Archive for July, 2008

One BIG Happy Elephant Family
July 31, 2008

So I am finally updating this blog, almost  a week after the second baby was born. That Friday morning, my cell rang at 5:40, I looked at the number, and was afraid to answer it. With the long gestation, some of us were a little nervous. But I listened to the message, and the news was fabulous. Moja had given birth. Labor only lasted 20 minutes–half the time it took her to push out Victoria. 

By the way, this photo, and the preceding one, are by the Zoo’s photographer, Paul Selvaggio. He, like the rest of the staff, have put in unimaginable hours to be ready for this. Dr. Barbara Baker and Willie Theison declared Moja to be a perfect mom. Exceedingly attentive from the first moments after the baby hit the floor.

And now the dynamic gets really interesting. I took this photo Saturday  morning, thru the window of the Family Room and the line of Zoo visitors stretched down to the Ungulate exhibit. This little baby was not so adventurous right off the bat, and Moja is a more protective mother than Nan. And Victoria was initially none to happy about her little sister. Willie anticipated this, saying that Vic is “The Princess,” which I have mentioned here before. As of today, she seems to be more accepting of her changing role. 

Sunday morning, the introductions all took place, and everything went smoothly, then on Monday, they all went out on exhibit in the morning for a couple of hours for the public to see. Zoo board member, Courtney Borntraeger took these photos ( I was at work) and said she stood there for an hour. Tash, the matriarch, has been horribly jealous of all the attention Willie has been paying the babies and their moms, but tonight( members night at the zoo-7/30), she kept coming over to him, reaching her trunk towards him for attention. He said she had ignored him for several days, letting him know that she was in a bit of a snit. Angelina, a little spitfire who is rushing around everywhere to investigate her world, finally got pushed around a little today by her half-sister. Willie calls the new baby “the pink one” because she is still that pinkish, newborn color. Anyway, when Angelina got pushy, Willie said the new baby started to try to grab Angelina’s ears and trunk, but hasn’t quite gotten the hang of using her trunk, so she finally just pushed Angelina with her head. Toooo cute!!!!! . 

And this is the closest I have been to one of the adorable creatures. That is Willie’s hand, by the way, extended to Angelina. She then went over to another window, where about ten children were pressed up against it, and she looked at them all, right at her eye level, and touched the glass, much to the delight of the kids. There must have been over 9 thousand people there tonight, despite the threatening skies. And the lines to see the babies, both elephants, and the tiger, were long. 

If you are interested in seeing video, the link is


Waiting For Baby # 2
July 22, 2008

No, this is not the second African elephant baby. This is Angelina, the Friday morning after her July 9th birth. Uncle Willie, aka Elephant Manager Willie Theison, showing me how she would come to him when he called her over. Willie tells me she is taller than Victoria was at birth–37 inches, to Vic’s 33. It makes sense, because Nan, Angelina’s mother, is bigger than Moja, Vic’s mom. But Angelina certainly has her daddy’s long legs. Jackson is a VERY tall bull. 

Willie says Angelina is provocative, mischievous, and just full of energy. In her first week, she was running after anything that moved, especially the other young elephants, Victoria and Callee. 


This is a photo of Callee, Nan’s bull calf, touching his sister, for what may have been one of the first times. It is that same Friday morning. Up until then, he had run from her, and was so confused about why his mother wasn’t really interested in him anymore. Callee, although he is not yet 8 years old,  appears as large as some adolescent bulls I have seen in the wild. Willie agreed. Obviously, superior nutrition in captivity contributes to that. 

With two calves around, Angelina is anxious to follow them everywhere, which is such a different dynamic than the one that existed for Victoria, the first baby born.  Of course, Victoria, the Princess, as Willie calls her, is trying to ignore her—but she is a force with which to be reckoned.

This is Angelina her first morning on exhibit, playing in the mud for the very first time, 

And Tash, Ms. Matriarch, telling Angelina, with her hind leg, that there are boundaries for little ones. “I am the boss, Baby.”  Watchful Willie standing by. That is how they learn their lessons. 

And above, Angelina discovering the pool with her trunk for the first time. Willie had to keep her from jumping in. Now, 10 days later, she has been immensely entertaining for thousands of visitors, who keep asking, “Where is the next baby?” 

Willie tells me that he thinks it will be in the next couple of days. Blood work is indicating changes, and Moja is just huge. What is more amazing, is that keeper Lisa Fox, the “Bull Babe” who takes care of Jackson, is due to have a baby in August. She sent me this picture, showing her with a tuckered out baby elephant.  I can’t believe she is still working! I am sure she wants to be around for this second birth.

Large Happenings-Elephants and Steelers
July 10, 2008


FINALLY!!!!!!! A picture of the new baby. She is just minutes old here, and I am told her mother, Nan, is just being wonderful with her new offspring. Willie Theison, Barbara Baker, Amos Morris, Connie George and Tracy Gray all have been putting in over 32 hours without sleep, waiting for this beautiful pachyderm package to arrive. And there is another one on the way! Willie tells me he doesn’t think Moja will deliver in the next couple of days, so there is time for a bit of a breather, and for the herd to be introduced to the new member. But I hear matriarch, Tash is already expectantly touching the new baby with her trunk, thru the bars separating their sleeping quarters.


You can see Mammal Curator Amos Morris on the left, and Elephant Manager Willie Theison on the right, just making sure the still-unsteady calf doesn’t topple over. Not sure when the public will be able to see her, but, if the inquiries I have received about the impending birth are any indication, the elephant exhibit will be packed when she has her debut. By the way, these are great photos by the Zoo’s photographer, Paul Selvaggio, who is such a gifted artist.



