Tucson's baby elephant surprises lucky Reid Park Zoo visitors - FOX Carolina 21

Tucson's baby elephant surprises lucky Reid Park Zoo visitors

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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - It's something no one expected, but some lucky visitors to the Reid Park Zoo got the thrill of a lifetime Monday morning.

They got to see the five-day-old baby elephant walking out in the elephant exhibit.

Parents were more excited than their children.

"Do you see the baby baby elephant, the one in the back?"

She's the first elephant ever born in Arizona.

She's Tucson's darling, born on the city's 239th birthday.

"I am so amazed that this elephant is out already. She's only five days old and the mom has let her come out," said zoo visitor Melinda Bridges.

"This is really unexpected. You know we really lucked out getting to see her," said Lucy Romeo.

"We got here today and said, well, we hope we get to see the baby elephant and sure enough we came out and there she was," said zoo visitor Christopher Stockstill-Davila.

The Reid Park Zoo's baby African elephant has not made her official debut yet.

The little calf has been emerging from the Elephant Care Center building for tiny moments at a time since Friday, a testament to how well she's doing.

Zookeepers say she is meeting her milestones.

In fact, when she was born Wednesday, she weighed almost 250 pounds.

By Monday morning she was up to 265 pounds.

"We've been giving her small amounts of time to explore the yard and get to know the other elephants. So this morning we had her out in the large grass yard for a couple hours," said Reid Park Zookeeper Cassie Rogge Dodds.

"She also had the time to meet Mabu, the father, who was incredibly patient and gentle with the baby. And she's also been with her brothers for short durations of time," said Reid Park Zoo Curator of Education Vivian VanPeenen.

Several things have to happen before the baby is ready for her public though.

As you look around the enclosure, you can see some of the elephants' favorite spots are too dangerous for the baby.

There are steep hills, a stream, mud wallows and a deep swimming pool.

Before she can be let out into the exhibit area closest to the visitors' area, the large pool has to be temporarily drained.

"The stream will be maintained. So, of course, the elephants will always have access to fresh water, plenty of access to be able to splash themselves and cool off. They'll still have their mud wallows. But it's hard to see in the swimming pool, and there's some fairly big steps down into the pool. So until mom and baby show us that they're extremely comfortable with those steps, with the youngster knowing how to navigate the pool, how to get in and out, it's just much safer to keep it shallow," VanPeenen said.

No one at the zoo wants to take a guess on exactly when the little calf will be presented to the public.

"She's progressing much more rapidly than we had expected so I have a feeling it's going to be pretty soon, but we need to watch her, she how she's interacting with her environment, the heat, the weather and the other elephants before we can actually make that decision," said Rogge Dodds.

You might be wondering about how the little African elephant will be named.

We're told the elephant keepers who have worked so hard for years to get to this point will choose two or three appropriate names.

Zookeepers say, like the baby's family, she will be named in Siswati, a language of Swaziland. 

Then the rest of us will get to vote on the names. 

VanPeenen says the community should be involved because it has been an important part of the effort to bring a breeding elephant herd to Tucson.   

Until her official debut, you might be lucky enough to get a sneak peek at the little elephant on a visit to the zoo.

But everything has to be perfect for that to happen.

We're told that if it rains overnight, she won't be allowed out because the ground will be too slippery and the mud wallows too big.

Plus, the zookeepers say the mother must feel like going out, the baby has to be alert and awake and the other elephants have to be calm.

If you'd like to try to get a glimpse of her now, here is a link to the zoo's live elephant cameras.

Copyright 2014 Tucson News Now. All rights reserved.

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