Diane Toroian Keaggy, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
August 8, 2006

It's all about the baby at the St. Louis Zoo.

Zookeepers keep 24-hour watch over the newborn elephant, documenting every time she nurses and nods off. And mother Ellie and the other elephants respond to the baby's constant needs and little quirks.

"There's the nursing roar - the very loud noise they make right before they nurse," said Martha Fischer, the Zoo's curator of mammals. "All the adults run and hover around her whenever she makes that sound. They are very protective."

The still-nameless calf celebrates her one-week birthday today. Like many newborns, she's dropped a few pounds since birth. She currently weighs 330 pounds, 11 lighter than her birth weight. But she nurses dozens of times a day, takes frequent naps and knows how to splash water with her trunk and race around the yard.

Fischer is unsure when the public can meet the calf, probably in two weeks.

Sometime before then, the Zoo hopes to announce details of a naming contest.

Her most important relationship - the one with Mom - is going great. No surprise there, Fischer said.

"Ellie is a great mom," said Fischer.

Fischer is surprised, however, by how quickly Rani - Ellie's firstborn - has accepted her sister. Ten-year-old Rani, once the baby in the herd, is expecting her own female calf in February. That calf and the newborn were both fathered by Raja, the Zoo's lone male elephant.

Sri has proved to be a trustworthy aunt. Ellie even left the stall during Sri's introduction to the calf.

"That's how comfortable she was with Sri," said Fischer. "All of (Sri's) touching and smelling was very gentle."

Donna's meeting, however, was a different story. Ellie kept her calf tucked between her legs, but Donna pushed the calf, causing her to cry out.

Pearl, who is Raja's mother, and Clara have seen the calf but won't be introduced. Pearl and Ellie have a history and remain in separate yards. Zookeepers would like to reintroduce Pearl to the herd in the future, but today they are focused on the new calf and the pregnant Rani.

That leaves Raja, the calf's father. He has seen his offspring but, like elephant fathers in the wild, is indifferent.

And what does the baby make of the elephant keepers who hose her down, pick up her waste and watch her every move?

"She doesn't pay a lot of attention to us," said Fischer. "Right now, her world is between those four great-big tree trunks of legs."

Republished with the permission of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Copyright 2006 St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Courtesy of STLtoday.com