Friday, June 19, 2009

Tusko named Oregon Zoo's 'Father of the Year'

:This is a press release courtesy of the Oregon Zoo:

Father's Day isn't until Sunday, but the Oregon Zoo is naming Asian elephant Tusko its 2009 Father of the Year a couple of days early.

Over the past two weeks, more than 1,000 animal lovers took part in online balloting to determine which of three popular zoo dads was tops among pops. Tusko was the overall winner with 55 percent of the votes. Bam-Bam, a Saki monkey, took second place with nearly 29 percent, while Samar, a Visayan warty pig, finished third with about 16 percent.

"Tusko is the father of Samudra, our very popular elephant calf, so it's not surprising he was chosen as Father of the Year," said Oregon Zoo Director Tony Vecchio.

Tusko joined the zoo's elephant herd in 2005 from a private elephant facility in California on a breeding loan to create greater genetic diversity among the zoo's elephants. He was born around 1971 in Southeast Asia, possibly Thailand. Tusko has a stocky build. He stands 10 feet tall at the shoulders and weighs close to 14,000 pounds -- even more than Packy. His massive trunk is nearly 7 feet long.

Elephant Keeper Jeb Barsh described Tusko as "very experienced, calm and truly a force of nature: nearly seven tons of stout, rippled muscle."

Despite his name, Tusko does not have the long, impressive tusks many people imagine when they think of elephants. He broke both tusks prior to coming to the Oregon Zoo and his left tusk became chronically infected late in life. In the spring of 2007, he underwent two surgeries to remove the infected tusk. Zoo veterinarians felt it was safer to remove it than to risk a chronic infection, which could lead to more serious health issues.

"Tusko is extremely intelligent and very gentle with female elephants," Barsh said. "And boy, do the cows love him. He has a confidence about him, and he is a quick study in learning the routines for his daily care. Our hope is he will be a father again, and soon."

Vecchio sees the zoo's Mother and Father of the Year campaigns as fun ways to initiate relationships between the public and highlighted animals.

"As people learn about our nominees -- all of which belong to species that are either threatened or endangered -- we hope they'll come to understand and care about the challenges facing these animals in the wild," Vecchio said.