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SCIENCE REPORT – December 19, 2001: Baby Elephant - 2001-12-18

This is the VOA Special English SCIENCE REPORT.

People in Washington, D-C, are celebrating a new arrival.

An Asian elephant was born November twenty-fifth at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park.

The baby elephant weighed almost one-hundred-fifty kilograms. Zoo officials named him Kandula (KAHN-du-lah), which means strength in Sinhalese.

Kandula took his first steps just minutes after being born. National Zoo officials and other animal experts are carefully watching his development.

The baby elephant was born to Shanthi, a twenty-five-year old Asian elephant at the Zoo.

Shanthi never met her baby’s father. She became pregnant as a result of a process called artificial insemination.

Doctors used reproductive fluid from Calvin, a thirteen-year-old Asian elephant from a zoo in Calgary, Canada. They placed the fluid in Shanthi’s reproductive organs. Shanthi’s pregnancy lasted twenty-two months. Kandula is only the fifth elephant in the world to be produced by artificial insemination.

Scientists had attempted artificial insemination in elephants for more than twenty years with no success. Then, in Nineteen-Ninety-Five, three German scientists developed a successful method. It involves ultrasound technology and a pipe-like device called a catheter.

Shanthi was the first elephant to be artificially inseminated by the German team. She became pregnant after six attempts.

National Zoo scientists developed a test to show when a female elephant is fertile. This information helped the German team to perform artificial insemination on Shanthi at the exact time her body released an egg.

Blood tests last February identified her most fertile days. After artificial insemination, Shanthi’s blood was examined weekly. After twelve weeks, an ultrasound test confirmed the suspected pregnancy.

Doctors closely watched her pregnancy. Blood tests helped the doctors and Zoo officials to identify exactly when to expect the birth. This gave everyone time to prepare for the birthing process and the new arrival.

National Zoo Director Lucy Spelman notes that very few elephants are born in zoos each year. She says Kandula’s birth is a very special event. She also says the birth marks the beginning of efforts to increase the elephant population at the National Zoo.

This VOA Special English SCIENCE REPORT was written by George Grow.