Wednesday, November 28, 2001

Officials at the National Zoo wasted no time expressing a desire to expand and enhance the elephant exhibit, now that the latest arrival a 325-pound Asian male elephant will be on display beginning today.
“We are all so excited,” Dr. Lucy Spelman, zoo director, said yesterday at a media preview. “Very few elephant calves are born in zoos each year this birth marks the beginning of our efforts to increase the size of the elephant herd at the National Zoo, as well as expand and enhance their zoo exhibit.”
Shanthi, a 25-year-old Asian elephant, gave birth on Sunday to the yet-to-be named baby elephant. Shanthi is the youngest of three Asian elephants currently on display at the zoo, and was born in the wild in Sri Lanka. The father is a 13-year-old Asian bull, Calvin, from the African Lion Safari in Calgary, Canada.
The zoo wants to greatly expand the area behind the elephant houses so it can increase its herd. In the wild, elephants often run together. When they are held in captivity, establishing a pack, particularly with the limited number of elephants, often is hard. Officials said most elephant traits are learned over time they are not instinctive so creating an environment from the earliest stages of life is important.
“We were thinking [of the next baby elephant] before he came,” said Marie Galloway, elephant manager at the zoo. “We need another baby, and then another baby for this baby to play with.”
Zoo officials may have to be patient about expanding the herd, since elephants have a 22-month gestation period, the longest of any mammal, and breeding is not always easy.
In 1995, German researchers began exploring a new form of ultrasound technology that allowed for artificial insemination in the elephant’s reproductive tract. Natural breeding can sometimes be difficult with the females removed from their herds, and artificial insemination would allow the mother to remain in her own environment. Shanthi was the first elephant to ever be inseminated by the German team, but it took six attempts before success was finally achieved in February 2000. In the meantime, three other calves have been produced through the German method.
Yesterday, officials seemed clearly smitten with their newest arrival.
“I did not know whether to jump up and down or pass out,” said Dr. Janine Brown, the zoo’s reproductive physiologist, about witnessing the birth. Dr. Brown spent most of the last year-and-a-half preparing for the big event, monitoring Shanthi’s vital signs and taking blood samples to make sure everything was going along as planned.
With no name yet that will come later, after the elephant keepers come up with three choices reflecting Shanthi’s Sri Lankan heritage zoo officials and elephant keepers have taken to calling him a wide variety of names, including Sweetie Pie, Charmer, Little Guy, Trouble and Tanker.
Yesterday, after zoo officials had their say, the baby elephant and mother took the spotlight as they were given a bath. Shanthi had to continually watch her step and her young calf was cautiously hiding under its mother’s belly as the water spouted from the hose. Eventually, he did come out, but nearly tripped over his bucket. His grayish hair was sticking straight up as he was being soaked.
Even with the lengthy gestation period, zoo officials had an internal debate over whether they should try to make Shanthi a mother again. Her first calf, Kumari, was born after Shanthi returned from a breeding loan to the Rosamond Gifford Zoo in Syracuse, N.Y., in 1993. Sixteen months later, however, the calf contracted a herpes-type virus and died suddenly.
“There is a chance this baby could die of herpes as well,” Miss Galloway said. “But we decided Shanthi deserves to be a mother again, she deserves that. You would never tell a mother who lost her child that they could not be a mother again.”
Miss Galloway said it took Shanthi five hours to completely bond with her new baby, and their closeness was evident watching them interact inside the elephant house. Eventually, weather permitting, they will explore the grounds around the elephant house, and the elephant keepers will give them enrichment toys, such as balls and boxes, to share.

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