Every morning, the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium’s new 177-pound baby African elephant takes a stroll through the grounds.
“She knocks over the trash cans, she knocks over any signs she can find,” said Willie Theison, elephant program manager at the Pittsburgh Zoo. “She just thinks she’s the baddest little girl.”
She’s just 5 weeks old and doesn't have a name yet. She's able to move around well, but is still learning to use her trunk. It’s obvious that she’s extremely curious and eager to learn to use her extremities, feeling the brick edges of the elephant enclosure with her trunk, scratching her torso on a bale of hay, and flapping her ears while trotting around.
Theison, who’s worked at the zoo for 24 years, works with her from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. most days. They’re pretty close, which is evident as the young elephant follows Theison around, like a fuzzy, gray shadow.
And handlers have their own nicknames for the calf.
“Baby,” Theison said. “That’s what she answers to most of the time.”
Pittsburgh Zoo director Barbara Baker said she likes to call the calf “lil’ bit,” but no one’s ready to name her just yet.
Baker said that’s because they don’t want to “jinx” it. The elephant is developing well, but zoo staff want to wait until they’ve seen more solid improvement before getting their hopes up too high.
“She’s still a critical care animal,” Baker said.
Once full grown, the elephant will likely reach 8,000 pounds.
The baby elephant was born at the zoo’s International Conservation Center in Somerset County, but is currently weaning her way into the exhibit full time. The calf's mother, named Seeni, had no interest in the baby once she was born, Theison said, which is why she was moved to the zoo where handlers can give her 24-hour care and will have the opportunity to be near a herd. This is the first time it's happened with an elephant at either of the zoo facilities, officials said.
Visitors can spot her daily from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., barring any health concerns.
Now, zoo staff just have to wait and see if the new baby will be accepted into the existing herd. The matriarch, Tash, must give her approval. So far, she seems interested in the calf.
“The calf runs around her, interacts with her and Tash has been very gentle,” Baker said. “And if the matriarch accepts the calf … everything will be good.”