Houston Zoo’s Dr Lauren Travels to Singapore to Save Elephants – Post # 4

One of our expert veterinarians is currently in Singapore working with other wildlife professionals to save elephants from a deadly virus. Embark on this journey with her as she writes about the efforts being made to eradicate the virus and protect Asian elephants around the world.


Friday night in hotel room after meeting:

Elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus (EEHV) is responsible for 42% of the deaths of Asian elephants born in North America since 1980. It is certainly a leading cause of mortality in the young Asian elephants in our country, and better understanding of this devastating disease is a high priority for the research collaboration established between the Houston Zoo and Baylor College of Medicine. What does EEHV mean for Asian elephants in their 13 range countries across South Asia? Does it impact elephants that are under human care in camps, orphanages, zoos, and logging operations? Does it impact free ranging Asian elephant populations, which are already under immense pressure from habitat destruction and fragmentation, human elephant conflict, and poaching?

Elephant Mating

Today we took the first steps to finding answers to some of these questions. Today was the second day of our three day 1st Asian EEHV Strategy Meeting, hosted by Wildlife Reserves Singapore. Thirty three veterinarians, conservationists, researchers and elephant specialists from eight elephant range countries as well as Singapore, the Netherlands, Canada and the US came together to share information and discuss priorities and plan our next steps in regard to EEHV in Asia. The largest regional need identified was the need to increase awareness and education about EEHV in all groups including  those taking care of the elephants every day (the mahouts) as well as elephant and wildlife veterinarians, veterinary colleges, and government officials. Another important issue identified was the need to establish more laboratories that can diagnose EEHV within range countries;  currently, of 13 elephant range countries, only 3 have EEHV diagnostic capabilities (India, Thailand, and Indonesia). EEHV can cause death within 1 to 2 days of the start of visible illness, making close availability of diagnostic laboratories of paramount importance.Asian Elephant Baylor-0489-1886

A third priority identified was the need to learn more about the impact of EEHV on Asian elephant populations in range countries. Together, we identified 62 cases of EEHV in five of the range countries represented at our meeting (India, Myanmar, Indonesia, Thailand, and Cambodia), with 3 of these 62 elephants surviving infection with intensive treatment by Thai veterinarians. Of the 59 identified EEHV fatalities, 47 were in captive elephants and 12 were documented in wild elephants in India, where wildlife veterinarians already have an extensive monitoring and necropsy protocol. We now know for certain that EEHV-associated mortalities occur in wild elephants, and need to learn much more about its prevalence in and impact on wild populations.

It was a long day and long laundry list of needs and problems to address…. Wherever do we start…. Stay tuned next time for the answers! (well, at least some of them…..)

Houston Zoo’s Dr Lauren Travels to Singapore to Save Elephants – Post # 3

One of our expert veterinarians is currently in Singapore working with other wildlife professionals to save elephants from a deadly virus. Embark on this journey with her as she writes about the efforts being made to eradicate the virus and protect Asian elephants around the world.


Here I am sharing the results of one of our smaller group discussions, where we itemized several things that need to get done

(In cab on way back from Singapore Night Safari):

Today I got to stand up in front of a crowd of 50 people from 10 different countries in Asia and explain how we have saved elephants from EEHV at the Houston Zoo. Veterinarians from Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Myanmar, Malaysia, India, Borneo, Singapore, and Sri Lanka attended the first day of our three  day workshop on the Asian EEHV Strategy meeting hosted by the Singapore Zoo. As I’ve mentioned earlier, elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus (EEHV) causes severe, fatal hemorrhagic disease in young Asian elephants. Today I presented background information on EEHV as well as details of the Houston Zoo’s intensive EEHV monitoring and treatment program. I presented along with Dr. Paul Ling of Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine, Dr. Willem Schaftenaar of the Rotterdam Zoo in the Netherlands, and Dr. Arun Zachariah of the department of Forest and Wildlife in Kerala,  India. We also heard case reports and field updates from Dr. Christopher Stremme in Indonesia, and  Dr. Chatchote Thitaram, from the Center of Excellence in Elephant Research and Education in Thailand. I learned that our Houston Zoo EEHV Protocol, which we update yearly, was used as an important resource at the First Meeting of the Thailand EEHV Task Force in October 2015. The treatment information in our protocol also contributed significantly to the survival of three young elephants in Thailand who became ill from EEHV in 2013-2015. Unfortunately, these survivors were in the minority, with 25 elephants in Thailand having died of EEHV since 2006, with more than half of the fatalities occurring since 2012.Dr. Ellen Wiedner shares information with range country veterinarians on elephant ICU care and elephant blood cells

