TAMPA – A female African elephant named Mbali, one of 11 elephants rescued from culling in Swaziland, Africa, and brought to the U.S. nearly a decade ago, gave birth to her first calf, a female, at Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo.
The African elephant birth is the second in the zoo's history, and the first born in Tampa from the rescued herd. The newborn, sired by Sdudla, a Swaziland bull, is significant to the population because the calf introduces new DNA into the gene pool of elephants managed in North America, which averages three or four births each year.
"The birth of this calf demonstrates the maturity of our African elephant care and conservation program," said Dr. Larry Killmar, director of animal science and conservation, said in a news release. "Our elephant facilities and experienced staff allow the zoo to contribute to sustainability strategies for this species, furthering elephant conservation worldwide."
Zoo staff recognized that Mbali was in labor Dec. 23, and worked to keep the pregnant pachyderm comfortable and let nature take its course. The first-time mother and newborn are being monitored around the clock. Raising an elephant is a group effort. Mother and calf will be reunited with two other mature female elephants shortly, who will share the care of the newborn.
An elephant's gestation is as long as 23 months. Although the newborn has yet to be weighed, calves are normally 200 or more pounds at birth, and stand just hours after being born. If all goes well with mother and calf, it is the zoo's goal to keep the herd together.
The newborn calf has not yet been named, but the zoo has extended an invitation to the Reilly family in Swaziland, to select an appropriate name, in honor of their leadership in establishing three national parks for wildlife conservation in that country.
In 2003, Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo, together with San Diego Zoo Global, rescued 11 elephants from Swaziland, Africa, where they were scheduled to be culled (killed) due to park overpopulation. Four of those elephants arrived at Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo and seven went to San Diego. Although three of the original four currently reside in Tampa, the fourth, a bull named Msholo, relocated to San Diego Zoo Global on breeding loan in 2009. The Tampa Bay Times published a special project, called Zoo Story, on the project in 2007.
Mbali, pronounced (um-bal-ee), was born in the wild about 19 years ago. She is the smallest of the adults, weighing 6,500 pounds. The zoo's herd also includes Sdudla (Swazi bull), Matjeka (Swazi cow) and Ellie (the herd's first matriarch). The Zoo's first born elephant, a male named Tamani (born to Ellie in 2005 through artificial insemination), relocated earlier this year to Birmingham Zoo.