By Diane Toroian Keaggy, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
November 19, 2004

What a stud.

St. Louis Zoo resident Raja may have fathered his second baby elephant in less than six months. Zoo officials believe 33-year-old Asian elephant Ellie is pregnant, though they won't know for certain for another seven weeks.

"Raja has done quite a lot for a 12-year-old," said Martha Fischer, curator of mammals/ungulates. "It seems like this has all happened very quickly, but we've been getting ready for this since Raja was born, from building the River's Edge to acquiring new elephants."

In May, Zoo officials announced that 24-year-old Sri was expecting her first calf. Her 22-month pregnancy is progressing well, and officials hope to welcome a 275-pound bundle of joy next November. Ellie's calf would follow in July 2006.

And who knows? If Raja works his magic with Ellie's 8-year-old daughter, Rani, the St. Louis Zoo could almost double its elephant population within a few years. Five elephants currently live at the River's Edge exhibit.

"Raja and Rani have been introduced, but they haven't bred yet," said Fischer. "But it would be great for her and great for her calf."

Fischer had all but given up on Ellie and Raja mating. Ellie and Rani arrived here in 2001 from the Jacksonville Zoo to breed with Raja. Mature and sophisticated, Ellie thought Raja was a bore. But her feelings toward the young bull changed when she was in heat. The two would touch trunks and snuggle.

"Sri and Raja were comfortable with each other even when Sri was not in heat, but it was actually stressful for Ellie to be with Raja," said Fischer. "So what we did was measure her hormones and put the two together for the exact period she was in heat, and she was very receptive. It was almost like they were two different animals."

The Zoo is equipped to keep the calves through their lifetimes, though bulls may be moved to other zoos to assist in their breeding programs.

Republished with the permission of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
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