PORTLAND, Ausust 23rd, 2013. Asian elephant Samudra turned 5 years old at the Oregon Zoo, and it’s fair to say big brothers don’t come much bigger.

“Sam’s growing up to be a big boy, just like his daddy, Tusko,” said Shawn Finnell, senior elephant keeper. “He weighs more than two tons now, and he’s almost as tall as Chendra, who’s the smallest of the adult females.”

Samudra, born Aug. 23, 2008, had a rough start to life. First-time mom Rose-Tu became confused and agitated after delivering Sam, and keepers worked hard to ensure the critical mother-calf bond became the strong one it is today. Now that he’s older, Samudra’s also been getting life lessons from his dad.

Tusko — the father of both Samudra and Lily — has been teaching his son what it means to be a bull over the past two years. Keepers believe that seeing male behavior modeled from an early age will have a positive effect on Samudra’s ability to socialize with the herd as he matures. So far, it seems to be working.

“Sam’s been a very patient big brother,” Finnell said. “Lily has been enjoying daily play sessions with him — and she’s at the point now where she initiates the play. King of the Mountain is the game of choice right now. Sam always lets her win.”

Keepers say Lily, born Nov. 30, is proving a boisterous addition to the zoo’s Asian elephant herd — and the pitter-patter of little feet is beginning to sound downright thunderous: At just under 9 months old, the zoo’s youngest elephant has already topped 900 pounds.

“Lily was born big, and she’s got a big personality to match,” Finnell said. “She’s more than tripled her birth weight of 300 pounds. You can almost watch her grow.”

Keepers have begun daily training sessions with the young elephant — encouraging her, through positive reinforcement, to participate in the routine checkups and veterinary tests needed for her healthcare.

“We train the elephants in a lot of behaviors geared toward their care,” Finnell said. “She’s learning to open her mouth so we can check her teeth and gums, and she’s learning to pick up her feet, which will be very helpful for her care throughout her life. Getting the animals to participate voluntarily makes it so much easier if we need to administer medical treatment.”

Like her big brother, Lily enjoys the water. (Samudra’s name — a Sanskrit term for ocean — was inspired by his love of all things wet.)

“Her favorite activity is probably her bath,” Finnell said. “She enjoys rolling around in the water under mom. It’s fun to see Lily growing up and taking on traits similar to her mother, father and big brother.”

By the time Samudra is 7 years old and Lily is 3, things should be looking a lot different for the zoo’s elephant herd. In June, the zoo broke ground on Elephant Lands, an expansion of the current habitat that will quadruple the animals’ space and dramatically enhance their experiences and daily routines. The new habitat is scheduled to open in 2015. To learn more, visit oregonzoo.org/ElephantLands.

To learn about the Oregon Zoo Foundation’s Campaign for Elephants — which will fund education- and conservation-based activities at Elephant Lands — call 503-220-5707 or visit oregonzoo.org/givetoelephants.

The Oregon Zoo is recognized worldwide for its Asian elephant program, which has spanned more than 50 years. Considered highly endangered in their range countries, Asian elephants are threatened by habitat loss, conflict with humans and disease. It is estimated that fewer than 40,000 elephants remain in fragmented populations from India to Borneo. Through the International Elephant Foundation and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the zoo supports a broad range of elephant conservation efforts to help wild elephants.

The zoo is a service of Metro and is dedicated to its mission of inspiring the community to create a better future for wildlife. Committed to conservation, the zoo is currently working to save endangered California condors, Oregon silverspot and Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies, western pond turtles and Oregon spotted frogs. Other projects include studies on Asian elephants, polar bears, orangutans and giant pandas. Celebrating 125 years of community support, the zoo relies in part on donations through the Oregon Zoo Foundation to undertake these and many other animal welfare, education and sustainability programs.

The zoo opens at 9 a.m. daily and is located five minutes from downtown Portland, just off Highway 26. The zoo is also accessible by MAX light rail line. Visitors who travel to the zoo via MAX receive $1.50 off zoo admission. Call TriMet Customer Service, 503-238-RIDE (7433), or visit trimet.org for fare and route information.

General zoo admission is $11.50 (ages 12-64), $10 for seniors (65 and up), $8.50 for children (ages 3-11) and free for those 2 and younger; 25 cents of the admission price helps fund regional conservation projects through the zoo’s Future for Wildlife program. A parking fee of $4 per car is also required. Additional information is available at oregonzoo.org or by calling 503-226-1561.

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