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A bouncing baby... elephant

Newborn pachyderm to debut Friday

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 9 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

A young pachyderm is Salt Lake City's first newborn baby elephant in more than 90 years and will be on display to the public beginning Friday at 9 a.m. at Hogle Zoo. The newborn's mom, Christie, delivered her first baby on Aug. 10 after a 22-month gestation.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

When she was born nearly a month ago, the cute baby girl weighed in at 251 pounds and was 36 inches tall.

Since then, Hogle Zoo's new baby elephant has gained another 24 pounds and is an inch taller.

"She's a bundle of energy," Doug Tomkinson, Hogle Zoo's lead elephant keeper, said during a one-hour sneak peak of the baby pachyderm Tuesday.

The baby rambled around her enclosure on somewhat unsteady legs, sometimes appearing to take a run at the fence — just to test if it's still there.

"She's not shy," Tomkinson said.

Later, she frolicked in the mud with her mother to cool off, and even helped splatter mud on some photographers within range.

"This is their first time in the mud together," Tomkinson said of mother and baby.

She also tried to play with the large ball and barbell sitting around the yard.

This unnamed young pachyderm is Salt Lake City's first newborn baby elephant in more than 90 years, and she'll be on display to the public beginning Friday at 9 a.m.

Christie, a 7,900-pound African elephant at Hogle Zoo, delivered her first baby on Aug. 10 after a 22-month gestation.

"I think it's the coolest thing I've ever seen at the zoo," said Doug Lund, assistant zoo director over administration and finance, who has been at the zoo for 35 years. "That little elephant is really an awesome animal."

Hogle Zoo currently boasts a rare double honor. It has the oldest and youngest African elephants found in any U.S. zoo. Dari, 49, the matriarch of U.S. zoo elephants, arrived at the Hogle Zoo in 1967.

Tomkinson said Hogle Zoo has received a lot of well wishes from other zoos because of that double honor. He stressed it has taken a lot of hard work from the zoo's staff to achieve that status.

"She's healthy," he said of the baby elephant. "We're still going to be concerned and keep watching her. … We've passed a lot of big hurdles."

Christie was artificially inseminated in October 2007 so that she and the baby would enjoy some warm weather upon delivery in the 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.

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

Tomkinson said it is likely the baby will remain at Hogle Zoo with her mother indefinitely — or at least as long as the mother stays. Female elephants tend to remain with their mothers for life, while males eventually go out on their own.

Zoo spokeswoman Holly Braithwaite said the zoo is also working on special ways to keep the expected crowds moving this weekend, so that all can enjoy seeing the playful elephant.

The zoo is also sponsoring a baby-naming poll now through Sept. 13. Ballots are available online, at the zoo, and at Sizzler and Red Robin restaurants. Participants can choose from five possible African names — Abeni, Apara, Khari, Aisha or Zuri.

Those who can't wait an extra day to see the zoo's new arrival can make a reservation online to attend the "2009 Zoo Rendezvous" Thursday from 6 to 11 p.m. However, this event is only for adults, age 21 and older.

Hogle Zoo's gate is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. For more information, go to www.hoglezoo.org or call 801-582-1631.

e-mail: lynn@desnews.com

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