In North America, most of the institutions that care for elephants have the same challenges and priorities, intensively managing smaller herds and focusing EEHV monitoring efforts on a handful of young elephants in their collections. Throughout these different countries in South East Asia, the situations and needs vary greatly from region to region. Some elephant camps or sanctuaries have full time veterinarians, and some have veterinarians visit regularly or only when an illness is noted. The logging elephants in Myanmar have strict government guidelines outlining their care.  The Elephant Transit Camp in Sri Lanka houses up to forty elephant orphans under 6 years old, eventually rehabilitating most and releasing them back the wild. The challenge we will face the next two days will be to take what we have learned about EEHV in North America, and the testing and treatment protocols we have developed at the Houston Zoo, and see how we can apply this all to the various situations across Asia, where an elephant’s blood sample may travel for three days at room temperature before it can make it to a lab, and where electricity to keep refrigerators working is not always reliable. It’s a thrill being able to share information from our EEHV Collaboration in Houston with these incredible veterinarians who face so many challenges (habitat destruction, fragmenting of wild herds, lack laboratories)  in the work of keeping their elephants safe and healthy. More to come!!

Houston Zoo Veterinarian Travels to Singapore to Save Elephants – Post #2

One of our expert veterinarians is currently in Singapore working with other wildlife professionals to save elephants from a deadly virus. Embark on this journey with her as she writes about the efforts being made to eradicate the virus and protect Asian elephants around the world.


Elephant Mating

Another elephant in the United Kingdom died of elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus (EEHV) earlier this week, this brings the total in the US and the UK up to 5 young elephant deaths in 2015,which is 5 elephants too many. We’ve learned so much about this deadly disease and yet we have so much left to learn. The first case of EEHV was identified in Washington DC at the National  Zoo in 1995. A young female elephant, Kumari, died suddenly and had some findings on necropsy (that’s an autopsy for animals) that the zoo community had never seen before: bleeding and bruising in most of her organs, blue discoloration of the tongue, fluid build up around the heart.  Veterinarians and pathologists eventually identified a herpes virus as the cause of Kumari’s death, finding the virus present within the cells that lined her blood vessels. These are called  endothelial cells, so the virus was named elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus. I grew up in a suburb outside of Washington DC and went to the National Zoo regularly when I was younger. When I was in high school, I had the opportunity to meet Kumari and her mother in person, shortly after she was born. I was in college when my parents told me she had died, and I didn’t realize that, 10 years later, the same disease would send me to places across the US as well as Copenhagen, Rotterdam, and Bangkok.elephant fam

I’m sitting at the gate here at IAH waiting to board my flight to Tokyo, then Singapore. It takes 24 hours of traveling to get to Singapore from Houston! I am looking forward to the start of the three day international EEHV workshop that is focusing on the Asian range countries where wild elephants still make their homes. I’ll be sharing more about the history of EEHV and my work in Singapore with other like minded veterinarians, researchers, conservationists and elephant specialists soon!!

Houston Zoo Veterinarian Travels to Singapore to Save Elephants – Post #1

One of our expert veterinarians is currently in Singapore working with other wildlife professionals to save elephants from a deadly virus. Embark on this journey with her as she writes about the efforts being made to eradicate the virus and protect Asian elephants around the world.


