PORTLAND, Ore. - Signs indicate that Rose-Tu, the pregnant pachyderm at the Oregon Zoo, is in early labor.
According to zoo officials early Wednesday evening, she's showing signs of discomfort. That means Rose-Tu could go into active labor within 24 hours. But even then it could still be one or two days before the baby arrives.
"Rose's blood-progesterone level dropped noticeably a few days ago, and we've been watching her 24/7 since," said elephant curator Bob Lee. "But these things happen according to their own schedule. Rose is still happily munching on hay and bamboo. We're not too concerned about how much time it takes as long as Rose and her baby are safe and healthy. With a 22-month gestation period, what's another day or two?"
It was on Monday zoo officials said Rose-Tu's progesterone levels had dropped quite a bit, an indication that she is preparing to give birth.
Excitement has been building ever since.
"Everyone around the barn today has been asking us about Rose," said zoo director Kevin Smith earlier in the week. "How is Rose? Is the baby here yet? It's really wonderful how much our community loves their elephants."
Rose-Tu has been carrying her baby since February of 2011. If that seems like a long time, you're right. Elephants have the longest gestation period of any animal - between 20 to 22 months.
Zoo officials cautioned Wednesday that elephant births can be difficult.
"We're hopeful for the best, but there are definitely risks involved," said Mitch Finnegan, the zoo's senior veterinarian. "There can be complications to both mother and calf. A calf may be stillborn or get lodged in the birthing canal. We'll be monitoring her very closely."
He said elephant births can be complicated due to the large size of the animals and their unique reproductive system.
"Our efforts have been directed at giving Rose the best possible chance to have an uncomplicated delivery," Finnegan said.
The father is Tusko, the zoo's 40-year-old bull elephant. He and Rose-Tu are also the parents of Samudra, who was born back in 2008 and has been delighting zoo visitors ever since.
You might remember that when Rose-Tu gave birth to Samudra, she nearly trampled her baby. Zoo officials believe she was frightened and startled by giving birth since it was her first time and she had never experienced it before. They hope this time around Rose-Tu will not react that way because she knows what to expect.
Rose-Tu was born in October of 1994 and actually had a twin sister. Unfortunately, the twin was born completely still and died despite efforts to revive her. A necropsy found that the calf had brain damage and a collapsed lung.
Rose-Tu's mother is Me-Tu, who died in 1996 when Rose-Tu was just 17 months old. Rose-Tu's father is Hugo, an elephant that the zoo acquired in 1983 from Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus. He died in 2003.
About the Zoo's Elephant Breeding Program
The Oregon Zoo has had quite a successful breeding program for Asian Elephants - more than 25 elephants have been born there in the past five decades.
Packy's birth on April 14, 1962 was the first for the zoo and he was quite the celebrity when he entered the world. At the time, Packy was the first elephant to be born in the Western hemisphere in 44 years and the world was watching. Here's a retrospective the zoo put together for Packy's 50th birthday this year:
Asian elephants are listed as endangered and the Oregon Zoo is part of an Asian Elephant Species Survival Plan coordinated by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. The Asian elephants at the zoo include Packy, Rose-Tu, Tusko, Samudra, Rama, Chendra and Sung-Surin.