The Elephant in the Womb

We recently had a blessed event at the Oregon Zoo here in Portland, when an Asian elephant named Rose-Tu gave birth to a healthy baby boy. His name is Samudra, which unfortunately perpetuates the stereotype that young mothers tend to give their children stupid names.

Elephants having babies is a big deal in the zoo world. For one thing, while you lazy human mothers can pop out a baby in nine months, elephants work on it for 22 months. For another thing, breeding elephants in captivity is difficult. Apparently elephants are so big and hideous that even other elephants don’t like to have sex with them.

But the Oregon Zoo has been quite proficient at it, with 28 baby pachyderms (including the new one) born there since 1962. It’s actually the most successful elephant-breeding program in the world. The only thing that comes close to the Oregon Zoo’s knack for getting enormous, baggy-skinned mammals to copulate is when Wal-Mart has a sale on lingerie.

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So when Rose-Tu got knocked up a couple years ago, the whole elephant-impregnation-enthusiast community watched with bated breath. Rose was only 12 years old at the time, further evidence of the ineffectiveness of abstinence-only sex education, but the miracle of life is always a blessing. The zoo staff said, “Our beautiful elephant Rose came to us with news that as zookeepers we knew would make her grow up faster than we had ever planned. But as she faces the responsibilities of adulthood, she knows she has our unconditional love and support.” Then the zookeepers winked and said, “You betcha!”

The baby’s father, a 36-year-old elephant named Tusko, has been arrested.

Rose’s pregnancy went smoothly. She gained the usual 900 pounds, consuming approximately 300 gallons of ice cream and 30 barrels of pickles a day. Sometimes she’d get really upset over minor things like a zookeeper forgetting to rub her trunk and say “Good girl,” but if you dared suggest her emotional state was because of her pregnancy, she’d flip out. Mostly she just stood in the corner and sobbed about how much she loved Tusko.

The happy day finally arrived on Aug. 23, when Rose — only eight days shy of her own 14th birthday — delivered a healthy 286-pound calf, and by calf I mean baby elephant, not baby cow. That would be freaky if she’d had a baby cow! Man, I would have liked to see that. But no, it was a baby elephant, as expected. There were some unexpected developments, though, and I want to tell you up front that nobody got hurt, because what I’m about to tell you would otherwise be very sad. As soon as the baby was born, Rose wigged out and started kicking and stomping on the poor li’l fella. Zookeepers had to take him away for his own safety for a couple days before the pair could be reunited.

You see, in the wild, a mother elephant would have witnessed other births before and would know what to expect. But the last elephant born at the Oregon Zoo was Rose herself, so she didn’t know what was going on, and she went a little nutty. It makes perfect sense, really. I mean, if no one had ever explained the facts of life to you, and suddenly you were squeezing a 300-pound miniature version of yourself out of one of your most sensitive orifices, you’d probably be alarmed, too. In fact, I heard Jamie Lynn Spears had the exact same reaction when she had her baby.

And now, in case you haven’t wept openly today, here is the scene from “Dumbo” where Dumbo visits his mom in jail.

I do loves me some animals, especially cute baby ones, and I wanted to see Rose and baby Sam. But I couldn’t go to the zoo alone, obviously: stocky guy in his mid 30s, at the zoo by himself, with no children? Definitely a pedophile. So I gathered some friends to go with me: Luscious Malone, Tanny Tantan, and Quartney (names have been changed). Tanny is the father of two little boys, and his wife was out of town, so taking them to the zoo seemed like a fun thing to do anyway, at least in theory. I believe he has since thought better of this, having now experienced the fun of pursuing two energetic boys as they run in opposite directions in the vicinity of wild animals.

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We waited until Sam had been on display for a few weeks before we went, hoping the line of worshippers bringing their gold and frankincense would have died down, but there was still a 30-minute wait on the beautiful Saturday afternoon when we made our pilgrimage. There’s only so much room in the viewing area at the elephant habitat, so zoo employees have it set up like a carnival attraction: You wait in line, then a small group of you get to stand at the exhibit for about five minutes, and then you’re politely shuffled out of the way for the next group. Otherwise, you’d have people enraptured by the cuteness of baby Sam and his no-longer-infanticidal mother, and they’d stand there all day, preventing other gawkers from gawking.

While you’re waiting, the line snakes past the rest of the elephant habitat, so you can see Sam and Rose’s friends. One of them was a girl elephant, and while we were there she tinkled, which I’ve just realized is not a very accurate euphemism when it’s an elephant doing it. What she did was gush, like a fountain, and I don’t care how old or mature or sophisticated you are, when an elephant pees, it’s HILARIOUS. Because you’re like, “She’s still peeing! Look, it’s still going! She must have a bladder the size of a waterbed!”

Quartney and I had a debate about how big an elephant has to be before you can ride on it. I think, at 300 pounds, Sam is big enough. Quartney says it has more to do with the animal’s age and growth. Poppycock, I say! If something weighs 300 pounds yet is still so small in size, it must be pretty sturdy. Anyway, there’s only one way to find out, and the zoo wouldn’t let us try it.

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Also: The zoo has lots of vending carts that sell junk food, including “elephant ears.” I realize they’re not actually made of elephants, but still, kind of creepy, isn’t it? “Come see our animals! And while you’re waiting, EAT PART OF ONE!!”

At last it was our turn to see baby Sam. In order to minimize the disruption to Sam and Rose’s baby-and-mommy time, the zoo staff asked everyone to keep their voices down and not to use flash photography. You don’t want people leaning up against the fence shouting, “HEY, BABY ELEPHANT! YOU SO CUTE! HOW YOU DOIN’? COME OVER HERE SO I CAN TOUCH YOU!”

Also, if anyone had any mice with them, they were confiscated.

Rose and Sam were just hangin’ out in the yard when we saw them, with Sam scampering around now and then, always following close behind his momma. So adorable! It made me want to go out and buy a baby elephant to keep as a pet, the way thousands of parents right this minute are being nagged into getting their kids chihuahuas. Good thing elephants aren’t available at the local pet store! Although if the Oregon Zoo can keep getting those beasts to reproduce, maybe someday they will be. Here’s hopin’!

Double standard: Among humans, teenage pregnancy is a burden, something to be prevented. Among elephants, it's OK, even hilarious. I am sick of the liberal mainstream media overlooking these discrepancies.

Photos are all from the Oregon Zoo's website, which also has brief video clips of Samudra and Rose-Tu.

SnideCast intro & outro: "Baby Elephant Walk," by Bad Manners.