Asian Elephant Baylor-0489-1886

Baby elephants are dying in Sumatra. And Nepal. And Thailand. The cause is a virus called elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus (EEHV), which causes a devastating hemorrhagic disease not unlike Ebola in people. I have the unique opportunity to travel to Singapore next week to contribute to a workshop that will focus on EEHV in Asian elephants in their native countries. Over three days, I’ll be working with 40 other scientists (veterinarians, researchers, conservationists, and elephant care specialists) representing more than 10 Asian countries, Europe, and the United States, on how to monitor for EEHV, how to treat it, how to better understand it, and how to help get resources organized and set protocols in place to try to save baby elephants throughout Asia.

The Houston Zoo re-affirmed its commitment to fighting EEHV in 2009 when it began its partnership with the Baylor College of Medicine, a neighbor right across the street in the medical center. Since then, we’ve been working closely with Dr. Paul Ling, a human herpesvirus expert with BCM’s Department of Molecular Virology and Microbiology. The synergy between Dr. Ling’s laboratory expertise and our zoo’s commitment to science and advanced elephant care has resulted in exponential forward strides in our understanding of this devastating virus. We still have so much to learn, but we are making progress. The most obvious evidence of this progress is that our two 5 year old elephants, Tupelo and Baylor, both survived EEHV infections in the summer and fall of 2014, not once but twice. Each. We here at the Houston Zoo are confident that it was our intensive EEHV monitoring protocols, and our constant vigilance and ability to act swiftly and aggressively, that got our two elephants through their potentially fatal infections.

And now, I have the humbling responsibility to take what we’ve learned here, from the Asian elephants under human care across North America, and share it with the myriad of veterinarians and conservationists across Asia who are doing their best to keep wild and orphaned elephants healthy. I look forward to sharing my journey with our many friends of the Houston Zoo over the next 2 weeks!!

 

 

Help Save Elephants in the Wild and Go Gray for World Elephant Day!

Calling all elephant enthusiasts! Did you know elephant population numbers are rapidly declining in the wild? Do you know there are ways YOU can help protect these magnificent animals in the wild? You can start by joining the more than one hundred zoos and thousands of individuals across the country on Wednesday, August 12 in celebrating World Elephant Day!

elephant fam

Elephants are the largest land mammals in the world and among the most intelligent animals on earth. Unfortunately, Asian elephants are also among the world’s most endangered species. At the turn of the 20th century, more than 100,000 Asian elephants roamed their native habitat. Today, approximately 40,000 Asian elephants remain in the wild. And this number continues to decline due to habitat loss, human-elephant conflict and poaching for their ivory tusks.

elephants-outside-playingHere at the Houston Zoo, we are committed to protecting animals outside of our Zoo gates, and elephants are in serious need of our support. In the past five years, the Houston Zoo has worked closely with partners in both Africa and Asia, funding over $500,000 in field conservation programs.

YOU can help, too! Simply by visiting the Houston Zoo, you help protect animals in the wild – a portion of your admission ticket goes directly to conservation efforts around the world. You can also attend special events throughout the year where registration fees are also donated to conservation efforts.

Check out the Houston Zoo website to learn more of how we and YOU can help elephants.

 

A great time to visit the Houston Zoo is World Elephant Day on Wednesday, August 12, 2015.

World Elephant Day Activities Include:

10 a.m. – 2 p.m.

  • See and touch an elephant tooth
  • Find out more about the Houston Zoo’s Asian elephant herd: Thai, Methai, Shanti, Tess, Tucker, Tupelo, Baylor, & Duncan

10 a.m.

  • Daily Elephant Bath at The McNair Asian Elephant Barn

11 a.m. – 1 p.m.

  • Walking tour of the Asian elephant barn for those who Go Gray for World Elephant Day!

Wear gray on your Zoo visit and get an inside look at our state-of-the-art elephant barn, plus talk with our Zookeepers, while the elephants are outside playing in the yard.

