The baby elephant calf will not be on exhibit this week. She is currently teething her first teeth and keepers are giving her extra teething enrichment and downtime. She is scheduled to return to her daily exhibit schedule (11 a.m. until 2 p.m.) beginning Saturday, July 29, although her schedule is always subject to change based on her comfort and needs.
One of the most important additions to the baby's diet is something we wouldn't dream of feeding a human baby. The elephant calf eats the other elephants' poop! This natural behavior is healthy and instinctual for calves in the wild and in zoos. Female elephant poop contains important bacteria and flora that the young calves need to keep their stomach and digestive system in healthy condition. Keepers take the baby into the elephants' family room and she happily prances around, scooping up poop and eating it.
The calf regularly has blood drawn so our veterinary staff can monitor her health. Animal Health staff take the blood from veins in her ears, the same way they do with adult elephants.
Just like the bigger elephants in the Zoo herd, the baby elephant is trained for trunk washes. Animal Health staff rinse the inside of the calf’s trunk and collect the fluid, which contains a sample of the microbes inside. This preventative screening is routine and lets experts know if an illness might be trying to take up residence in the elephant so it can be treated as early as possible.
The calf still doesn’t have any teeth, but she is exhibiting sucking and chewing behaviors that are consistent with teething. We hope to see some pearly whites soon!
The other elephants are becoming more curious by the little calf in the next room, although most of them are not yet ready to share space. Surprisingly, the matriarch elephant Tasha, who has never had a calf of her own and has not been known to be the most patient with the herd’s youngsters, has been the one most interested in the baby. She has allowed the baby to walk up to her and even touch her with her trunk. Once Tasha signals that the little calf is welcome, the other elephants will follow her lead and become more accepting. As everyone shows that they are feeling more comfortable, they will spend increasing amounts of time together.
The most important introduction between the baby elephant and the herd is through smell. Elephants learn and accept new objects, people, and even calves through smell. Right now the elephant herd frequently visits the baby's room for a good sniff while the baby visits their large day room. After the elephants begin to get used to each other's smells, sight will then be introduced. So far, there have been a few instances already where the herd and the calf could see each other while the keepers supervised their reactions.
Today little elephant was upgraded to a bigger baby pool for her regular baths! Now that keepers know she's comfortable and enjoys the pool, they wanted to give her more space to play. Elephants often keep their trunks above the surface of the water when they dive in so that they can breathe even with their head underwater, kind of like a snorkel! One day when she's older and bigger, she will use this technique when she goes swimming outside in the much bigger pool.
Like elephants do, the little elephant calf is always using her trunk to explore her world. Keepers noticed that she is already picking up on how to suck water into her trunk and squirt it into her mouth to drink, just as an adult elephant would do. While she still gets her regular bottle, keepers gave her a cup of milk replacement of her own so that she can keep practicing this newly discovered technique of hers while still getting all of the good calories and nutrients this little one needs!
When the baby elephant first arrived at the Zoo, the other elephants were surprised as none of them had been expecting a calf. Initially, they didn't know who this little addition was and they kept their distance. While the calf still has to grow bigger before full introductions can be made, keepers have still begun the slow process of introducing her to the established herd. The other elephants pass by her several times each day as she continues to put on weight and becomes more confident with her surroundings. New introduction methods will begin to be incorporated, but there are no expectations on how long this will take. Experts on elephant behavior, the keepers will tailor the introductions according to the elephants' reactions and comfort levels.
Photo note: That is the little calf in the lower right hand corner. She is much smaller than Natasha!
Elephant keeper staff are scheduled around the clock. They bathe, feed, and play with the baby, and comfort her when something startles her or she just wants to be close. Like a human baby, the calf requires a lot of attention. The staff has downtime when the baby is getting sleepy. Their goal is to try and recreate an environment for the calf that resembles what her experience with an elephant herd would be, as closely as possible.
A full term calf begins to grow his or her first teeth around five to six weeks of age. When keepers see that our calf's first teeth have come in, she will be introduced soft foods such as bananas, sweet potatoes, and hay.
Our calf loves to figure out her environment. To keep her stimulated, keepers have created a playroom. Like a mobile for a baby, our calf plays with plastic bottles tied together that swing whenever she moves them with her trunk. This allows her to develop strong trunk motor skills. She already loves to explore and she tries to climb on anything, from the keepers to the hay bales!
Our little calf had her first bath - and she loved it!
When it's bedtime and your baby elephant is doing everything she can to stay awake...
A healthy, balanced diet is essential for keeping a little elephant in tip-top shape. The African elephant powdered milk replacement she received during her first 24 hours mimics African elephant colostrum. Colostrum is the substance mammalian mothers, including both humans and elephants, secrete shortly after birth to feed their young. It differs from breastmilk that is produced in later weeks and months because it is rich in antibodies, which the baby needs to stay healthy. Most of the antibodies mammal infants have is from colostrum. Since her first day, the baby has switched to an African elephant powdered milk replacement that mimics the breastmilk her mother would produce at this time in the baby’s development if her mother had bonded with her and raised her.
Our little elephant calf loves to play. She is interacting with her large red ball, flaring her ears out and holding her head up, trying to make herself look bigger and tougher. Young elephants often display this posture while playing, either out of excitement or because they’ve startled themselves investigating something new. She may be small, but she’s already quite curious!
Our calf shows off her black and gold Penguin pride for tonight's big game. Let's go Pens!
Our littlest elephant calf is also monitored to be sure that her breathing is normal. Sometimes when baby elephants drink, they can accidentally breathe in, which would result in her milk substitute ending up in her lungs instead of her stomach, potentially causing pneumonia. So far, however, she is doing a great job at feeding properly!
Please note, she will not yet be out on exhibit over the next few months as she continues to grow bigger and stronger. We appreciate all of the love and support for this little one!
To be sure the elephant calf is both happy and healthy, Zoo staff stay with her around the clock. Her care also includes daily visits from the Animal Health team to perform checkups. Every other day, she has her blood drawn. This allows experts to monitor her blood to be sure her complete blood count, known as a CBC, is where it needs to be. All of her blood work so far shows that she is a very healthy calf!
Human babies can be fun to watch as they discover they have hands and work hard at trying to figure out how to use them. Though baby elephants are much more coordinated and mobile at birth, being able to walk within the first 24 hours, they still have a lot of learning to do about their own bodies. One of a calf’s biggest challenges is what to do with that darn trunk!