New elephant mother stuns Oregon zookeepers by kicking baby


by By Staff

Posted on August 15, 2009 at 1:42 PM

Updated Monday, Sep 28 at 11:10 AM

PORTLAND, Ore. - First-time elephant mother Rose-Tu gave birth to a 286-pound male elephant calf just before 4 p.m. Saturday, but all did not go as planned.

Watch elephant birth

In fact, there were two big surprises. The first was that Rose-Tu had a male calf instead of a female, and the second was how she reacted towards her newborn -- with violence and confusion.

After more than eighteen hours in labor, zoo veterinarians induced Rose-Tu.

There were some complications and zoo veterinarians confirmed that the elephant calf was born motionless and that Rose-Tu began violently kicking the calf with her 7-tons of force.

"I'm sure you saw our disappointing outcome to something we've waited a very long time for," said Oregon Zoo Deputy Director Mike Keele, who was visibly upset.

Zoo staff quickly cut the live video feed, fearing the worst, while veterinarians worked to assess the health of the fragile baby. They believe Rose-Tu was confused and alarmed because she had never witnessed a birth before.

"The male seems to be in good enough shape that we want to reintroduce them as quickly as possible so he's gaining strength and her calming down... so once that happens, we'll put them back together and see how things go," Keele said.

While experts said this can be common elephant behavior, zoo keepers intervened when they became concerned that the adult elephant may have become too aggressive near her calf.

At one point several of the other adult female elephants began getting close to the baby, so veterinarians, unsure if the calf was in danger, decided to seperate the calf from it's mother. However, efforts to reunite mother and baby were underway.

"The baby is calling to his mom and she's calling back," said Mike Keele, the zoo's deputy director and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' species survival plan coordinator for Asian elephants. "Our veterinarians have examined the calf to see if he sustained any injuries, however from the behavioral signs we've seen thus far, we're very hopeful."

Zookeepers and veterinarians at the Oregon Zoo were put on alert Friday after Rose-Tu went into labor early.

Rose-Tu's due date was mid-September so the first signs of labor were somewhat of a surprise to watchful keepers.

"With a 22-month gestation period, it is not unusual to have dates vary by a month or more," said Mitch Finnegan, the zoo's lead veterinarian.

There is a 30 percent infant mortality rate among captive Asian elephants.

This is the 28th baby elephant born at the Oregon Zoo.

Tusko is the father.

Baby elephants normally weigh 225 to 325 pounds; however, when Rose-Tu was born she weighed 184 pounds. Elephants are able to stand within 45 minutes of birth.

If healthy, the new baby could be in the elephant viewing room, ready to see zoo visitors in a couple of days.

However, Finnegan warned that these things are on their own schedule.

Rose-Tu, born Aug. 31, 1994, was the last elephant born at the zoo. She is a popular elephant within the herd and with her keepers. She is always looking to tease her herd mates and shares a strong friendship with Chendra, who is nearly the same age.

Rose-Tu is the second-smallest elephant in the herd, weighing about 7,600 pounds.

Tusko arrived at the zoo in June 2005 on a breeding loan. He has sired three calves in the past -- two while living in Canada and one in California.

In the fall of 2006, Tusko was introduced to Rose-Tu in hopes the two would make a love connection, zoo official said.