Sabgina's Updates: The Asian Elephants at the Houston Zoo

Elephants are the largest mammals on the land. Two species are traditionally recognized, African elephants and Asian elephants. They are slightly different; African elephants have large ears shaped similar to the continent of Africa while Asian elephants have small and rounded ears. African elephants are taller with a shoulder height between 9-13 feet while Asian elephants reach 6.5 – 9 feet at their tallest point. African elephants weigh between 8,800 – 15,400 pounds while Asian elephants weigh 6,500 – 13,200 pounds. African elephants are found in Africa and Asian elephants are found in Asian countries. Elephants in captivity do not face the pressures of elephants in the wild such as drought, habitat loss, poaching and conflicts with people. Elephants in the Houston Zoo are not brought in from the wild for entertainment; they are brought in from other organizations or as rescues.

The Houston Zoo has Asian elephants. I was happy when my supervisor Renee Bumpus assigned me to join elephant zookeepers one day on their daily duties!! Oh my God!!!! What can I say other than awesome!! Not only did this excursion of elephant exhibit exceed my expectations, it went far and above my thinking!! I was warmly welcomed to the elephant exhibit by the zookeepers to join them on their daily work; it was one of the best experiences of my life! It was my first time to be near Asian elephants. My tour was led by Martina. Martina – Elephant Supervisor was fun, informative and she is obviously in love with her job, I learned a lot from her!

sabinga elephant

Keepers provide a lot of comfort to the elephants and work every day to build a relationship with the elephants. For humans, the most complex and important emotion is love, and we describe it in a multitude of ways. And from what I learn from Save the Elephants organization I am working with in Kenya, the African elephants society is a very female-based hierarchy, and the loyalty that a herd shows to a matriarch is intensely strong. They will follow her wherever she goes: perhaps that is a manifestation of love of a different sort, the same as what I saw at the elephant’s exhibits with Asian elephants, the powerful bond between (Shanti) a mother elephant, and (Duncan) her calf is an easy one for me to understand but for Martina conversation with elephants is more different and unique! Martina uses signs and voice to talk with an elephants and it seems like the elephants totally understand, it’s more complex than writing a computer program by using coding I think!! I do not know whether to put in English speaking society or what to call that peculiar communication between zoo elephant’s keepers and Asian elephants on exhibit.

Elephants in the Houston Zoo are well taken care of, the daily schedule was tight, 7 – 8:30 am was breakfast time, Houston Zoo keepers work hard to ensure that the elephants get breakfast and they balance the daily diet. Keepers have strictly followed diet timetables that contain daily diets, weekly diets and monthly diets. The level of care the keepers provide for the elephants results in great treatment and health of the elephants.

8:30 am – 10:00 am, bathing time, it’s a typical bath; every part of the body is scrubbed with soap before being rinsed.  Keepers use the bath time to visually examine every part of the animal’s bodies and clean their skin while also providing important interaction and training opportunities for the elephants. Foot care follows a daily schedule that guarantees that all four feet will receive a pad trim and nail file once a week.  The elephants are trained to accept and respond to this care. It’s the best treatment.

10:00 am to 11:00 am, cleaning of barns and elephants released out for exercise through play behaviors such as swimming and interaction with enrichment items like swinging a tire back and forth, digging in the ground with their feet, and standing on the exhibit fencing while stretching to reach hay and also walking helps the elephants maintain weight, muscle tone, and joint flexibility.

The illegal poaching of elephants for their ivory tusks has soared dramatically, causing a wild population of elephants to continue to decline in Africa and Asia. The Houston Zoo and other zoos are playing vital roles as stewards of an important part of the world’s heritage while supporting conservation in the wild.


