SEATTLE - The answers to the three most commonly asked questions at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle these days:
22 months (the longest pregnancy of any mammal species in the world)
Natural insemination, after her 8,800-pound mother was transported 2,000 miles for a tryst in Missouri.
The questions concern a baby Asian elephant, the first one born at the zoo in its 100-year history.
The 8-week-old elephant has quickly become a local sensation, and her presence has doubled normal park attendance and inspired some visitors to wait as long as two hours to see her.
The three questions: How much did she weigh at birth? How long was she in there? How was she conceived?
The answer to the last question is of particular interest to elephant experts around the world, who consider any successful experiment in breeding an important victory because elephants are endangered, especially the Asian species, whose numbers have declined steadily to about 40,000 in the wild.
The baby elephant in Seattle is one of three Asian elephants born in North American zoos this year. One, however, died shortly after birth, said Mike Keele, the coordinator for the elephant species survival program of American Zoo and Aquarium Association.
Keele, an assistant director at the Oregon Zoo in Portland, said artificial insemination had worked in only a handful of cases worldwide.
At the Seattle zoo, efforts to artificially inseminate a 21-year-old Asian elephant failed to produce a pregnancy after six years. In September 1998, the zoo loaded the elephant, named Chai, on a truck and sent her to the Dickerson Park Zoo in Springfield, Mo. There, Chai met Onyx, an 11,000-pound sire.