Friday, June 20, 2014

22 Months and Hard Labor

Semba our pregnant elephant 

Matt and I have been busy reading about elephants and preparing for Semba's birth watch and training. We have been put in charge of scheduling docents and volunteers for the birth watch. Starting June 29th, daytime birth watch will begin and on July 8th we will begin 24 hour birth watch! The keepers have already begun weighing Semba daily as opposed to the usual weekly weighing. According to previous elephant births, the cow may drop a good amount of weight before the birth. So far Semba's weight is keeping steady. 

On Tuesday, Matt and I hosted our first docent training session. For those not familiar with this term, a docent is a zoo volunteer that educates visitors at different exhibit locations through out the zoo. Morning through early afternoon birth watches will be slightly different than those over night. Instead of tablets, afternoon volunteers will use a time sheet and record location, behavior and proximity to another elephant, every five minutes. They are given different locations through out the pool yard, and a list of behaviors to choose from. We will have two more training sessions before June 29th. 

We have started taking turns watching Semba throughout our daily shifts. We are using the same methods we created for the docents/morning watchers. This is so we can determine a baseline of Semba's normal behaviors. Once we can recognize what is normal for her, it will be easier to determine what isn't, like the subtle signs of labor. 
Side view of Semba

Speaking of labor! The baby is due between July and August. Due to the long gestation of elephants (22 months!) often times it can be difficult to determine a due date. We can only make an educated guess as to when the baby will be born using urine tests and based on when Semba and Mabu mated. Another option would be to take blood samples daily and test them for progesterone levels. Right before the birth those levels would increase. However, because of the long gap of when the baby could be born, the keepers haven't done blood sampling because they could end up doing it each day for over a month! This most likely this would not be comfortable for Semba. Without any other indications by Semba of being close to labor, it doesn't seem logical to begin blood testing at this time.

The keepers have been keeping busy "baby proofing" the exhibit and barn. The exhibit wasn't originally designed to have such a small elephant running around. There is fencing that separates the pool and grass yards, and contains the elephants to separate them from keepers. The first and second rows of chain are about a foot or so apart but the baby could easily roll through that opening to the opposite side of mom, causing a panic for everyone. So the keepers took more chain and added it between the first two rows. This should keep the baby safer!

Soon we will be starting our 24 hour observations and Matt and I will be doing night shifts. And if the three hour time difference wasn't enough to throw us off, working from 10PM to 7AM will definitely take some getting use to! 

That's all for now here at Reid Park Zoo! 

Semba and her second born; Sundzu