This is a stretch putting these two “happenings” into the same blog, but I am woefully behind, and events here in Pittsburgh and at work have prevented me from posting photos from the Arctic trip that I had promised before I left. 

That said, Mr. Rooney was kind enough to grant one-on-one’s to a couple of us from the television media today. I had heard a number of people declare on Tuesday, that these rumblings of ownership change were much ado about nothing. After talking to Mr. Rooney today, and hearing and reading recent reports, that is just not true. The tension is palpable as you talk to people within the organization, and the dynamics and events are taking on the look of a Shakespearean drama. 

I told Mr. Rooney today that I came here, in part, because of the Steelers, and how his father had promoted this city on national television during the pre-game show before the Super Bowl against Los Angeles. Change is inevitable in every aspect of existence. And there has been talk for years about how the changing of the guard might happen with this franchise. But that is the funny thing about change. You know it is going to happen. But you are so often surprised when it finally does.  From what we have been reporting, I think most people in the region are hoping that this change leaves the city with the essence of the Rooney family still inextricably connected to this storied franchise.

July 5, 2008

Saturday, July 5, 2008 

That is Nan. From this vantage point, you can see just how pregnant she is! One of the keepers told me that her blood levels the last several nights indicate she should give birth soon. But as I said yesterday, she and Moja are still not “over”-due.  

Moja is at about 668 days gestation, and the record for an African elephant in captivity is in the 670’s, but I can’t remember the exact number. The public would be delighted if the babies arrived just days apart. It would be a somewhat unwieldy situation for Willie Theison and his staff. A joy of elephantine proportions, but a logistical nightmare.


And let’s not forget this lovely lady in the photo below. Tash, the matriarch, is my favorite. She has not had any babies, and will probably not be able to have them. But she has grown into her role as “Auntie”, almost magically, when you consider she had not older elephants on which to model her behavior. She will be trumpeting wildly when the births finally happen. I have always loved her, but when we shot the training story, she was so cooperative for me, and the bond became stronger. The people of Pittsburgh are quite fortunate to see the dynamics of an African elephant herd here. And that dynamic can only be good for the elephants. 

Growing up Tiger And Baby Elephant Wait
July 4, 2008


Ahhhh. A dog’s life. But this lab, Bella, has had a furry, sharp-clawed wrinkle thrown into her life of late. Bella belongs to the lead carnivore keeper at the Pittsburgh Zoo, Kathy Suthard. And Kathy has been taking the new Amur tiger cub home every night. The cub, now two months old and weighing 13 pounds, still needs round the clock care, since it was rejected by it’s mother after it was born on Mother’s Day. The introduction to Bella is to help him bond to other animals–and not humans. Apparently, he is quite a handful, and he loves to play with Bella, climbing on her back. Bella lunges at the cub to wrestle, but he has sharp claws now, and she doesn’t like the back climbing, so she shakes him off.

He has now moved out of  his crying stage, now  vocalizing with small roars.  It won’t be long before the young tiger can take care of himself, and then the Zoo will consider introducing him to his father, Globus. Globus, coincidentally, was also hand-raised. Consequently, he is quite gentle for a large, male tiger. I am sure that time will be conflicting for Kathy, who is, now, essentially, the cub’s mother.

Speaking of mothers, a lot of people are asking about the prospective mother elephants, Nan and Moja. The word is, they are fine, and right in line with what is normal gestation for African elephants–20 to 24 months. Right now, they are both at 21 months.  

About those Arctic blogs. I am still waiting for some more pictures, and I should start some posts tonight or tomorrow. All I can say is that walruses are AMAZING!!!!!!

Waiting For The Elephant Babies
July 1, 2008

I got back from vacation, fully expecting to find two brand new elephant babies—and nothing?! The Sunday and Monday night before I left, I joined the diligent docents to do the baby watch.  That entails staying up for hours, watching a flat screened TV monitor of the elephant, waiting to see if she shows any signs of labor. The first night, Sunday, June 15, from 8 to midnight, Willie Theison was just certain Nan was going to go. So I stayed past my four hours, until 6 am, and then went to work. I slept for about two hours that evening, in the buddha chair (is that what they call it? It looks like a big basket and smelled like elephants–ok with me) in the elephant barn lounge. Yes, they have a lounge, above the stalls, for times like these.  

The docents are lovely–dedicated, knowledgeable, expectant. They go thru 60 hours of training to attain the title, and it was fun talking to them. On the first night, I began my shift with Joanne McEntire. That was the first four hours. Next, Sue Berlinger, and Sue Erikson were on duty.  One was a nurse practioner, the other, a nurse. We just sat and watched Nan eat, sleep, poop, eat, sleep, wander around. 

Well, obviously Nan didn’t go, but I came back the next night to watch from midnight until 4 am on Tuesday morning. Still nothing, but I got to meet more wonderful people. This is keeper, Joe Galvanek, and docents Loretta Horner and Gail Moder. 

I only had a smattering of Internet access on my trip to the Arctic, so I checked for any sign of births, and there was none. Now, I hear Willie thinks Moja is about to pop, and everyone at the zoo is impatient as heck. And the docents are still doing the watched every night. 

This final picture is of the last baby and Willie– Elephant Manager Extraordinaire, at the Zoo Gala last month. Little bull,Callee, is not so little anymore, and is almost eight years old.   Here’s hoping the new little ones arrive healthy, and SOON.