 

Sabinga-Profile-Resize
Sabinga collecting marine debris in Galveston

The Houston Zoo is excited to welcome a new intern who comes to us all the way from Kenya, in East Africa. Sabinga is in the United States participating in the Community College Initiative Program (CCIP). The Community College Initiative Program is a program of the U.S. Department of State, administered by Northern Virginia Community College onbehalf of the Community College Consortium (CCC) in partnership with Houston Community College. While participating in this program, he will join us at the zoo as an intern to learn all about what a modern-day zoo is like! Sabinga is already part of the conservation community as he has been working with Save the Elephants in Kenya for over 8 years. He will be documenting his experiences at the Zoo and we will share his thoughts with you here on our blog! Stay tuned for more!

Happy First Birthday Duncan!

Written by Andrea Pohlman

On February 7th, the Houston Zoo’s elephant care team celebrated Duncan’s 1st birthday! With help from the Zoo’s commissary staff, the elephants were treated to birthday cakes made with soaked grain and frosted in peanut butter.

Streamers and a banner were hung in the elephant exhibit, and a wrapped present was hung for Duncan to play with. Duncan’s birthday cake was decorated with kale, broccoli and a number “1” made out of strawberries.
duncan-bday-cake-resize

After their morning bath, Duncan and 24-year old mom Shanti entered the exhibit, and a large crowd of zoo guests began singing “Happy Birthday”. Shanti and Duncan paused to take in the sights, smells and sounds of the birthday celebration. Shanti pulled down streamers and waved them through the air as she and Duncan approached the cake.  They took their time and ate every last bite. Next was Duncan’s wrapped present hanging from a nearby pole. Shanti helped him unwrap it, and like all kids, Duncan was much more entertained by the wrapping paper than what was underneath of it. He used the paper to scratch between his legs and belly, stepped on it and even kicked it.

duncan-bday-resizeThe elephant care team ensured the rest of the herd enjoyed Duncan’s birthday as well. Tucker and Duncan’s big brother Baylor enjoyed a cake that featured a dragon on top made from carved fruits and vegetables.

At birth, Duncan weighed in at 385 pounds. Today he weighs close to 1,400 pounds (if you are keeping track, that is a 1,000 pound gain in a year!) Duncan is still nursing, but he also eats solid foods with the herd and during his daily training sessions with the elephant care team.

Duncan still spends much of his day keeping very close to his mom, Shanti. When he is feeling more independent, big sister Tupelo keeps a close eye on him to make sure he stays out of trouble.

Stop by and visit Duncan, Shanti, and all of our other elephants at the McNair Asian Elephant Habitat during their daily 10:00 AM bath at the elephant barn!
duncan-butt-resize

New Houston Zoo Intern Joins us From Kenya!

The Houston Zoo is excited to welcome a new intern who comes to us all the way from Kenya, in East Africa. Sabinga is in the United States participating in the Community College Initiative Program (CCIP). The Community College Initiative Program is a program of the U.S. Department of State, administered by Northern Virginia Community College on behalf of the Community College Consortium (CCC) in partnership with Houston Community College. While participating in this program, he will join us at the zoo as an intern to learn all about what a modern-day zoo is like! Sabinga is already part of the conservation community as he has been working with Save the Elephants in Kenya for over 8 years. He will be documenting his experiences at the Zoo and we will share his thoughts with you here on our blog! Stay tuned for more! 

Sabinga writes:

Houston Zoo is the first zoo I ever been (my first time in the zoo), although I had heard of a Zoo before, what I learn for this few days at the Houston Zoo was beyond my thinking and expectation of the zoo.

People out there may think zoo animals are for entertainment, it is wrong, I learn it is a conservation practice. Me being an intern here I feel the same way I feel while working with my conservation organization, Save the Elephants in the wild.

Sabinga, a native Kenyan and employee of Save the Elephants joins the Houston Zoo intern family!
Sabinga, a native Kenyan and employee of Save the Elephants joins the Houston Zoo intern family!

I came to learn, excellent care Houston Zoo provide for animal mean at the same time committed to saving animals in the wild for example just by coming to the zoo, you have taken action to save wildlife. A portion of the entrance fee or membership goes to wildlife conservation, best thing I learnt!

