welcome, nelson!

Houston Zoo welcomes Nelson, the big new baby elephant

Houston Zoo welcomes Nelson, the big new baby elephant

Nelson baby elephant Houston Zoo
Immediately after he was born, Nelson underwent emergency surgery but is reported to be doing well. Photo by Stephanie Adams

A new elephant has joined the herd at the Houston Zoo. Nelson is a 326-pound male calf born after a short labor to Shanti, the 29-year-old Asian elephant, on Tuesday, May 12 at 6:30 pm.

While the labor was short, the birth wasn’t without complications. Immediately following Nelson’s birth, staff discovered that he was hemorrhaging severely from his umbilicus and determined that he tore a vessel in his umbilical cord during birth, according to a press release.

After a 30-minute procedure, surgical staff found the torn vessel, closed the hole in the calf’s abdomen, and stopped the bleeding. Soon, Nelson was reunited with Shanti and the calf was standing, walking, and nursing.

Meanwhile, the zoo staff warns that Nelson is “not out of the woods yet” but remains “cautiously optimistic” of a full bounce-back.

Nelson’s birth brings the number of elephants in the Houston Zoo herd to 11 (five males and six females.) This is the sixth calf for Shanti, who is also mother to Baylor (10), Duncan (6), and Joy (2).

“We are extremely proud of our dedicated, skilled and experienced elephant and veterinary teams who were thoroughly organized and ready to respond to whatever our new calf needed,” said Lisa Marie Avendano, vice president of animal operations at the Houston Zoo. “We look forward to continuing to watch Nelson and Shanti bond and introducing him to Houston.”

Elephants are a massive draw for the zoo. For some, Nelson’s precarious situation may call to mind the loss of the Mac, the charismatic, scene-stealing elephant calf who was also born to Shanthi — but who died at the zoo in 2008 at two years old after contracting a virulent strain of EEHV herpesvirus

The zoo tells CultureMap that its staff remains “hyper-vigilant” about EEHV as it mainly affects young elephants. Nelson’s post-surgical treatment includes postnatal examinations, separation from the herd, and ensuring that Nelson is hitting weight goals and bonding with Shanti.

The zoo also adds that a portion of each zoo admission and membership goes to protecting an estimated 250 wild elephants in Asia. Since the Houston Zoo started its work in Borneo in 2007, there has been an increase in the wild elephant population, according to the zoo. The zoo purchases trees for people in Borneo to replant in palm oil plantations to create forested paths for wildlife.