As kids squealed and adults positioned their smartphone cameras, little Fitz peeked out from behind the gate of the enclosure he shares with his mom, 34-year-old Mikki.
In early August, Fitz became the second elephant ever born at the Louisville Zoo. The zoo on Tuesday announced his name, which was the result of a community vote. Fitz beat out other finalists, Rocket and Walt, in the competition. Zoo officials said they raised about $6,000 through donations from the voters that will go toward elephant care.
At almost 3 months old, Fitz is already 375 pounds — 110 pounds more than his birth weight. He explores the exhibit, but always stays close enough to touch his mom — though his walk is certainly more bouncy and childlike than hers.
Mikki is an African Elephant who came to the Louisville Zoo in 1987, when she was removed rather than euthanized as part of an operation to preserve natural habitats in South Africa from destruction by herds.
Zoo director John Walczak said Tuesday the zoo has spent years trying to get a baby elephant born here in Louisville. It took five years to successfully artificially inseminate Mikki, followed by her 22-month pregnancy. The effort was conducted with the support of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Species Survival Plan, which works for the survival of vulnerable elephant species. Mikki’s first baby, Scotty, died at 3 years old from complications of colic in 2010.
Walczak said exhibiting Fitz attracts elephant lovers and those who have never seen a baby elephant. That creates an opportunity to teach visitors about the importance conservation, he said, since people are responsible for the well-being of all species on earth.
“We need to be responsible to the remnant wild places on earth and make sure that we provide healthy ecosystem, not just for the animals but for us,” he said.
Some groups, including PETA, oppose zoo-based conservation efforts, saying the facilities cannot replicate natural habitats, and condemn the practice of artificially inseminating elephants.
Fitz is available for viewing daily from about 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.