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New arrival: Elephant born at Hogle Zoo

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 11 2009 1:33 p.m. MDT

After a 22-month pregnancy, Hogle Zoo African elephant Christie has finally given birth to a female calf Tuesday. This is the first baby born to 23-year-old Christie. It is not yet determined when Christie and her calf will be on exhibit to the public.

Hogle Zoo

Salt Lake City now has its first newborn baby elephant in more than 89 years.

Christie, a 7,900-pound African elephant at Hogle Zoo delivered her first baby Monday afternoon, after a 22-month gestation.

The 251-pound and 36-inch tall female calf is reported to be doing well.

"The birth was extremely fast," elephant manager Doug Tomkinson said. "It went easy and well, but I can't believe how fast it happened."

He added, "This is something miraculous that has occurred. It has been years of hard work from the elephant staff and everyone else involved, and now the calf is finally here."

The baby pachyderm already has a trunk measuring 15 inches long.

Now that the elephant has been born, the staff is working on helping mom and baby bond.

"Right now we're working to get Christie and her calf comfortable around each other," said Nancy Carpenter, zoo associate director for animal health. "We are also closely watching the health of both elephants in these important first few days since delivery. The baby has begun nursing, which is a good sign for us."

Renowned elephant reproductive scientist Frank Goeritz, one of the team who performed Christie's artificial insemination, was also on hand to assist with the delivery in case any obstacles were encountered.

Zoo spokeswoman Holly Braithwaite said it could be as long as six to eight weeks before the public gets to see the new arrival. "We'll certainly let the public know when she does come on display," she said.

Christie was artificially inseminated in October 2007 so that she and baby would enjoy some warm weather upon delivery in summer of 2009. African elephants carry their offspring 20 months to 22 months, the longest of any land mammal.

Christie became pregnant after three attempts at artificial insemination in 2006 and 2007. She was confirmed pregnant through an ultrasound in February 2008 by a team of German veterinary scientists from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin. "Not only was the timing good, but Christie's cooperative behavior was good, and she was very receptive," Goeritz said after the February ultrasound.

Jackson, a male elephant in the Pittsburgh zoo, is the father.

The Association of Zoos & Aquariums' Species Survival Plan for African elephants recommended now-23-year-old Christie as a good candidate for breeding, in part due to her age.

The renovations of Hogle Zoo's Elephant Encounter in 2005 enabled participation in the artificial insemination program, furthering a commitment to elephant survival.

"We are excited and proud to have our first baby African elephant born at Utah's Hogle Zoo. This success began with the community's support of a better home for our elephants at 'Elephant Encounter,'" says zoo executive director Craig Dinsmore. "From that milestone, our elephant and veterinary staff have dedicated themselves to helping Christie elephant have a healthy baby. This is a tremendous accomplishment for them and for Christie, and it demonstrates the value of improving the zoo for all the animals."

Christie went off public display last Friday morning, as it was apparent she would soon deliver based on decreasing hormone levels.

With the new baby being a female, it will likely remain at Hogle Zoo with its mother indefinitely because female elephants tend to remain with their mothers for life, while males eventually go out on their own.

Tomkinson and other zoo workers have been hoping the impending birth will help them cope with the death of Misha, an elephant that was euthanized last September.

e-mail: lynn@desnews.com

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