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Pittsburgh Zoo Plays Part In African Elephant Artificial Insemination Program

Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium will now work to establish a North American African elephant sperm bank.
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(Photo Credit: Tiergarten Schönbrunn/ Gerhard Kasbauer)

(Photo Credit: Tiergarten Schönbrunn/ Gerhard Kasbauer)

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PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — The addition of a new little African elephant is being celebrated at the Vienna Zoo in Europe, and the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium played a big part in the historic birth.

Pittsburgh Zoo officials say the female elephant calf, born on Sept. 4, was conceived through “the first-ever successful artificial insemination using frozen sperm.”

The Pittsburgh and Vienna zoos partnered with Berlin’s Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research and ZooParc de Beauvalm on what is being called “Project Frozen Dumbo.”

Zoo officials in Pittsburgh and Vienna say the baby is now nursing and bonding with her mother, 28-year-old Tonga. The little elephant also has a sister, Mongu, which was born at the Vienna Zoo in 2003.

According to the zoos, Tonga went through a 645-day gestation period after being artificially inseminated. The baby’s father is a wild bull elephant at the Rhinda Reserve in Africa.

In a press release, President and CEO of the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium Dr. Barbara Baker said: “Having a healthy baby elephant is an important occasion, but the breakthrough in reproduction research is a major milestone in saving an aging African population in zoos. Using frozen sperm through artificial insemination will infuse new genetics to ensure the elephants future.”

According to the Pittsburgh Zoo, the artificial insemination program, which allows sperm to be collected from the wild and frozen, was developed by researchers at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin.

(Photo Credit: Tiergarten Schönbrunn/ Gerhard Kasbauer)

(Photo Credit: Tiergarten Schönbrunn/ Gerhard Kasbauer)

Officials with the Pittsburgh Zoo say they will now be working with those researchers to set up a North American sperm bank at their International Conservation Center in Somerset County.

“Breeding African elephants is a very difficult process. With the aging population, there is a prospect of them disappearing from the United States within the next 40 years. That would be a devastating occurrence for such an incredible species. But Project Frozen Dumbo’s success will support and strengthen efforts to save the African elephant populations with the infusion of new genetics,” Dr. Baker said in the press release.

So, what about a name for the new baby? Well, according to the Vienna Zoo, the elephant keepers will come up with three names and then put it to a vote on their website.

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