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Baby boom at Omaha zoo continues with announcement of fourth elephant pregnancy

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Omaha zoo expecting fourth baby elephant in August 2023

There’s an elephant baby boom at the Omaha zoo.

Jayei, the matriarch of the elephant herd, is the latest pregnant elephant at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium.

If all goes well, her calf will be the fourth elephant born at the zoo in a span of two years.

Officials say that Jayei’s pregnancy further highlights the critical role the Omaha zoo has in maintaining a sustainable elephant population.

That role began on Jan. 7 with the birth of a female calf named Eugenia, the first elephant born at the zoo. A few weeks later, Sonny, a male calf, was born.

Sonny and Eugenia were oblivious to the zoo officials gathered Wednesday to discuss the significance of their birth. The two were preoccupied with each other, playing, climbing and exploring while their herd meandered nearby.

Soon, the herd will have two more little ones to keep an eye on.

Jayei is estimated to be about 30 years old and has had at least one other calf before. Her daughter Omma is a member of the zoo’s herd.

The zoo’s veterinary staff predict her due date to be in about 13 months.

Lolly, who is about 11 years old, is also pregnant and likely to give birth to her first calf in the spring of 2023.

Both expectant mothers have hormone levels consistent with healthy pregnancies, said Jessye Wojtusik, the zoo’s lead scientist.

And Eugenia and Sonny continue to grow at a healthy rate, said Sarah Armstrong, elephant manager.

“They are doing everything little calves should do,” Armstrong said. “We couldn’t be happier with the progress.”

The calves and upcoming births are exciting to see in Omaha, but nationally the elephant birth rate should be much higher, said Dennis Pate, the zoo’s president.

Eugenia and Sonny account for the only two elephant births in the United States this year.

“The good news is that they’re projecting six to be born next year,” Pate said. “This means that in the course of two years, Omaha will be the birthplace of half of the elephants born in the United States.”

It’s the kind of “baby boom” zoo officials were hoping for when they welcomed Callee, a bull African elephant, to the herd in 2019 from the Birmingham Zoo in Alabama.

The zoo’s five females, plus one male, arrived in Omaha in 2016 from Swaziland.

The 36-hour journey from Swaziland to Omaha included stops in Senegal, Texas and Kansas, depositing some of the herd’s elephants at two other American zoos. Veterinarians accompanied the elephants along the way, and zoo staff met the elephants at Eppley Airfield.

Since their arrival, the elephants have been housed in the zoo’s $73 million African Grasslands exhibit.

In September 2017, Warren, a bull elephant in the original herd, died during a procedure. He had been the herd’s lone male until the arrival of a male named Louie that summer.

Louie was never able to reproduce with the herd’s females and last year was transferred to the North Carolina Zoo based on a recommendation by the African Elephant Species Survival Plan through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

Unlike Louie, Callee “was an instant hit” with the herd’s females, Pate said.

“We got a little lucky there in finding the right bull,” Pate said. “To have four calves in two years is pretty unusual and pretty special. There’s maybe one or two other places that have done that nationally.”

jwade@owh.com, 402-444-1067

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