'Big girl' elephant has zoo debut / Queenie-Boo
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'Big girl' elephant has zoo debut / Queenie-Boo

By Scott Huddleston - Express-News

With a few words of introduction, the new elephant at the San Antonio Zoo lumbered out of her barn and across her enclosure, and then started gnawing on bamboo.

It might have been her way of affirming the zoo's decision to call her Boo rather than her alternate name, Queenie, that she had while working in a traveling circus.

Or maybe she just was hungry, oblivious to the applause of about 100 visitors and zoo workers as she was introduced to the public Friday.

Along with needing a pedicure and despite the controversy surrounding her April 21 arrival, zoo officials worry she's a bit overweight, at about 9,500 pounds.

“I think she just got fed a lot. She's a big girl,” said Steve McCusker, zoo executive director.

“She's obviously partial to bamboo,” he said as Boo tore into the branches and leaves.

The zoo may try to help Boo shed up to 800 pounds by cutting back proteins and fat in her nearly constant diet of grains, hay, fruits and vegetables.

An even weightier issue is how well she'll get along with Lucky, another mature female Asian elephant who's been at the zoo since 1962. Boo, believed to be about 55, and Lucky, 50, have seen and smelled each other and touched trunks in their barn.

In the next two weeks, zoo officials will introduce the pair with a railing between them before letting them have full contact in their half-acre enclosure.

They've made rumbling noises and reared their heads, and may kick each other to establish supremacy, zoo officials said.

“One of them will be dominant, and it will likely be Boo,” who is larger than the 8,000-pound Lucky, McCusker said.

On the other hand, “it's Lucky's dirt,” and she may feel territorial, he said. But McCusker said he's confident the two will get along.

Animal protection advocates have criticized the zoo's elephant exhibit as too small and lacking shade. They wanted the zoo to release Lucky to an elephant sanctuary.

A California advocacy group, In Defense of Animals, protested a judge's consent decision last month that forced a private owner north of Houston to sell or donate Boo to the zoo rather than letting her go to a sanctuary.

According to U.S. Department of Agriculture records, Boo fell and hurt her left front leg while giving rides as a circus animal last year in Indianapolis. Federal inspectors found her exposed to the cold in Queens, N.Y., in 2008, and reported “urine scalds” and “abusive use of the ankus,” or elephant hook, in Pueblo, Colo.

McCusker said Boo hasn't shown any behavioral signs of abuse and is learning to respond to verbal cues to lift her feet or trunk for hygiene maintenance. She's been calm but more animated than Lucky, and has splashed around in her pond, zoo officials said.

Billy Worth, who came with his mother and three of his friends from the Montessori School of San Antonio, was among the first visitors to see Boo. While impressed with her size, he also was thinking about her future.

“I hope she lives longer than the other one,” Billy, 8, said.

The zoo is studying the idea of adding a second elephant exhibit but has no plans on paper and no development timeline, McCusker said.

In the days ahead, the zoo will have Boo roaming in the morning and Lucky in the afternoon.

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