PORTLAND, Ore. – Oregon Zoo staff on Sunday continued efforts to safely reunite a new baby Asian elephant with its mother, which has thus far rejected her offspring.
Mother Rose-Tu started kicking the 286-pound male calf after its birth Saturday afternoon, causing staff to quickly separate them. Zoo staff said the calf probably would have suffered fatal injuries had they not intervened.
It was the first time a mother elephant has rejected her baby in 28 elephant births at the zoo.
Despite the attack, veterinarians said the calf appeared to be strong and healthy, and it was feeding via bottle and tube with formula and milk from its mother.
But the calf appeared to be extremely lonely and lost without its mother, zoo staff said. It paced and wailed all night.
Two attempts overnight to reunite the pair were not successful, according to zoo officials.
The first ended when 14-year-old Rose-Tu lunged toward her baby.
"She tried her best to get to it, to the point of actually pulling and breaking chains," said Mike Keele, the zoo's deputy director.
During the next attempt, Rose-Tu got down and stretched out her trunk toward the calf – but then let out an aggressive roar.
It was not clear whether the mother elephant was acting out of maternal instinct or aggression.
On Sunday afternoon, the zoo reported that the mother, whose movement was limited, reached out and touched the calf. That was seen as a positive sign that staff rewarded her for in an effort to teach her how to treat her calf. When her touching was not seen as nurturing, zoo officials said, Rose-Tu was not rewarded. The mother elephant was also reportedly tolerant of the calf's efforts to try to nurse.
Elephants reared by people are less likely to survive, so staff continue to have faith that Rose-Tu will bond with her calf.
In the meantime, the zoo plans to provide daily updates on the pair's relationship.