PORTLAND, Ore. — Oregon Zoo staff members are on alert this afternoon, as Rose-Tu is showing signs of early labor. Animal-care staff reported that the Asian elephant, now in her 22nd month of pregnancy, is showing signs of discomfort, an event that usually indicates active labor will begin within 24 hours.
But the waiting isn’t over yet. Once active labor begins, it could still be another day or two before the baby arrives, according to elephant curator Bob Lee, who’s spent much of the past few days monitoring Rose’s progress. Active labor in Asian elephants usually lasts at least 12 hours — and when Rose-Tu gave birth to Samudra in 2008, her labor was three times that long.
“Rose’s blood-progesterone level dropped noticeably a few days ago, and we’ve been watching her 24/7 since,” Lee said. “But these things happen according to their own schedule. Rose is still happily munching on hay and bamboo. We’re not too concerned about how much time it takes as long as Rose and her baby are safe and healthy. With a 22-month gestation period, what’s another day or two?”
And, Lee cautions, the birth of a healthy baby elephant is no sure thing.
“We’re hopeful for the best, but there are definitely risks involved,” said Mitch Finnegan, the zoo’s senior veterinarian. “There can be complications to both mother and calf. A calf may be stillborn or get lodged in the birthing canal. We’ll be monitoring her very closely.”
One major risk to both the mother and calf is dystocia, or a difficult labor.
“Due to their large size and unique reproductive anatomy, managing dystocia in elephants is especially challenging,” Dr. Finnegan said. “Our efforts have been directed at giving Rose the best possible chance to have an uncomplicated delivery.”
Another concern is how Rose-Tu might react to a new calf. After giving birth to Samudra in 2008, Rose-Tu, who had never experienced a birth before, became confused and agitated after delivering her baby, which can happen with first-time mothers. Keepers quickly intervened, and zoo staff worked around the clock for a week to ensure the critical mother-calf bond became the strong one it is today.
“That last birth easily took a year off my life,” Finnegan said. “I hope this one goes easier.”
Finnegan and the rest of the zoo’s animal-care staff are hopeful that, as an experienced mom, Rose-Tu will know how to react when her second calf is born. If the birth is successful, the baby will be Rose-Tu’s second offspring, and the 28th baby elephant born at the Oregon Zoo.
The Oregon Zoo is recognized worldwide for its successful breeding program for Asian elephants, which has now spanned 50 years. Rose-Tu’s mother, Me-Tu, was the second elephant born at the zoo (just months after Packy in 1962), and her grandmother, Rosy, was the first elephant ever to live in Oregon.
Asian elephants are considered highly endangered in their range countries, threatened by habitat loss and conflict with humans. Perhaps fewer than 40,000 elephants remain in fragmented populations from India to Borneo.
The Oregon Zoo is an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, whose species survival plan for Asian elephants is striving to establish a self-sustaining population in North America.
The zoo is a service of Metro and is dedicated to its mission of inspiring the community to create a better future for wildlife. Committed to conservation, the zoo is currently working to save endangered California condors, Oregon silverspot and Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies, western pond turtles and Oregon spotted frogs. Other projects include studies on Asian elephants, polar bears, orangutans and giant pandas. The zoo relies in part on community support through donations to the Oregon Zoo Foundation to undertake these and many other animal welfare, education and sustainability programs.
The zoo opens at 9 a.m. daily and is located five minutes from downtown Portland, just off Highway 26. The zoo is also accessible by MAX light rail line. Visitors who travel to the zoo via MAX receive $1.50 off zoo admission. Call TriMet Customer Service, 503-238-RIDE (7433), or visit www.trimet.org for fare and route information.
General zoo admission is $10.50 (ages 12-64), $9 for seniors (65 and up), $7.50 for children (ages 3-11) and free for those 2 and younger; 25 cents of the admission price helps fund regional conservation projects through the zoo’s Future for Wildlife program. A parking fee of $4 per car is also required. Additional information is available at www.oregonzoo.org or by calling 503-226-1561.