Rare African elephant born at San Diego zoo

SAN DIEGO – One of seven African elephants brought to the Wild Animal Park from Swaziland last year gave birth Monday to a 250-pound male calf, the first birth of an African elephant here in two decades.

Ndlulamitsi, which means “taller than trees” in the Siswati language, gave birth with little difficulty and no intervention by zoo veterinarians or keepers.

“Our philosophy here is: Let nature do its work,” said Jeff Andrews, animal care manager at the 1,800-acre park. “We will only intervene to save the life of the mother or the calf.”

The calf was standing within an hour and nursing soon thereafter. Its father is thought to be a bull killed by hunters in Swaziland after it killed a rhinoceros.

Despite a lawsuit by animal rights groups, seven African elephants were brought to the Wild Animal Park and four to the Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa, Fla., in August. Each zoo received one pregnant female.

Zoo officials say the elephants are needed to reverse the decline of the African elephant population in North American zoos. Their arrival marked the first time in 15 years that U.S. zoos had been allowed to import elephants taken from the wild.

North American zoos have had only spotty success at breeding African elephants in captivity and ensuring that calves survive. For more than a decade, the American Zoo and Aquarium Association asked zoos to refrain from attempting to breed their African elephants.

Though the animal rights advocates dispute this assertion, zoo officials said the elephants brought to San Diego from Swaziland faced death either from poachers or from wildlife managers concerned about the damage the animals could do to Africa’s fragile ecology.

The Wild Animal Park, run by the Zoological Society of San Diego, which also runs the San Diego Zoo, received one bull and six cows.

The calf will be named by the king of Swaziland, a small country in southern Africa. At adulthood, a male African elephant can stand 10 feet tall at the shoulders and weigh seven to eight tons.

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