By Amanda Orr
HOUSTON (Reuters) - Zookeepers in Houston have placed a pregnant Asian elephant named Tess on a weight loss and exercise regimen, trying to help the pudgy pachyderm cut 500 pounds (228 kgs) in time for delivery of the baby in about a year.
"Part of the reason we're doing it now is to get ahead of the game. When she gets closer to delivery she'll move less and be less active," said Daryl Hoffman, curator of large mammals at the Houston Zoo.
At about 7,700 pounds (3,500 kg), Tess is roughly 6 percent overweight. The elephant's weight is already at the amount it should be at the end of a healthy pregnancy - and if Tess gets any larger, she may have trouble giving birth, zoo officials said.
Along with a lower-calorie diet, Tess is going for a brisk two-mile (3.2 km) walk inside her habitat each morning before visitors arrive. She also does leg exercises to improve muscle tone that zoo staff refer to as "elephant yoga."
Zookeepers said her planned weight cut would be like a 200-pound (91 kg) person dropping 12 pounds (5.4 kg). Asian elephants can weigh up to 11,000 pounds (5,000 kg), according to data provided by various zoos.
(Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Will Dunham)