OKC ZOO’S ANIMAL FAMILY CONTINUES TO GROW

The Zoo is proud to announce the pregnancies of two endangered species–an Asian elephant, Western lowland gorilla.

 

              The Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden is proud to announce the pregnancies of 22-year-old, Asian elephant, Asha, and 13-year-old, Western lowland gorilla, Mikella. Both pregnancies were confirmed by the Zoo’s veterinary team using ultrasound images and blood or urine hormone analysis. Asha is approximately eight months along in her pregnancy, while Mikella is roughly four months pregnant. The average gestation period for Asian elephants is 22 months, making Asha’s expected delivery date late November 2018. The average gestation period for Western lowland gorillas is nine months, indicating that Mikella will deliver sometime in January 2018. This exciting news comes just weeks after the Zoo’s historic birth of three critically endangered Sumatran tiger cubs and successful cross-fostering of an endangered Amur tiger from the Philadelphia Zoo.  

                “These impending births are incredibly significant for both animal populations as their wild counterparts continue to face extreme hardships in their native habitats,” said Barry Downer, OKC Zoo deputy director. “It is the Zoo’s mission to connect our guests with our world’s vanishing wildlife through education, partnership and conservation, therefore, every birth of an endangered species helps to affirm that goal.”

This is the third pregnancy for Asha who was born at the Dickerson Park Zoo in Springfield, Missouri, on February 2, 1995, and has lived at the OKC Zoo since 1998. The unborn calf’s father, 49-year-old Rex, arrived at the Zoo in 2011 from Canada’s African Lion Safari. Rex has sired several offspring and is the father of 2-year-old Achara, the Zoo’s youngest Asian elephant. The Zoo’s Asian elephant herd also includes 20-year-old adult female Chandra, 50-year-old “grandma” Bamboo plus, 15-year-old male Kandula.

With an elephant family varying in ages from 2 to 50, the Zoo realizes the importance of having a multi-generational herd which provides the best welfare and social environment possible for all the Zoo’s elephants especially senior members Bamboo and Rex. Both Bamboo and Rex require some extra care and considerations at this point in their lives.   

The news of Mikella’s pregnancy is extremely significant for the OKC Zoo and the Association of Zoos and Aquarium’s (AZA’s) Species Survival Plan for Western lowland gorillas considering this will be her first offspring. Mikella was born at the Zoo in 2004 to 32-year-old mom, Emily and is the older sister of 2-year-old, Rubi. With Western lowland gorillas, troop dynamics and family structures are crucially important factors for learning how to rear their offspring. Growing up in a troop consisting of aunts, cousins and a younger sibling, Mikella has learned how to be attentive toward young gorillas–a vital skill for a new mom.

“Because it is early in both animal’s pregnancies, we are cautiously optimistic," said Dr. Jennifer D’Agostino, OKC Zoo director of veterinary services. “We’re focusing on providing Asha and Mikella with the best prenatal care possible through a well-managed health plan consisting of monitored nutrition, exercise and regular check-ups through ultrasounds and blood work.”

Updates regarding the progress of both expectant mothers, will be shared periodically on the Zoo’s website and social media applications.

Status of Asian Elephants and Western Lowland Gorillas:

Asian elephants are an endangered species, with a population of roughly 40,000 individuals. Over the last three generations, their numbers have decreased by over 50 percent due to poaching, deforestation and human-wildlife conflict. By 2008, the population of Western lowland gorillas was reduced by 80 percent, classifying their species as critically endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species. Native to the Congo basin, Western lowland gorillas are threatened by disease and poaching.

The OKC Zoo is actively involved with the AZA’s Species Survival Plan for Asian elephants and Western lowland gorillas. Together, AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums cooperatively manage the breeding of both species to maintain healthy populations that are genetically diverse and as demographically stable as possible. 

How the Zoo is Helping Gorillas:

The OKC Zoo works with the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International (DFGFI) to provide funds to help protect gorillas in their native habitat. This money has been used to support operation of the Karisoke Research Center, which is the base for DFGFI’s field activities. The gorilla populations protected by DFGFI are the only wild populations of gorillas that are increasing. The Zoo also hosts Give for Gorillas Cell Phone Challenge, the annual program encourages the community to donate old cellphones and other electronic devices in support of gorilla conservation. The mining of coltan, a substance frequently used in small electronics, continues to cause deforestation of gorilla habitat. Net proceeds raised from the Cell Phone Challenge go to DFGFI. Electronic devices are accepted year-round at the Zoo’s Guest Services office.

How the Zoo is Helping Asian Elephants:

In addition to participating in the AZA’s Species Survival Plan for Asian elephants, the OKC Zoo supports the welfare and conservation of Asian elephants in Sumatra, Borneo, and Myanmar through partnerships with Rainforest Trust and the Wildlife Conservation Society. These projects protect vital elephant habitat and prevent poaching. The Zoo is also dedicated to research efforts for elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus (EEHV)–a common health issue for all elephants, both wild and in human care. To further this commitment, the Zoo purchased its own Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) machine for earlier detection of EEHV. The state-of-the-art machine works to amplify the virus in samples, making them easier to detect. With this vital tool, the Zoo is now able to receive EEHV test results from blood and trunk wash samples in only three hours–a vast improvement from the previous 36-hour lag time.

The construction of the Zoo’s newest expansion plan, Sanctuary Asia, will be completed in summer 2018 – roughly five months before Asha’s expected delivery. The new habitat will feature the addition of 3.5 acres to the elephant herd’s existing 4.5-acre habitat.

Our animal family is growing! The OKC Zoo is a proud member of Oklahoma City’s Adventure District located at the crossroads of I-44 and I-35. Hours of operation are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Buildings close at 4:45 p.m. daily. Guests must exit grounds at closing time. Regular admission is $11 for adults, and $8 for children ages 3-11 and seniors ages 65 and over. Children two and under are admitted free. For more information or to purchase tickets online, visit www.okczoo.org.  Facebook: okczoobg; Instagram: @okczoo; Twitter: @okczoo.  For more great stories about the OKC ZOO, visit okczoo.org/blog.  

Editor’s note: The following link provides photos of Asha and Mikella and video of them receiving regular ultrasounds from the Zoo’s vet care team: http://bit.ly/2wDeoWu

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