Yesterday I had the rare privilege to watch a baby elephant be born at the Oregon Zoo.
It was a hurry up and wait situation. Photographer Chris Rhodes and I arrived shortly after eight-thirty am. The mother elephant, Rose Tu, began to go into labor the morning prior. By 11 am yesterday, her water broke.
We were in the media area along with zoo staff and volunteers watching a live video monitor of Rose Tu and two other female elephants in her herd, Sunshine and Chendra.
The other two elephants acted as midwives, comforting and encouraging Rose Tu with her contractions. The zoo staff allowed visitors to watch the video feed from behind the barricades where the media and staff were set up. We waited and waited. Aside from some premature gasps from the audience, nothing happened..for hours.
It's at that point that our news assignment desk has to decide, do they keep us on the story or do they send us to a different one? Since we didn't have an early evening newscasts, they decided to let us stay. So we waited some more and had periodic briefings from Mike Keele, deputy director of the zoo.
By 3pm, the zoo veternarians had conducted two ultrasounds. The last one showed the contractions had stopped. Veternarians gave the pregant 7-thousand pound cow oxytocin to induce labor. By 4pm..the baby's legs began to poke through. Then, a wave of fluid along with the 286 pound baby dropped from the standing mother. Cheers erupted in the viewing area. We watched as she immediately kicked the calf. At first, I thought this must be a natural instinct to encourage the calf to stand. But Rose-Tu kept kicking more violently as the unresponsive baby elephant was balled up on the floor of the birthing area. Then, the video feed was cut and we sat in collective silence.
I immediately called KGW's assignment editor and told her I thought the baby elephant might be dead. It happened so fast, no one was certain what they had just witnessed. About a half hour later, Keele, returned for another update. With tears in his eyes, he said the staff didn't know why Rose-Tu reacted so violently toward her calf. Was she confused having never seen a birth before, felt pain and then saw the baby as the source of what was causing her pain and lashed out? Keele explained they feared for the calf's life so they stopped video feed while vets ran to separate Rose-Tu from her baby.
A short time later, Keele gave another update and said it appeared the baby didn't suffer any broken bones.
But he and his mother were far from being reunited.
We went back to the zoo today for a follow up story. I got to see the baby elephant for the first time. He was still separated from his mother and wailing for her. Zoo staff said he cried all night. The mom responded and sniffed the grates where he is penned. Without the nutrients her milk supplies, the calf could become ill, dehydrated. For now, they are bottle and tube feeding the calf, hoping Rose-Tu will accept him soon.