You are never supposed to have a favorite animal, but I have to admit some of us do. For me, it’s Asha, the OKC Zoo’s 23-year-old female Asian elephant. She has a sweet temperament, eager to train and socialize with caretakers. She is also a wonderful mother to Achara, 3, and will soon be raising a new calf, due this fall after a 22-month gestation! Rex, 48, will yet again be a proud papa fathering his second calf since he arrived at the Zoo.
You may be asking yourself: what goes into an elephant birth in a human care setting? For the elephant team here at the Oklahoma City Zoo, it means a lot of preparation. We are committed to having the best care and welfare for both mom and calf on this big day. Like any mother-to-be, Asha has training classes in preparation for the upcoming arrival. These training sessions not only help her prepare but also allow our team of dedicated caretakers learn their part in this process. Bi-weekly transabdominal ultrasounds are performed by Zoo vet staff to monitor the calf’s heart rate and growth. The team also leads exercise sessions that encourage her to stay in shape and have a good core strength to help when active labor begins.
Asha typically eats about 150 pounds of food each day consisting of hay, grass, tree limbs, grains, fruits and vegetables. Does this amount change during her pregnancy? It does not! We want all of our animals to stay at a healthy weight pregnant or not, and consistency is key. We monitor Asha’s growth at least once a week to make sure she is gaining weight appropriately throughout the pregnancy.
The population of Asian elephants, both in nature and in human care, have dropped significantly in the last few decades. Both habitat destruction and human-elephant conflict are contributing factors in the decline of this magnificent species. AZA-accredited Zoos are proactively trying to save endangered species, including Asian elephants, through programs referred to as Species Survival Plans. The OKC Zoo is proud to be a facility working to save elephants from extinction, to preserve these incredible animals for the foreseeable future.
-Nick Newby, assistant curator
Photo: Andrea Johnson