For Release: Feb. 7, 2007
Peper Long (202) 633-3082 or (202) 391-2471
John Gibbons (202) 633-3083 or (202) 391-4231
National Zoo Elephant Undergoes Diagnostic Ultrasound
This morning, staff at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and a consulting veterinarian with elephant expertise performed an ultrasound examination of “Ambika,” the Zoo’s 59-year-old female Asian elephant and one of the oldest Asian elephants in North America.
During late January, Ambika displayed intermittent periods of lethargy and a lack of appetite. Results from blood tests showed a low red blood cell count. Ambika’s condition began to normalize over the past week, but Zoo veterinarians conducted today’s exam to help them understand her earlier symptoms.
National Zoo staff has trained Ambika to stand comfortably in a special management stall at the Zoo’s Elephant House while undergoing health evaluations, including ultrasound exams. Zoo veterinarians, along with Dr. Dennis Schmitt, the Ringling Bros. Chair of Veterinary Care and Director of Research at Missouri State University, used ultrasound technology as part of the overall health evaluation. The National Zoo is fortunate to work with Dr. Schmitt and the team at the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Center for Elephant Conservation—they donated time and equipment to helping Zoo staff evaluate Ambika’s condition.
Zoo staff and consultants are evaluating the results of today’s exam. The Zoo will update members of the media and public when more information is available.
Ambika was born around 1948—she was captured in India when she was approximately 8 years old and placed in a logging camp. In 1961, Ambika came to the National Zoo as a gift from the children of India. Her longtime National Zoo companion, 32-year-old Shanthi, came to the Zoo from Sri Lanka in 1976. Despite Ambika’s advanced age, she continues to socialize with Shanthi as well as with Kandula, Shanthi’s 5-year-old male calf. Although Ambika and Shanthi are not related, as herd members typically would be in the wild, they are raising Kandula and behaving very much like a natural, matriarchal herd.
Unfortunately, Asian elephants are heading toward extinction and are more endangered than the better known African savanna elephant species. Only approximately 30,000 wild Asian elephants may exist today; however, most populations are small and fragmented. An additional 15,000 are “working” elephants, used in the timber and tourist industries, and in religious ceremonies. Scientists at the National Zoo are working to protect Asian elephants and their habitat in the wild, and also to help improve the lives of those “working” animals through better management and breeding strategies.
Last summer, the National Zoo announced plans for “Elephant Trails,” an expanded and transformed home for its Asian elephants. Elephant Trails will provide the Zoo’s current and future elephants with a variety of indoor and outdoor habitats that support the natural behavior of a multi-generational herd. Elephant Trails will include a large indoor habitat with soft flooring and an Elephant Community Center, where the National Zoo’s elephant herd can be active and socialize throughout the year.
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