After an almost two-year pregnancy, the Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden is happy to announce the addition of a female calf to its Asian elephant herd. Kairavi, Sanskrit for moonlight, was born Tuesday, October 9, at 11:28 p.m., inside the OKC Zoo’s elephant habitat at Sanctuary Asia. Both mother, Asha, and newborn, Kairavi (Kai), are in good health and are now viewable to guests. Kai’s arrival brings the total number of Asian elephants at the Zoo to seven.
Veterinary staff and animal caretakers were present for the delivery and reported the birth required no medical intervention with the entire process taking only 15 minutes. The entire elephant herd was in the inside habitat with Asha during the birth and got to see and hear the delivery, an important component to the herd bonding with the newborn calf. After the birth, vet staff performed a visual inspection of Kai and determined the calf to be strong and observed Asha demonstrating appropriate maternal behaviors. The team remarked that Kai hit important developmental milestones surprisingly fast: standing only 12 minutes post-delivery and nursing after just 40 minutes.
“Asha is an exceptional mother and there is no doubt our new arrival, Kai, will thrive with her elephant family,” said Nick Newby, assistant curator, large mammals. “Not only are we are excited to welcome this new addition to the herd after 22 months of waiting, Kai’s arrival is a testament to the Zoo’s commitment to elephant conservation, and we can’t wait to introduce her to our guests.”
The gestation period for elephants is 22 months, during which Asha gained approximately 1,000 pounds bringing her total weight to 8,500 pounds. During the pregnancy, veterinary staff conducted weekly ultrasounds and daily hormone level testing. When they noted a large drop in Asha’s progesterone levels on Monday, October 8, they knew Kai’s arrival was imminent. During the latter months of her pregnancy, animal caretakers provided extra comfort for Asha in the form of large sand piles, where she could lay comfortably for a good night’s sleep. She also participated in birth practice with her caretakers on a weekly basis and continued to exercise with the herd.
This is the third elephant calf born at the OKC Zoo and the third offspring for mother Asha, 23, who arrived in 2008 from Dickerson Park Zoo in Springfield, MO. Father Rex, 50, came to the Zoo in 2011 from Canada’s African Lion Safari. The pair produced Achara, 3, in 2014. The Oklahoma City Zoo’s Asian elephant herd also includes: Kandula, 17; Bamboo, 51; and Chandra, 22.
The OKC Zoo participates in the Asian Elephant Species Survival Plan (SSP), developed by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). Asian elephants are endangered and their African counterparts are vulnerable. Currently, the greatest threats to Asian elephants are habitat destruction and human-elephant conflict. About 60 percent of the total human population lives in Asia, and this population has nearly quadrupled in the last century. As human needs increase, more natural land is taken away from Asian elephants in order to build cities, homes, highways, farmland, etc. Habitat destruction is forcing animals, elephants in particular, to come in contact with humans in ways that can cause conflict.
In addition to supporting the Northern Rangelands Trust since 2009, which protects African elephants, the Zoo has been working with Rainforest Trust to purchase and preserve 13,000 acres of forest in central Sumatra and 18,000 acres of forest in Borneo, both of which are natural habitats for Asian elephants. The OKC Zoo also helps support a number of other elephant conservation projects, including the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Rakhine Yoma Elephant Range Project in Myanmar and International Elephant Foundation’s conservation efforts in Sumatra. These projects support boots on the ground teams that protect forests, prevent poaching and encroachment and mitigate human-elephant conflict. Since 2010, the Zoo has contributed almost $400,000 to elephant-related conservation.