(Omaha, NE) -- It's a girl! On Wednesday, Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium announced that the newest member of their African elephant family is a baby girl.
The calf was born Friday morning to 18-year-old mom KiKi and 21-year-old dad Callee. The baby's birth marked the first elephant calf to ever be born at Omaha's zoo, something zoo CEO and President Dennis Pate tells KFAB Radio News was years in the making. "It's certainly tested our patience. You know, this all began about seven years ago when we decided to plan, and then construct the whole African grasslands exhibit, and of course the elephants were a major part of that. So that started around seven years ago, and then five years ago the elephants came in from Swaziland and so it's been a long haul. Then on top of that, the gestation period is 22 months and so a lot of hand-wringing, over a long period of time before this happened."
Pate says all that waiting was worth it to see the newest member of the herd be welcomed into the world. "It's so neat to see how the other elephants rally around the female as she's giving birth and sort of form a protective barrier around her. And how the matriarch of the herd has taken a really strong interest in seeing that this calf is going to do well." Pate says the baby weighs between 175 and 200 pounds and stands just under three feet tall.
Last week's addition isn't the only calf expected at the zoo this year. Pate says another elephant, Claire, is also expected to give birth in the next two weeks or so. "Kiki, the mother, had her's a little earlier than we thought she was gonna have it. Claire may be a more typical gestation length, right around sometime between now and the end of the month." Pate says after the second calf is born, they will take some time for the herd to get adjusted to the new babies before they're put on display for the public to see. "Right now, we're holding off. Just like when you have your first child, for us it's when we have our first elephant calf. We're always a little bit more cautious. It's a very dynamic situation with the calf learning who its mother is and the rest of the herd learning how to be really good aunties to that little calf."
Pate says that the births of these calves marks an amazing conservation effort for the endangered African elephants. "This birth represents a whole 'nother generation of possibilities, so that the births exceed the deaths and the population can grow and be self-sustaining. This elephant and the one that will be born in another two weeks or so, represent the only two African elephants, that we know of, that will be born in the United States in 2022. We want to change that. This first birth is a very good, hopeful sign that we're gonna be able to turn this around."
The public can expect to get the see baby elephants in the next three weeks or so, Pate says, "It will be a timed ticket thing. We're in the process of renting some tents, some heaters, so if people are waiting in line for their turn. Do everything we can number one, to make people comfortable while they're waiting."