Woodland Park artificially inseminates elephant again
After her baby's death in 2007 and a miscarriage in 2008, a 31-year-old Asian elephant at the Woodland Park Zoo was artificially inseminated again this week in hopes of creating a "multigenerational herd," zoo officials said Thursday.
Seattle Times staff reporter
A 31-year-old Asian elephant at the Woodland Park Zoo was artificially inseminated this week in hopes of creating a "multigenerational herd," zoo officials said Thursday.
Chai — whose popular 6-year-old calf, Hansa, died in 2007 from an elephant herpes virus — was inseminated first on Wednesday and again on Thursday, after she showed signs of ovulating, said Nancy Hawkes, the zoo's general curator. Chai was artificially inseminated after Hansa's death and miscarried in 2008.
Chai is one of three female elephants living in the zoo's 1-acre enclosure. Controversy has swirled for years about the elephants' lack of space and living conditions in captivity. After Hansa's death, animal advocates called for the zoo to stop breeding elephants.
But zoo officials said Thursday they remain committed.
"We want to continue to have elephants on the planet and at Woodland Park Zoo," Hawkes said. "They are incredible ambassadors for conservation."
The sperm — described by Hawkes as "robust and nice-looking" — came from a 12-year-old bull named Samson, who lives at the Albuquerque Biological Park. He has not sired other offspring, so a successful pregnancy would be considered valuable for the North American elephant gene pool, she said.
The two 20-minute procedures were carried out by zoo staff and a visiting veterinarian. Chai was first put in an "elephant restraint device," which involves chains placed around the ankles to keep her from moving side to side, Hawkes said.
She was not sedated, but to make sure she stayed calm, her keepers fed her copious amounts of apples, cantaloupes, carrots and sweet potatoes, Hawkes said.
One of the challenges, she added, is that an elephant's reproductive tract is nearly 10 feet from her outer opening. A probe with a long, skinny tube — as well as a tiny camera — helped guide the team in delivering the sperm.
If Chai is pregnant, the earliest zookeepers will know is by the end of June, Hawkes said. Keeping a future calf safe from the same virus that killed Hansa is a priority, she said, citing early detection and anti-viral drugs as key to treatment.
Alyne Fortgang, co-founder of Friends of the Woodland Park Zoo Elephants, said Thursday that Chai's insemination is "an absolute tragedy."
"Keeping elephants in captivity and breeding them is so abnormal," she said. "It kills them prematurely."
Fortgang said she's been lobbying the zoo to release its elephants to a sanctuary in Tennessee. She cited facilities such as the Detroit and San Francisco zoos, which closed elephant exhibits in recent years because of the difficulties in caring properly for the mammals.
"Keeping elephants in zoos actually teaches children the wrong message — that we can use animals as entertainment regardless of their suffering," she said.
Sonia Krishnan: 206-515-5546 or email@example.com
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