March 10, 2010

Baby Elephant Defies Death By Being Born

A baby elephant that keepers believed to have died during a strenuous 9-day labor was born alive at an Australian zoo on Wednesday, defying expert judgments that consider such an outcome would have been a "miracle".

The Taronga Zoo, based in Sydney, said Monday that the calf died after becoming trapped in the womb in such a position that they believed it had no chance of surviving the birth. But the baby elephant was delivered showing signs of life early Wednesday morning and by afternoon was trying to suckle from its mother and attempting to take its first steps around the pen.

Zoo director Cameron Kerr said that advice given to them from elephant reproduction expert Thomas Hildebrandt was that such an outcome has never been seen before. "He said the birth will completely re-write the elephant birth text books," Kerr told AFP.

Hildebrandt told the media on Monday an ultrasound that failed to detect a heartbeat led them to believe the calf had died. At that time, he said that "should the calf be born alive, it would be a miracle."

Experts believed the calf survived the ordeal by being in a coma, which could explain why they had thought it was dead. "That unconscious state would explain the complete absence of any vital signs during all the checks and examinations we conducted during the labor," said senior veterinarian Dr Larry Vogelnest.

The zoo said the next 24 hours would be the most critical in keeping the 220 pound calf alive, especially due to the fact that half of all first-time elephant mothers have successful deliveries.

The mother is "already showing signs of being an excellent mother, trying to help him suckle although he hasn't quite managed to suckle yet," said Vogelnest. "She's in good health and has been getting to know her calf, gently touching the young animal with her trunk."

Other elephants in the herd were showing their excitement and curiosity, reaching their trunks out to touch the newborn. The calf responded well to the other older females and also with the zoo's first born calf, and eight-month old male named Luk Chai, said Vogelnest.

Luk Chai was the first baby elephant ever born in Australia. He was delivered at Taronga Zoo in July 2009 and was naturally conceived.

The new male calf was the second elephant to be conceived by artificial insemination in the country, after the birth of a female at Melbourne Zoo in January.

The Asian elephants at Taronga Zoo are part of a program to breed the endangered animals after they arrived from Thailand in 2006. As few as 33,000 Asian elephants are estimated to remain in the wild.


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