MEMPHIS, TN (abc24.com) - A jolly Memphis Zoo staff has confirmed the pregnancy of one of its African elephants. "Gina" is expected to give birth in summer of 2012.
The pregnancy is a result of the Zoo's continued participation in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' (AZA) plans to grow the captive population of elephants. This plan, known as the Species Survival Plan, outlines the management and development of healthy elephant herds in U.S. zoos.
"An ultrasound showed that the uterus and uterine horns were characteristic of a pregnant cow," said Dr. Andy Kouba, Director of Conservation and Research. "Hormone monitoring of the steroid progesterone, the hormone of pregnancy, shows that Gina is pregnant."
Artificial insemination procedures were performed at the Zoo October 24 and 25, 2010. Elephant gestation is 22 months, so the calf is expected to be born in August 2012. Zoo staff will be closely monitoring Gina and coordinating exercises with her to ensure a healthy pregnancy.
Gina is 28 years old and shares her exhibit with two other female elephants, "Tyranza," age 47 and "Asali," age 26. The Zoo does not have any males on exhibit. Collections used in the artificial insemination came from bull elephants at the Pittsburgh and Indianapolis zoos. The Zoo plans to conduct DNA tests to determine paternity once the calf is several months old.
"We're, of course, cautiously optimistic," said Matt Thompson, Director of Animal Programs. "This will be Gina's first calf, so it's important that we monitor her progress closely."
In summer of 2009, Memphis Zoo staff welcomed its first elephant calf when Asali gave birth in July. The female calf died tragically just two days later from an accidental injury by her mother.
Asali was also artificially inseminated in May of this year. This attempt was unsuccessful; however, Zoo staff will attempt another insemination with Asali on her next cycle.
The Zoo recently received a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to expand the inside of the elephant barn to provide more stalls and usable space for the elephants. The barn now includes a stall for calf and mother to be separated from the rest of the herd. Improvements have also been made to the interior to create better visual contact between each of the elephants, as well as improvements on the floors making them softer and more sanitary.
There are also future plans for the footprint of the elephant yard to be expanded eastward toward Northwest Passage in the space currently housing the Zoo concessions and Animal Nutrition Center, including the former location of the Zoo's greenhouses.
"The recent renovations made in the elephant barn well exceed guidelines set by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. The construction of the additional stalls will allow space for our keepers to provide exceptional care for both mother and calf as we look to expand the Memphis Zoo herd," said Chuck Brady, Zoo President and CEO.
These planned expansions will give the elephants almost three times the room they have in their current exhibit.