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Oklahoma zoos expect baby elephant in 2011

BY CARRIE COPPERNOLL Modified: December 7, 2009 at 4:15 am •  Published: December 7, 2009
TULSA — An elephant from the Oklahoma City Zoo is pregnant after only one breeding attempt with a male elephant at the Tulsa Zoo.

Asha conceived in July and is expected to give birth in May 2011. Her sister, Chandra, also mated with male Sneezy, though that attempt was unsuccessful.

If Asha’s pregnancy continues normally, the sisters will return to the Oklahoma City Zoo next year. Asha’s offspring will be the first elephant born at the zoo.

Like all mammals, the first trimester for pregnant elephants is the most fragile. But staff members at both zoos are hopeful, said Mike Connolly, assistant curator of elephants at the Tulsa Zoo.

"It’s hard not to just want to go jumping, leaping through the buildings, through the hallways,” Connolly said. "We realize there’s a long road ahead of us, but this is something we’ve definitely been hoping for, working toward.”

Asha’s peanut
Asha and Chandra were moved to Tulsa in June 2008 as part of the Elephant Species Survival Plan, the nationwide breeding program that monitors genetics and the elephant population. Neither has ever bred, and male Sneezy doesn’t have any living offspring.

The breeding plan all came down to timing, Connolly said. The sisters had to be comfortable in their new home, and zoo staff had to be sure they could accurately predict both elephants’ ovulation cycles.

Tulsa zookeepers also had to decide how to introduce the females to Sneezy. They discussed the options with Oklahoma City keepers and experts from across the country. In the end, the consensus was that the sisters should meet Sneezy together. They were put together with him in June.

The females spent their days in the same habitat as Sneezy and then went to their own enclosure at night. But as Asha neared ovulation in July, Sneezy sought a change of plans, Connolly said.

The bull would stay close to them and prevent them from leaving at night.

Zookeepers decided to let the three stay together overnight until they bred. Two days later, Asha and Sneezy mated.

"He’s a very good, well-behaved bull,” Connolly said. "He’s very tolerant and it went really, really smoothly.”

In August, Chandra ovulated, and Sneezy mated with her. Ongoing Coverage: Elephant Nation