Let the countdown begin. Asian elephant Rose-Tu has reached the last stage of her pregnancy, according to Oregon Zoo animal-care staff, leaving behind what in human terms would be considered the second trimester and marching trunk-first into the home stretch.
This week marks Rose-Tu’s 16th month of pregnancy. The 17-year-old pachyderm, who gave birth to Samudra in 2008, has been in a family way since February 2011, but the gestation period for Asian elephants is around 20 to 22 months.
"Rose-Tu has been through this before, and she's doing great," said zoo veterinarian Mitch Finnegan. "Right now, all we can do is make sure she maintains a healthy weight and gets plenty of exercise."
Finnegan says zoo-goers should expect to see another member of the zoo's elephant family sometime between late October and the end of the year, giving Samudra a not-so-little sister or brother. And while the zoo's elephant experts expect everything to go well, they also know the birth of a healthy baby is no sure thing.
"There are definitely risks involved," Finnegan said. "Complications can arise for both mother and calf. A calf may be stillborn or get lodged in the birth canal."
Another possible complication is how Rose-Tu might react to a new calf. After giving birth to Samudra in 2008, the first-time mom nearly trampled her baby. Keepers quickly intervened to save the young elephant's life, and zoo staff worked around the clock for a week to ensure the mother-calf bond became the strong one it is today.
Bob Lee, the zoo’s elephant curator, who was senior keeper at the time, believes Rose-Tu became confused by the birth, since she had never before witnessed one. Until Samudra's arrival, no elephant had been born at the zoo since Rose-Tu herself in 1994.
Lee and the rest of the zoo's animal-care staff are hopeful that, as an experienced mom, Rose-Tu will know how to react when her second calf is born.