to Umngani.

Khosi and Ingadze with Umngani.

Each day Ingadze grows more curious about his home. He is constantly picking up sticks and even tries to pick up rocks that are too heavy for him. He seems to enjoy water and learned how to drink with his trunk at a young age. Ingadze has many older siblings to look up to and learn from, but his two favorite pals are big sisters Khosi and Kami. Kami often leads Ingadze away from the adults, as if playing mom to him.

Ingadze, Kami, and Khosi follow Umngani.

Ingadze, Kami, and Khosi follow Umngani.

Ingadze is full of personality and spunk and seems to seek out playtime with the keepers. Being weighed every day to monitor his growth gives us extra time to spend with him, and he seems to enjoy the attention. Positive interactions now lay the groundwork for future training sessions he will receive once old enough to eat solid foods more regularly.

So make sure to come visit Ingadze and his growing family at the Wild Animal Park. Don’t forget your cameras!!!

Laurie Amador and Mindy Albright are keepers at the Wild Animal Park.

Watch the Wild Animal Park’s elephants daily on Elephant Cam.


Baby Elephant

Big sister, little brother, and Mom

Big sister, little brother, and Mom

Okay, I know I have said it before, but I have to say it again—I love this job! Not only do I get to tell everyone about the coolest new exhibit coming to the San Diego Zoo, but I also get to tell everyone about our newest baby! Of course, to do that I need to know as much as possible about the little guy and that means going to the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park!

That’s right, our male baby African elephant was born on March 13 at 3:15 in the morning. He is doing very well, and yes, he’s terribly cute. You can see him with mom Umngani and older sister Khosi.

While visiting, I was able to talk to some of the staff to find out how the little guy is doing. I found out that there is more going on than meets the eye. Sure, when we go to the Wild Animal Park to visit them, we see a very cute baby, a proud older sister, and a very gentle mother. You may even notice a small shelter for humans set up over a table with clipboard, watches, and paperwork. Amazingly enough, for a couple of weeks prior to the birth, the dedicated staff had been watching over the expectant mother 24 hours a day. Now, after the birth, 24-hour watches will continue for at least another 5 weeks!

The observations conducted by the animal care staff collect information on frequency of nursing, interaction with others, developmental behavior, and so much more. Also pertinent to their documentation is what they call “significant first occurrences.” These include the first time he tried to stand, the first time he actually did stand, the first time he tried to nurse, the first time he actually did nurse, and so on. It becomes an astoundingly massive pool of information that is added to similar documentation collected from previous births. All of those facts and figures are then compared with data that have been collected on baby elephants born in Africa to gauge the growth trajectories and health of the youngsters.

Whew! And to think you thought he was just a cute baby!

Now that you know about some of the “behind the scenes” work of our devoted staff of keepers and researchers, here are some fun facts about our new baby boy:

*He was born March 13, at 3:15 a.m. By the way, did you know that March 13 happens to be National Elephant Day in Thailand? It is! AND another fun fact, on March 13 of 1897, San Diego State University was founded!
*His birth weight was103 kilograms (about 226 pounds).
*He nurses regularly, and if you add up the total time of nursing that occurs in 24 hours it would be 2 hours!
*He continues to do very well, and he and the whole herd can already be seen out on exhibit in the main yard, so come by the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park and bring your camera!

Rick Schwartz is the San Diego Zoo’s Elephant Odyssey Ambassador.

Read Rick’s previous blog, Elephants: A Zoo Family.

View more photos of the baby elephant

Watch video of the baby’s first day