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OKLAHOMA CITY (Free Press) — The Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden has a brand-new resident, and he’s already firing up crowds and melting hearts.

Rama is the newborn Asian elephant at OKC Zoo, the fourth child of mother, and longtime zoo resident, Asha, who gave birth healthily, easily, and successfully last week to the energetic and curious new calf.

 “Rama means ‘pleasing’ in Sanskrit,” Elephant Curator Rachel Emory told me. “We always choose a name that has some basis in the natural states the animals can be found in, and as a team, we chose a name that we thought would best fit a little male elephant and would fit him well as he continued to grow.”

Elephant Calf Rama walks in a protective formation created by the rest of his family. (provided by OKC Zoo)

Encouraging Conservation

Emory said the team chose Rama’s name as a tribute to the species’ native regions in India and Sri Lanka, but also to help encourage learning about the animals’ natural habitats and about conservation and survival in those places.

“We have these incredible animals in our care, and we have the ability to teach people about them and have people connect with them in a way they would never get the chance to see in the wild,” she said. “Very few people are going to go to Sri Lanka and stand in the forest next to them, but we have the opportunity to give that ‘wow’ factor where you can see them and smell them and watch them interact and make that connection, and that’s the perfect time for us to say ‘you know, Sri Lanka is losing all their habitat.’”

There are currently fewer than 40,000 Asian elephants alive in the world, a worryingly low number that places them squarely on the endangered list. As their natural, wild habitats now house many of the most densely populated human nations on Earth, it has not only become more difficult to find Asian elephants roaming free, but has become near-impossible to release ones born and raised in captivity back into the wild.

“Asian elephants have lost 93% of their total habitat, and they’re living on these tiny little fragmented islands of habitat where they’re surrounded by humans,” Emory explained. “We want them to be sustainable, so breeding within human care with the Species Survival Plan is a really important thing. Every birth is very, very valuable to the population as a whole.”

Baby Rama’s elephant family feeds at the Oklahoma City Zoo in the early morning. (provided by the OKC Zoo)

Global Sustainability

The Species Survival Plan is a global program from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) connecting zoos together and providing guidelines, information, and even genetic databases for helping to increase the population numbers of endangered and threatened species all around the world. With nearly 500 distinct species on the SSP list, it has never been more critical for zoos to spread awareness and concern for conservation and repopulation. 

As an AZA accredited zoo, OKC is striving to be a leader in those efforts, and as the addition of Rama grows the family here, so too does hope grow for long-term sustainability of the Asian elephant species.

“Just in the last ten years, the Oklahoma City zoo has donated over $400,000 to elephant conservation alone,” Emory said.

Baby Rama is just now starting to learn how to use his trunk by wrapping it around an assortment of objects under the watchful eye of family members. (BRETT FIELDCAMP/Okla City Free Press)

“An Outpouring of Love”

With visitor numbers already increasing to see the baby, and with online engagement and donations pouring in from animal lovers all over the world, that number is sure to keep rising.

“We’ve had an outpouring of love,” said Candice Rennels, the zoo’s Director of Public Relations. “We did a virtual baby shower for Asha on social media, and right now we’re over $6,000 in donations that is going to go back to support elephant conservation. That right there is a testament to our community and our fans around the world.”

At now just a week old, Rama is already nearing 350 pounds, but he still has a very long way to go growing into the 8000 pound adult he’s expected to be. Guests can look forward to watching his journey through childhood, and his development within OKC’s elephant family at the zoo’s Sanctuary Asia for decades to come.

For tickets, schedules, and information for the Oklahoma City Zoo, visit okczoo.org or follow them at Facebook.com/okczoo, and to donate to Asha’s Virtual Baby Shower, with proceeds going to elephant conservation efforts worldwide, text RAMA to 41444.

Last Updated January 29, 2022, 11:50 AM by Brett Dickerson – Editor