Pittsburgh Zoo awaits pregnancy news for trio of African elephants
Jackson, an African elephant bull, is doing his best to replenish the world’s shrinking pachyderm population, according to the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium.
Barbara Baker, the zoo’s president and CEO, said Jackson has mated with three females that could be pregnant, but staffers won’t know for sure for at least eight weeks.
“If all goes well, we should have a pregnant animal,” Baker said. “We’re crossing our fingers to be able to know in the near future.”
Baker said the successful breeding of African elephants is vital to prevent the species from becoming extinct. Africa’s elephant population, once numbering 6 million, is down to 400,000.
“Every single day, we lose 96 elephants to poachers in Africa,” Baker said. “It’s critically important that we breed African elephants, not only in the wild but also in captivity.”
Zoo births are rare. Only 97 African and Asian elephants have been born in zoos during the past 20 years and lived more than one month, Baker said.
The zoo maintains a herd of seven elephants at its Highland Park facility and five at the 700-plus acre International Conservation Center in Somerset County, where Jackson and the females are housed.
It broke ground recently at the Somerset facility on a $6 million Maternal Health Center, which will allow the zoo to keep mothers and young together in a herd. The center is basically a large barn with a sandy indoor arena where elephants can socialize year-round.
“It’s more natural to house them in a herd situation,” Baker said.
Mothers provide more nurturing in a herd, she said, and that teaches calves to become nurturing parents.
Jackson, a 32-year-old bull, has mated repeatedly with Thandi, Seeni and Sukuri.
It takes about 12 weeks before staffers can tell through ultrasound whether an elephant is pregnant. The animals carry their young for 22 to 24 months before giving birth, Baker said.
Bob Bauder is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-765-2312 or [email protected].