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Hogle Zoo Orchestrates Plans for Elephant's Pregnancy

Hogle Zoo Orchestrates Plans for Elephant's Pregnancy



Estimated read time: 2-3 minutes

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John Hollenhorst Reporting Getting pregnant doesn't usually require the help of Delta Air Lines, Federal Express and a team of experts from Germany. But that's exactly what's unfolding in Salt Lake City tonight.

In fact, it's zero hour at Hogle Zoo for a very special and very large female. She weighed in this morning at more than 7,000 pounds.

It's the big girl's big night. And if the chemistry is right, it could be the beginning of a very long pregnancy.

Christie the elephant was born in the wild and has lived in the zoo since age 2. She's now grown up and 21. Christie is ready for a new chapter in the book of life-- the natural act of being a mom.

"That's what they're built for," said lead elephant keeper Doug Tomkinson. "That's what they're meant to do."

But the means to the end are distinctly unnatural. Experts from Germany flew in Sunday night, after a stop in Pittsburgh to visit a male elephant. He supplied a crucial ingredient. His contribution was carry-on baggage for the pros from Berlin.

"We're just trying to artificially inseminate her and give her the chance to breed and have a baby," Tomkinson explained.

Christie's window of fertility opens tonight, so similar packages are expected via Federal Express overnight from bull elephants in Florida, Arkansas and Indiana. Utah's Hogle Zoo has no bull elephants.

According to Tomkinson, "It's easier to get the semen from the bulls than it is to have the bulls around."

If all goes as planned, Christie will deliver a baby about 20 months from now. Zookeepers say it would be good for the species and for Christie's well-being.

"She would spend the rest of her life with that offspring, as well," Tomkinson said.

Christie's pregnancy could stir up controversy, with four potential fathers.

"Basically we would do a test to find out what the paternity would be after the baby is born. So that's how we figure it out," Tomkinson said.

Although there have been a few jokes about having to get Christie in the mood for romance, the lead keeper is keeping a straight face.

"It's business" Tomkinson insists. "It's what we do." So, they're not exactly hauling out the Barry White records, the chocolate and flowers.

If Christie gets lucky, the experts should be able to confirm it with blood tests and ultrasound in a couple of months. With or without Barry White records, this is probably a night an elephant will never forget.

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