Attending Wildlife Conservation Program Planning meeting in October shared by Renee, I learn Houston Zoo educate many of visitors each year about endangered species and related conservation issues, which is the same as what I do in my work of conserving elephants and I am hoping to learn more from the Zoo staff and share what I know with them as well.

Field conservation focuses on the long-term survival of species in natural ecosystems and habitats. Zoos participate in conservation projects that support studies of populations in the wild, species recovery efforts, veterinary care for wildlife, conservation awareness, ivory ban petitions, mobile phone recycling, and plastic among many more.

I learn also that Houston zoo believes in fostering a vibrant and diverse community, helping drive educational and cultural development across Houston benefits everyone and by participating in community initiatives, education program and make community to fill involve and be proud to the zoo as part of them.

Stay tuned to hear more from Sabinga in the coming months as his internship at the Houston Zoo unfolds!

Help Save Elephants in the Wild!

Asian elephants at the Houston Zoo

Post by Lauren St. Pierre

Calling all elephant enthusiasts! Did you know elephant population numbers are rapidly declining in the wild? Do you know there are ways YOU can help protect these magnificent animals in the wild? You can start by joining the more than one hundred Zoos and thousands of individuals across the country on Tuesday, August 12 in celebrating World Elephant Day!

Elephants are the largest land mammals in the world and among the most intelligent animals on earth. Unfortunately, Asian elephants are also among the world’s most endangered species. At the turn of the 20th century, more than 100,000 Asian elephants roamed their native habitat. Today, less than 50,000 Asian elephants remain in the wild. And this number continues to decline due to habitat loss, human-elephant conflict and poaching for their ivory tusks. Each day, 96 elephants are gunned down for their ivory.

Here at the Houston Zoo, we are committed to protecting animals outside of our zoo gates, and elephants are in serious need of our support. In the past five years, the Houston Zoo has worked closely with partners in both Africa and Asia, funding over $500,000 in field conservation programs.

YOU can help, too! Simply by visiting the Houston Zoo, you help protect animals in the wild – a portion of your admission ticket goes directly to conservation efforts around the world. You can also attend special events throughout the year, such as Elephant Open House, where registration fees are also donated to conservation efforts.

Check out the Houston Zoo’s website to learn more of how we and YOU can help elephants.

We can’t be the generation that allows elephants to disappear. Sign the petition at www.96elephants.org to support a moratorium on ivory products in America.

World Elephant Day Activities Include:

10 a.m. – 2 p.m.

  • See and touch an elephant tooth
  • Create your own elephant mask
  • Sign our petition to ban the sale of ivory and ivory products
  • Find out more about the Houston Zoo’s Asian elephant herd: Thai, Methai, Shanti, Tess, Tucker, Tupelo, Baylor & Duncan

10 a.m. – Daily Elephant Bath at The McNair Asian Elephant Barn

1:30 p.m. – Meet the Keeper Talk at The McNair Asian Elephant Habitat

It's A Boy! – Baby Elephant Born Overnight at the Zoo

After a pregnancy lasting almost 23 months, Shanti, a 24 year old Asian elephant delivered a healthy 385 pound male calf shortly after 2:00 a.m. today at the Houston Zoo’s McNair Asian Elephant Habitat. “The elephant keepers have named the calf Duncan,” said Houston Zoo Large Mammal Curator Daryl Hoffman.  “They like the way it sounds,” he added.
baby ele1

 

Attended by the Houston Zoo’s elephant care team and assisted by the Zoo’s veterinary staff, Shanti delivered the baby at 2:13 a.m. today.  “After months of preparation and tender loving care, Shanti’s labor was very brief and the delivery was  quick and easy for her” said  Hoffman.  “The keepers helped the calf to his feet and he was standing on his own within about an hour after his birth,” he added.

