Baby elephant watch: Rose-Tu is about to go into labor, zoo says

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PORTLAND, Ore. - Signs indicate that Rose-Tu, the pregnant pachyderm at the Oregon Zoo, is about to go into labor.

On Monday, zoo officials said her progesterone levels had dropped quite a bit, an indication that she is preparing to give birth.

"They (the levels) have hit what we call baseline, which tells us that labor could start anytime between now and a week from now," said Zoo Director Kim Smith. "It's really up to Rose right now on when she chooses to go into labor. She's a very patient animal."

At this point, Rose-Tu has not had any contractions and there are no other signs present, but zoo officials said they expect the baby to arrive in the coming days. And the excitement is building.

"Everyone around the barn today has been asking us about Rose," Smith said. "How is Rose? Is the baby here yet? It's really wonderful how much our community loves their elephants."

Rose-Tu has been carrying her baby since February of 2011. If that seems like a long time, you're right. Elephants have the longest gestation period of any animal - between 20 to 22 months.

The father is Tusko, the zoo's 40-year-old bull elephant. He and Rose-Tu are also the parents of Samudra, who was born back in 2008 and has been delighting zoo visitors ever since.

You might remember that when Rose-Tu gave birth to Samudra, she nearly trampled her baby. Zoo officials believe she was frightened and startled by giving birth since it was her first time and she had never experienced it before. They hope this time around Rose-Tu will not react that way because she knows what to expect.

About Rose-Tu

Rose-Tu was born in October of 1994 and actually had a twin sister. Unfortunately, the twin was born completely still and died despite efforts to revive her. A necropsy found that the calf had brain damage and a collapsed lung.

Rose-Tu's mother is Me-Tu, who died in 1996 when Rose-Tu was just 17 months old. Rose-Tu's father is Hugo, an elephant that the zoo acquired in 1983 from Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus. He died in 2003.

About the Zoo's Elephant Breeding Program

The Oregon Zoo has had quite a successful breeding program for Asian Elephants - more than 25 elephants have been born there in the past five decades.

Packy's birth on April 14, 1962 was the first for the zoo and he was quite the celebrity when he entered the world. At the time, Packy was the first elephant to be born in the Western hemisphere in 44 years and the world was watching. Here's a retrospective the zoo put together for Packy's 50th birthday this year:

Asian elephants are listed as endangered and the Oregon Zoo is part of an Asian Elephant Species Survival Plan coordinated by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. The Asian elephants at the zoo include Packy, Rose-Tu, Tusko, Samudra, Rama, Chendra and Sung-Surin.