TAMPA — Just seven months after Lowry Park Zoo welcomed an African elephant calf, another was born last week to first-time mother Matjeka. The newborn is the second elephant calf born in Tampa from a herd of 11 elephants rescued from culling in Swaziland and brought to the U.S. a decade ago.
As with the female calf born in December, this newborn, sired by Sdudla, a Swaziland bull, is significant to the population because she introduces new DNA into the gene pool of elephants managed in North America, which averages just three or four births each year. She is the first African elephant born in 2013 in a North American zoo or wildlife center accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums. She is also the third born in the zoo's 25-year history.
"Thanks to ongoing support from the Tampa Bay community, we have the animal care professionals, space and facilities to do our part for elephant species survival," said Craig Pugh, executive director and CEO of the zoo. "Guests at the zoo can be up close to elephant families seen less often in Africa. Successful elephant families are the building blocks for species survival."
Tampa's zoo is among a group of 41 wildlife institutions accredited by AZA that manage African elephants.
"Elephants in North American zoos help generate millions for field conservation programs at a time when elephants in Africa are under intense pressure from illegal ivory poaching, habitat loss and human encroachment," AZA president and CEO Jim Maddy said. "Elephants in human care also contribute to research in health, welfare, reproduction and behavior, which directly benefit their wild counterparts. Elephants are relying on us to ensure their future."
In 2003, Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo and San Diego Zoo Global airlifted 11 elephants from Swaziland, where they were scheduled to be killed because of 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 reside in Tampa, the fourth, a bull named Msholo, was relocated to San Diego on breeding loan in 2009. Tom French wrote a special report for the Times about the program called Zoo Story.
"This month marks 10 years since the importation of 11 elephants from the Kingdom of Swaziland," said Larry Killmar, vice president of animal science and conservation at the zoo. "The newest birth is a significant accomplishment of one of our core objectives of that importation, which was to have all of the females successfully reproduce and contribute to the sustainability of the North American managed population."
When Matjeka's labor appeared imminent, the zoo's elephant care team stayed with the mother-to-be around the clock. The calf was born at 11:20 p.m. Another adult female, Mbali, and her 7-month-old daughter, Mpumi, were at Matjeka's side during her brief labor. The newest mom and baby will remain off exhibit for bonding and reintroductions to the rest of the females in the herd before returning to the public outdoor yard.
Matjeka (pronounced (ma-chegg-ah) is about 22 years old and weighs 7,600 pounds. The zoo's herd also includes Sdudla (Swazi bull), Mbali (Swazi cow), Mpumi (7-month-old calf of Mbali) 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), was relocated in 2012 to Birmingham Zoo.
Although international ivory trade has been banned since 1989, poaching elephants throughout Africa is at unprecedented levels and most large herds are trending toward extinction by 2020.