ST. LOUIS – The St. Louis Zoo introduced reporters Monday to its 3-week-old baby elephant, a toddling 346-pounder who's already getting the hang of using her trunk.
"You see her?" zoo president Jeffrey Bonner said as he watched the Asian elephant pick up a long, green bamboo branch. "Isn't she adorable? Just amazing."
The as-yet-unnamed elephant makes her full public debut Friday when visitors will be allowed in her area of the River's Edge exhibit. Zoo officials expect huge crowds to see the elephant born Aug. 2 to Ellie, a 34-year-old Asian elephant.
It is the first baby elephant at the zoo since Raja — still one of the zoo's most popular animals — was born in 1992. This time, Raja is the father.
Elephant bulls are kept away from their calves, but Ellie still had plenty of help. Her older daughter and another female stood alongside the mother and daughter as if to offer extra protection.
Ellie doted on her baby as she toddled between her mother's legs. The baby wandered off a few steps, poked her trunk at some hay and then scurried back to mom.
The zoo and KMOV-TV are sponsoring a contest to name the baby. Voters at www.stlzoo.org or www.kmov.com may vote through noon Aug. 28 on one of five names: Sundari (which means beautiful woman), Nisha (night), Maliha (strong and beautiful), Sashi (moon) and Jaya (victorious).
Asian elephants are facing extinction, with fewer than 50,000 left in the wild, Bonner said.