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Spike, the National Zoo's new elephant, hits it off with an old flame

The 36-year-old Asian elephant was moved to Washington to be introduced to three females in an effort to breed the endangered species in captivity


A new arrival named Spike at the Smithsonian's National Zoo could create a little spike in the elephant population. With fewer than 50,000 Asian elephants left in the wild, conservationists there are racing to save the species by breeding them in captivity.

Spike, a 36-year-old, seven-ton gentle giant, was recently moved to Washington from Florida to be introduced to three females. CBS News' Chip Reid was there when he got to meet the females he'd simply been watching from the other side of the fence.

There was some trumpeting and some ear flapping -- another sign of happiness. But with Maharani, Rani for short, there was some canoodling. The two were hitting it off. In fact, this is not their first meeting, and as they say, elephants never forget.

Spike and Rani were an item at a zoo in Canada in 2014. Rani became pregnant three times but sadly none of the baby elephants lived past infancy. Now, the National Zoo hopes they'll have better luck.

"It's going excellent. We really couldn't be happier. These guys have a great social history with one another, and we were hoping that they would pick up where they left off, and that in fact seems to be what's happening," Tony Barthel, curator of elephant trails at the National Zoo, said. 

Spike and Rani

CBS News


 And on Tuesday, the good news got even better. Rani was ready to mate earlier than expected.

"It was like a switch yesterday. He was immediately interested and laser-focused on Rani and she was also returning that interest. More so than she had in the previous days. Very glued to him and solicitive of him and that's continued throughout the day today," Barthel said.

It's exactly what they had hoped for.

"We brought Spike hoping that he and Maharani would breed and produce offspring so the first step we can check off now, they have bred. And will probably continue to throughout the next day or so and then we'll have to see what comes of that," Barthel said. "We'll test in a few months to see if she's pregnant and then begin planning in earnest for a baby at that point if she is."

They will use blood tests and ultrasound to determine if Rani is pregnant but another indicator is that Spike will lose interest in Rani. If Rani does become pregnant you're going to have to exercise some patience because an elephant pregnancy lasts 22 months.

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