Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Artificial Insemination Super Sized

As a Photographer at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, WA I get to experience some things that I probably would never have the opportunity to witness otherwise. Over the weekend I had the great privilege of photographing the incredible keepers at the Zoo and one of the world's leading experts in elephant reproductive physiology Dr. Dennis Schmitt perform artificial insemination on 29 year old Asian Elephant Chai.

It would be a dramatic understatement to say this was a unique experience. The semen from the bull elephant (I'm not sure the photo in that link is the Bull) was flown in from the Tulsa Zoo and Living Museum and immediately brought to the Zoo where the staff was extremely prepared to proceed the moment it arrived. The men and women that care for the 3 elephants at the zoo are completely dedicated to the care of these magnificent animals. It is clearly more than a job to them as there is a true bond between the elephants and the keepers. Anyone that tries to tell you Elephants are treated poorly in zoos need to just spend one minute observing the keepers interact with the elephants and they will immediately realize how wrong they are. I was so impressed with each and every person there. I hope that I am invited back for the birth!

Assuming the insemination was successful, the gestation period will last 22 months. Can you imagine being pregnant for 22 months?!

When I was asked to photograph this I was told that the lighting would be pretty dark and to be prepared for that. No problem, almost every wedding I photograph has some challenging light at some point in the day. Of course it would be dark I thought. I expected a candlelit room with Barry White singing Elephant Love in the background. It wasn't quite that romantic an event, but it was definitely peaceful and calm with Chai being very cooperative and not appearing to be in the least bit uncomfortable as she was being hand fed some of her favorite treats the entire time. The life of an elephant at the Zoo is a good one.

Here are a few pics from the process. These images are copyrighted and any copying, duplicating, using in any way shape or form without the express written permission from Mat Hayward or the Woodland Park Zoo is strictly forbidden.

You can read the Zoo's press release here...

If you are interested in viewing some other Zoo images I have taken over the past couple of years you can view a slideshow here...

Mat Hayward Photography

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