Woodland Park Zoo elephant management staff performed an artificial insemination procedure on Chai, the zoo’s 31-year-old Asian elephant.
(Photo by Ric Brewer, Woodland Park Zoo.)
“This insemination comes at the recommendation of the world’s leading experts on elephant health and breeding, and is a continuation of Woodland Park Zoo’s longstanding commitment to preserving this endangered species,” said Dr. Nancy Hawkes, the zoo’s general curator, in a press release.
According to the release, the semen donor was a 12-year-old bull at Albuquerque Biological Park. That bull is considered genetically valuable because he has not yet sired any offspring.
The zoo will monitor Chai’s hormone levels closely over the next few months and hopes to verify a pregnancy by ultrasound in approximately 15 to 16 weeks. The gestation period of elephants is 22 months. If pregnant, Chai’s due date will be in early 2012. The last artificial insemination procedure on Chai was done in January 2008, which resulted in a pregnancy but unfortunately ended in a miscarriage during the first trimester.
The assisted reproduction procedure signals the zoo’s ongoing commitment to breeding Asian elephants, inspiring visitors to care about elephants and protecting elephants in the wild. The non-invasive technique uses new technology developed within the last decade. It offers a safe alternative for elephants (cows) to become pregnant without needing to travel to another institution and spend months away from their social group.
Chai gave birth to Hansa in 2000, but Hansa died six-and-a-half years later from a herpes virus. Chai became pregnant again from an insemination procedure in January 2008, but miscarried.
You can see the full press release here.
On a related note, animal rights advocates that have long called for the zoo to both end its breeding program and send its elephants to a sanctuary in Tennessee, plan to protest the zoo’s spring fundraiser in Fremont tonight.