“The calf started nursing at 9 this morning,” said Hoffman.  “In the first 90 minutes after his first meal we saw him nurse more than 15 times.  Duncan has a very good appetite,” added Hoffman. Thai, the baby’s father, is 48 years old.

Immediately after the calf was born, the elephant care team and the Zoo’s veterinary staff performed a neonatal exam.  “We weighed and measured the calf and took a blood sample.” said Houston Zoo Chief Veterinarian Dr. Joe Flanagan. “Duncan is almost 40 inches tall at the shoulder,” added Flanagan.

babyele2Elephant keepers will keep Shanti and Duncan under a 24-hour watch for the next few weeks.   The viewing windows in the barn at the McNair Asian Elephant Habitat are temporarily closed to the public. The windows will reopen to the public after the elephant care team has seen signs that Duncan is well-bonded with his mother and is comfortable in his new home, possibly next week. Duncan is Shanti’s fourth calf.

The 8 members of the Houston Zoo’s elephant care team, assisted by the Zoo’s 4 full time veterinarians and veterinary staff and a core group of Zoo volunteers have been monitoring Shanti closely for the past 11 months.  The routine intensified over the past 12 weeks with regular ultrasounds to monitor the baby’s health and blood work to gauge the mother’s progesterone level.   Through out the delivery, Shanti was attended by the entire elephant care team and assisted by Zoo veterinarians and Zoo hospital veterinary technicians.

More than 50 volunteers and Zoo staff began a seven-day a week overnight birth watch in late-November.  Utilizing a state of the art closed-circuit television system, the birth watch team observed and documented Shanti’s behavior.  When blood tests indicated Shanti’s progesterone level had fallen to a low baseline level, members of the elephant care team and veterinarians remained at the McNair Asian Elephant Habitat around the clock watching for indications that labor might begin at any moment.

 

Birth Preparation Time Line 2012 – 2014

 Approximate date of conception                                        March 23, 2012

Progesterone monitoring continues                                       March 23, 2012

Transabdominal ultrasounds begin (2X per month)               Sept. 10, 2013

Transrectal ultrasounds begin (2X per month)                       Oct. 25

Birth watch volunteer training                                                 Nov. 13

Biweekly progesterone monitoring begins                              Nov. 13

Birth watch begins with Zoo volunteers                                  Nov. 23

Biweekly ultrasounds begin                                                    Nov. 24

Daily progesterone monitoring begins                                    Dec. 11

Ultrasound frequency increased if required                           Dec. 11

Elephant keepers join birth watch schedule                           Dec. 11

 

About Asian Elephants

 Asian elephants are herbivores. At maturity, adult males can grow up to 10 feet tall (measured at the shoulders) and weigh up to 13,000 pounds.  Adult females grow up to eight and a half feet tall and will weigh less than males.  Amazingly, despite their weight, they are able to walk silently.  Elephants are the largest land mammals in the world and among  the most intelligent animals on earth.  Unfortunately, Asian elephants are also among  the world’s most endangered species.

Approximately 300 Asian elephants currently live in North American zoos; however, a number of factors are jeopardizing their sustainability:  an aging population, low birth rates and an insufficient number—less than 30—of breeding bulls (male elephants).  Also, if cows (female elephants), are not bred by age 25, their reproductive ability is immensely diminished.  In the wild, Asian elephants typically live about 45 years.

Fortunately for the endangered species, there has been resurgence among zoos to bolster breeding efforts to help stabilize the population.  The Houston Zoo’s Asian elephant breeding program falls under the auspices of the Elephant Species Survival Plan administered by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).

At the turn of the 20th century, more than 100,000 Asian elephants roamed their native habitat.  Today, only 35,000 remain in the wild—scattered among pockets of Nepal, India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Bhutan, Indonesia and Vietnam.  Decades of war, an explosive human population growth and intensive agriculture continue to shrink their once abundant territories, leading to human-elephant conflict and leaving elephants prone to poaching and starvation.  Consequently, the gene pool for future generations of elephants is in a dire situation.

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