Houston Zoo awaiting birth of Asian elephant calf


Asian elephant calves Baylor and Tupelo were born back-to-back in 2010. Now, the Houston Zoo is making preparations for 23-year-old Asian elephant Shanti to give birth in January 2014.

"The average gestation period for an Asian elephant is 22 months," Houston Zoo Director Rick Barongi said. "Our nine-member elephant care staff along with our four Zoo veterinarians as well as research partners at Baylor College of Medicine have been monitoring Shanti throughout her pregnancy. We're looking forward to a successful birth and the new addition to our multigenerational herd."

Shanti gets regular ultrasounds and zookeepers have been monitoring her weight and her diet and leading the expectant mother through a regular exercise program.

The real preparations for the birth will begin next month when experts will begin training a night watch pregnancy monitoring team made up of volunteers and Zoo employees. The team will observe Shanti via closed circuit cameras in the barn at the Zoo's McNair Asian Elephant Habitat, monitoring and recording her behavior and watching for signs of labor.

The night watch pregnancy monitoring will begin in late November and will continue until the calf's birth.

In December, daily blood sample collection to monitor Shanti's progesterone levels will begin. That will give the team an idea of when to expect the calf because a steeply-declining blood progesterone level typically occurs three to five days before delivery.

The new baby will be the eighth Asian elephant at the Houston Zoo. He or she will join three males and four females.

Shanti's last calf was Baylor, a male born May 4, 2010. Weighing 348 pounds at birth, Baylor was named in recognition of Baylor College of Medicine and the advances its research team has made to reduce the threat of a potentially lethal elephant herpes virus.

Learn more about the Houston Zoo's elephant herd at www.houstonzoo.org.

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