From Birthwatch To Birthday Parties A Celebration Of Successful African Elephant Breeding At The Pittsburgh Zoo And PPG Aquarium
Cathy Gialloreto and Betty Borgman
Docent involvement with birth watches at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium began in the early 1990’s with the much anticipated birth of a reticulated giraffe. Our docent organization willingly made the commitment to help in any way possible. Our help was enlisted to birth watch in spans of time when keepers were not normally on duty.
We were not sure what the response from our docent membership would be, since this would involve duty during late nights into the morning hours. Schedules were prepared by the Volunteer Coordinator and the call went out for help to the general members of the Docent Council. The results were gratifying.
Docent Council members stepped up the plate, to staff a rigorous schedule of birth watching. Two docents were assigned per shift. The shifts were as follows:
4:00 -8:00 PM
8:00 PM – 12: AM
12:00 - 4:00 AM
4:00 -8:00 AM
Approximately a month before the anticipated birth, the watches began. At this point, docents were primarily serving as extra eyes for the Zoo staff. The training process was minimal. It included simple instructions on signs to watch for, and a list of emergency numbers to be called. Docents were set up in the giraffe building, sitting on lawn chairs and merely observing the giraffes in their sleeping quarters, during the evening and nighttime hours. A lot of coffee and hot chocolate helped volunteers make it through their shifts.
We hope that it was through some of our efforts, that the Zoo experienced four successful giraffe births.
Subsequent to the giraffe watching, we also helped with a watch on a bongo antelope.
In 1997, we began our experience with African Elephant birth watching after the arrival of a bull of breeding age, at our Zoo. With this acquisition, our Zoo was fortunate to begin a breeding program. With three viable females on site, hopes ran high for a successful pregnancy and birth. With the docent experience and dependability in the previous birth watches, a proven commodity, the Zoo knew they could once again depend on us for any help we could give.
Well, it worked! Our Zoo employed a natural breeding program using the “old fashioned” method, no high tech insemination techniques utilized here, for which the Zoo’s breeding bull, Jackson, was eternally grateful. Now the long wait, as the approximate 22 month pregnancy began. About two months before the expected birth, docents were once again called into action.
New observation methods and techniques were becoming available and docents were asked to play a role. A mandatory training procedure was established for any docent wishing to do elephant birth watching. Workshops were provided by the Zoo’s veterinary staff and keeper staff, giving us a much more sophisticated slant on what to watch for. Additionally, the observations would now be made via video monitor, so that there would be no disruption to the elephants’ normal nighttime activities. Extensive record keeping was employed, detailing all the movements and activities of the pregnant elephant every hour. Also, it was important that a video record was kept for keeper/veterinarian review the following day, and docents were responsible for starting the cameras rolling at the appropriate times. Emergency call procedures were enlisted to notify the veterinarian, Willie Thieson (Elephant Manager), General Curator, etc.
Everyone’s efforts were rewarded with the birth of a female calf (Victoria), born on September 12, 1999, who weighed in at 204 pounds. The public’s reaction was wonderful. About two weeks after Victoria’s birth, she and her mother, Moja, were put on limited display in the elephant building. The Zoo did not want to overwhelm either the new mom or calf, so the visiting public was escorted into the building in small groups by docents.
Understandably, the public’s interest was high, and very long lines ensued. Docents became ambassadors to those standing in the lines, attempting to make the wait a bit more bearable. We gave elephant facts, talked about the birth, helped with crowd control, anything to keep people interested. The wait was often over an hour long. With rare exceptions, good natured folks waited patiently to see our wonderful new addition to the herd.
Docents were also asked to continue on baby watch after the birth for approximately three weeks, to keep an eye on the new arrival and be prepared to summon assistance if a problem arose.
On September 19, 2000, we were once again fortunate to experience another successful birth with the arrival of Callee, a male calf, weighing in at 257 pounds. Once again we served on birth watch prior to birth, and providers of information after the birth, at both the outdoor and indoor exhibits.
Docents have served through three elephant birth watches, two of which resulted in successful births. A picture is worth a thousand words, and we would like to share a short video to illustrate what all the excitement was about.
With two elephant births one year apart, both in September, the Zoo celebrates both birthdays together. A baby elephant birthday party is held each year. The Zoo includes many exciting activities that day (Radio Disney, birthday cake for the public, Touch Tables, etc.) Docents once again serve. We’ve done everything from cutting cake for the public, to hosting special Touch Tables with elephant information and artifacts.
The highlight of the day is the presentation of a special birthday cake to the two calves. The special treat doesn’t last long and is thoroughly enjoyed by the youngsters.
The calves are now five and six years old and we feel extremely proud of the role docents played in helping the Zoo realize this rare achievement.
As a note, Jackson, the calves’ father, is back, after spending several years at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Hopefully, we will once again be called into service for birth watches in about two years.
PITTSBURGH ZOO & PPG AQUARIUM ELEPHANT HERD
Born approx. 1979 in Africa
Born approx. 1982 in Africa
Mother of Callee
Born 1982 at the San Diego Wild
Mother of Victoria
Born Sept. 12, 1999 at the
The first second generation
Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium
calf born in US
Born Sept. 19, 2000 at the
Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium
Born 1981 in Zimbabwe
Father to both calves
Willie’s Baby Elephant Birthday Cake
2 cups flour
½ cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ cup apple butter
½ cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 large egg whites
4 cups of shredded carrots
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix ingredients in the order listed. Pour into 2 greased
cake pans. Bake for 35 minutes. Cool completely and frost with your favorite icing.
(Tasty for people and elephants)