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elephant newborn

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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.

22

Baby Elephant

Big sister, little brother, and MomOkay, 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