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Oklahoma City Zoo's elephant expected to give birth this week

Volunteers and zookeepers are watching Asha 24 hours a day. The Oklahoma City Zoo elephant is due May 1, but keepers already have moved her into the delivery stall and are looking for signs that she could go into labor.
BY CARRIE COPPERNOLL Published: April 12, 2011

Live camera: Elephant living quarters at the Oklahoma City Zoo

An elephant at the Oklahoma City Zoo is expected to give birth within the next few days, zoo officials said Monday.

Asha, an Asian elephant, is due May 1, but changes in her hormones suggest she could go into labor as early as today, officials said.

The zoo's two elephants were taken off exhibit Sunday morning, zoo spokeswoman Tara Henson said.

Asha will remain in the maternity stall inside the elephant barn until she gives birth. Chandra, her sister, will stay in the community stall until the calf is born.

Asha's calf will be the first elephant born at the Oklahoma City Zoo.

Asha and Chandra spent two years in Tulsa to breed with a bull elephant there. Asha became pregnant, but Chandra did not. The sisters returned to a new habitat that spans 9½ acres and cost $13 million. It's the largest exhibit ever built at the Oklahoma City Zoo and the largest Asian elephant exhibit at any zoo in the country.

“There's a lot invested in this elephant calf,” said Dr. Jennifer D'Agostino, the zoo's veterinary director. “We want to make sure everything goes right.”

Staff practices for unpredictability

Zoo staff members are on standby, and some are camping out inside the elephant barn, sleeping on air mattresses and going home only to shower.

They've been training for months ahead of the birth, pachyderm supervisor Nick Newby said.

Volunteers and zoo staff have been tracking Asha's every move for weeks.

Observers note everything she does — sleeping, eating, tail swishing — 24 hours a day.

Veterinarian and keeper staff members have been practicing the birth scenario with Asha every Thursday for months, and they use a stuffed elephant named Sammy to play the role of Asha's calf.

There's a 37-page birth plan that lists every scenario the staff could think of, and plenty of elephant milk supplements are on hand just in case.

“We're pretty prepared for what we're going to do,” Newby said. “The thing that makes me nervous is the unknown factor.”

Variables exist, said D'Agostino, the veterinarian.

“A birth is a natural process,” she said. “Anything can happen.”

Elephant Nation

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