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Oh, Boy! Baby Elephant Born at the Houston Zoo

Emergency Surgery Saves Calf’s Life

On Tuesday, May 12 at 6:30 a.m., 29-year-old Asian elephant Shanti gave birth to a 326-pound male calf after a short labor. Immediately following his birth, the elephant team and veterinary staff saw that he was hemorrhaging severely from his umbilicus. Upon further investigation, they determined that he tore a vessel in his umbilical cord during birth. The team acted quickly to sedate the one-hour-old calf and get him into emergency surgery. The Houston Zoo veterinarians preformed the 30-minute procedure to find the torn vessel, stop the bleeding, and close the hole in the calf’s abdomen.

At the same time, the elephant team worked quickly to collect whole blood from the rest of the herd in the event the new calf needed to have a transfusion. The team’s skill, and training paid off and they were able to quickly and calmly collect three bags of blood. Luckily, a transfusion was not necessary, and the collected blood will be saved for any future needs.

Shortly after surgery, the team reunited the calf with his mom, Shanti. The calf was soon standing and walking on his own and began to nurse before the day ended.

The calf has been named Nelson by the team who have dedicated their lives to the care, well-being, and conservation of these incredible animals.

Shanti gave birth in the McNair Asian Elephant Habitat cow barn under the supervision of her keepers and veterinary staff. While the young calf is not completely out of the woods yet, the team is cautiously optimistic that he will make a full recovery. Shanti and the calf will undergo continued post-natal exams and spend several days bonding, before they are ready to join the rest of the herd. 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.

“We are extremely proud of our dedicated, skilled and experienced elephant and veterinary teams who were thoroughly organized and ready to respond to whatever our new calf needed,” said Lisa Marie Avendano, vice president of animal operations at the Houston Zoo. “We look forward to continuing to watch Nelson and Shanti bond and introducing him to Houston.”

This is the sixth calf for Shanti, who is also mother to Baylor (10), Duncan (6), and Joy (2), and Nelson raises the number of elephants in the Houston Zoo herd to 11–five males and six females.

A portion of each zoo admission and membership goes to protecting an estimated 250 wild elephants in Asia. Since the Houston Zoo started its work in Borneo in 2007, there has been an increase in the wild elephant population. The Houston Zoo provides equipment, training, and support for Dr. Farina Othman, Houston Zoo Borneo Elephant Conservation Research Associate, and her team, who are working to protect elephant families in and around palm oil plantations.

Palm oil is a common ingredient in everyday items like soap and snack foods, and it is grown in areas where elephants roam. The Houston Zoo purchases trees for people in Borneo to replant in palm oil plantations to create forested paths for wildlife to use. By visiting and supporting the Houston Zoo, guests are helping the Zoo replant more than 300,000 trees in Borneo to save Asian elephants in the wild.