Wednesday, July 08, 2009

First elephant born in Australia at Taronga Zoo

July 04, 2009

THE first Australian-born elephant calf is already showing signs he's a fair dinkum Aussie, spending his first day drinking and taking it easy.

The male calf was born to Asian elephant Thong Dee at 3.08am (AEST) in Taronga Zoo's Elephant Barn this morning after a short labour.

Thong Dee, who was brought to Australia after spending her early years as a street elephant in Bangkok, was initially surprised by the calf and had to take time to calm down before she could be introduced to her new baby.

She greeted the calf, which could weigh as much as 120 kilograms, by touching his trunk.

A tight lid is being kept on details about the calf in its first days, but zookeepers have been updating a blog on the zoo's website with the latest developments.

”Thong Dee's maternal instincts are kicking in and she's being very protective of the newborn,” the zookeepers wrote on the blog early on Saturday.

”The little calf is suckling and standing close to mum, but getting a bit wobbly and ready to try to lie down for its first nap.”

The other female elephants at the zoo, Porntip, Pak Boon and Tang Mo, watched the birth with interest from adjoining pens.

”The other cows all are all curious,” the blog said.

”They're reaching into Thong Dee's pen to try to touch the little elephant with their trunks.

”They even look worried if the calf makes a little sound.”

Zookeepers said they were delighted to see the newborn was taking after its father Gung, who has a habit of walking backwards.

”The little calf has just done a little backwards moonwalk exactly like his father, Gung does sometimes.

”We certainly know who his Dad is!”

The birth of the yet-to-be-named calf has been hailed as a triumph for the Australasian Conservation Breeding Program for the endangered species.

It's believed that only 34,000 Asian Elephants remain across their range in Asia.

Australian National University animal expert Professor Colin Groves said the birth is significant and the calf will quickly become a popular attraction.

”The elephant calves are very very pleasing, the way they learn and the intelligence, the way they pick things up,” Prof Groves told ABC Radio.

Taronga's Porntip is pregnant with the zoo's first artificially-inseminated calf, due early next year, while Pak Boon is expecting the zoo's second naturally-conceived calf in early 2011.

The new calf is not expected to go on display for some days until he settles into zoo life.