announcements yet, but officially confirmed today the pregnancy of one
of its African elephants, 22-year-old Christie. If successful, this
will be the first birth of an African elephant at Utah’s Hogle Zoo.
After a total of three attempts at artificial insemination in 2006 and
2007, Christie was confirmed pregnant through an ultrasound performed
on Saturday February 16th by a team of German veterinary scientists
from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin.
This was the same team that performed the previous insemination
procedures: the first in August 2006, one in March 2007 and the third
in October 2007. Though the first two attempts proved unsuccessful, the
veterinary team was optimistic about October’s attempt. "Not only was
the timing good, but Christie’s cooperative behavior was good, and she
was very receptive." said German scientist Dr. Frank Goeritz. "She was
very calm and it was as if she told us she was ready." Commenting on
Christie’s good behavior, scientist Dr. Thomas Hildebrandt added, "You
can’t get pregnant if you’re stressed." They both noted that the male
semen sample brought to Hogle Zoo from a male elephant at the
Pittsburgh Zoo was extremely viable, which was also promising.
Hogle Zoo animal care staff were also confident about the success of
the final artificial insemination attempt, and further encouraged by
the positive blood tests taken prior to the ultrasound. "When we got
blood readings that showed what looked like a possible pregnancy, I
knew something would happen that is great and wonderful," said Doug
Tomkinson, Hogle Zoo Lead Elephant Keeper. "I was hopeful and excited
from the beginning, but in working with these animals, I still know to
expect many challenges along the way."
Even with the exciting possibility of a baby elephant, as with any
pregnancy, there are still significant risks that can occur throughout
Christie’s 20- to 22- month pregnancy, or gestation, period. Zoo animal
care staff and veterinary team will continue to keep a close watch on
Christie in the coming months. "As we enter the next phase of our goal
to successfully have a baby elephant, the veterinary and elephant
management teams will work closely together to enhance Christies health
and fitness in preparation for the birth," said Dr. Nancy Carpenter,
Hogle Zoo’s Associate Director–Animal Health. "As with the pregnancy
of any human or animal, problems can occur. We will be working closely
with the German team and our zoo colleagues to help us prepare for all
contingencies throughout the pregnancy and post birth periods."
Tomkinson adds, "A lot can go wrong, but also there’s a lot that can go
During her pregnancy, Christie will participate in her own version of
aerobics classes; the elephant management team will encourage exercise
through bending, stretching and climbing to help her maintain her
weight, as well as the weight of the baby, and ease potential
complications during delivery. If Christie carries the baby to term,
she will likely give birth in late summer of 2009.
Because of improvements in elephant management and training at Hogle
Zoo, the risks of an insemination procedure such as Christies is
minimal compared to the benefits. This procedure was a non-surgical
procedure removing the risks that would normally be associated with
anesthesia and surgery. The ability to work with Christie in a positive
environment will translate into a comfortable birthing situation.
Still, the benefits of a successful elephant birth at Hogle Zoo far out
weigh the risks. The Association of Zoos & Aquariums’ Species
Survival Plan for African elephants recommended Christie as a good
candidate for breeding, in part due to her age. The AZA, of which Hogle
Zoo is an accredited member, strives to maintain a sustainable
population of elephants in North America. Elephants have been
historically difficult to breed in captivity, and their future in North
American zoos is at risk. The renovations of Hogle Zoo’s Elephant
Encounter enabled participation in the artificial insemination program,
furthering a commitment to elephant survival.
Conservation, education and research work done at Hogle Zoo also plays
a significant role in the survival of species in the wild. With
successful elephant breeding of this nature, Hogle Zoo continues to
live out its mission to nurture respect and appreciation for the
natural world by providing diverse educational, recreational, and
conservation opportunities that will benefit generations to come.
Visit Hogle Zoo online at www.hoglezoo.org or for more information,
contact Community Relations Coordinator Holly Braithwaite by email or call (801) 584-1729. For more information on AZA-supported elephant conservation programs, visit www.aza.org/elephantconservation/
About the Association of Zoos & Aquariums:
Utah’s Hogle Zoo is one of only 216 accredited by the Association of
Zoos & Aquariums (AZA). Look for the AZA logo whenever you visit a
zoo or aquarium as your assurance that you are supporting a facility
dedicated to providing excellent care for animals, a great experience
for you, and a better future for all living things. AZA is a leader in
global wildlife conservation, and your link to helping animals in their
native habitats. For more information visit www.aza.org.