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A Rare Zoo Birth

A 24-year-old African elephant gave birth Monday to a 201-pound female calf in what is believed to be the first birth of an artificially conceived African elephant.

After an hour in labor, Kubwa gave birth to the healthy, "very strong" calf about 4:30 a.m. Monday while zookeepers at the Indianapolis Zoo kept watch following a 22-month pregnancy.

"The labor went extremely well and extremely fast. I think there's a lot of mothers out there who wish their labor was an hour," said Karen Burns, a spokeswoman for the Indianapolis Zoological Society.

The still-unnamed newborn, which was able to stand on its own within a half-hour of birth, was declared in good health after a quick checkout, Burns said. Mother and baby were then allowed to mingle with the other pachyderms in the zoo's elephant barn.

"It's still too early to determine if she'll nurse. That's the next milestone for her and we're hoping," Burns said.

"The other elephants are very curious about this new arrival."

Kubwa was artificially inseminated in late May. The last months of her pregnancy were watched carefully, by an expert flown in from out of state and by an army of 50 volunteers, not to mention the handlers who slept near her pen.

Kubwa is only the second elephant in the world to be artificially inseminated successfully. The first was an Asian elephant in Missouri. Kubwa's 18-year-old Indianapolis herd mate, Ivory, was similarly impregnated and is due Aug. 29.

Excited as they are, staff members must temper their emotions because the odds are not in the baby's favor. Since 1985, there have been just nine conceptions among elephants in captivity in North America. Four calves were lost in delivery, and only one of the remaining five survived past 11 months.

"They're cautiously optimistic," Burns said of Kubwa's keepers.

The zoo brought in Dr. Dennis Schmitt, an associate professor of veterinary medicine at Southwest Missouri State University, to assist. Schmitt oversaw the first successful artificial insemination of an elephant, at Dickerson Park Zoo in Springfield, Mo.

Haji, a male Asian elephant, was born Nov. 28. He weighed in at 378 pounds, and so far seems to be healthy, said Schmitt.

Kubwa's calf is the first elephant born at the Indianapolis Zoo. The zoo's herd consists entirely of animals brought in from the wild or other zoos.

Indianapolis' breeding program is a collaboration with Germany's Berlin Institute for Zoo Biology and Wildlife Research, which developed the insemination technique.

Kubwa was inseminated with sperm from Dale, a 20-year-old bull from the Kansas City Zoo. Ivory was inseminated with sperm from a different donor six months later and an African elephant in Vienna, Austria, was next.

Experts around the world were watching all three pregnancies closely.