After a two-year pregnancy, the wait is over for Shanti (and all of Houston!). Yesterday at 8:27 p.m., the 26-year-old Asian elephant gave birth to a 305-pound female after a short labor, and the calf began to nurse within three hours. The calf has been named Joy by the team who have dedicated their lives to the care, well-being, and conservation of these incredible animals.
Baby elephants are quite wobbly when they’re first born, so the harness you see Joy wearing below lets our elephant team help her stand steady while she’s nursing.
Shanti gave birth in the McNair Asian Elephant Habitat cow barn under the supervision of her keepers and veterinary staff. She and the calf will undergo post-natal exams and spend several days bonding behind the scenes, before they are ready for their public debut. During the bonding period, the elephant team is watching for the pair to share several key moments like communicating with mom, and hitting weight goals.
“Our animal team is thrilled that the birth has gone smoothly,” said Lisa Marie Avendano, vice president of animal operations at the Houston Zoo. “We look forward to continuing to watch Joy and Shanti bond, and introducing her to Houston.”
This is an exhilarating summer for the elephant team. In May, the zoo opened an expanded elephant habitat which doubled the entire elephant complex and immerses guests into the lives and culture of Asian elephants. The new bull barn and expanded yard gives more room for this growing herd.
Just by visiting the Houston Zoo, guests help save baby elephants and their families in the wild. A portion of each zoo admission and membership goes straight to protecting an estimated 200-250 wild elephants in Asia. Since the Houston Zoo started its work in Borneo in 2007, there has been a doubling of the elephant population on the island. The Houston Zoo also provides funds for elephant conservationist, Nurzhafarina “Farina” Othman and her team in Asia, to put tracking collars on wild elephants. This group uses collars to follow wild elephants, conducting valuable research that aids in protecting the elephants as they travel through the forests. Farina also spends time working with farmers that grow and produce palm oil, offering her guidance in responsible cultivation practices that are wildlife-friendly.
Palm oil is an ingredient in many foods and cosmetics, typically grown in areas that were previously home to animals like wild elephants. Converting pristine forests into oil palm plantations has caused extensive deforestation across Southeast Asia. Luckily, a growing number of producers are working to protect these areas and the animals that live there. The Houston Zoo encourages people to protect elephants in the wild by supporting companies that use responsibly sourced palm oil, increasing demand for palm oil that is grown and produced without destroying the forested homes of elephants.