Taronga's male Asian Elephant Gung moved to his new custom built barn complex yesterday.
The Zoo's elephant keepers were delighted at the move's timing because it exactly reflected the stage of development of a young elephant bull like Gung which had come of age.
The Zoo's Elephant Manager, Gary Miller, said: "Right about now in the wild, adult females would send a male of Gung's age and development away and this is exactly what we had planned for. Gung's growing maturity and his ability to dominate the females has reached this point just as we expected. We've been planning for this since the elephants were acquired in Thailand in 2004.
"Gung and the females have developed into exactly the sort of herd you'd find in the wild. Our 17 year old female Porntip emerging early on as the matriarch and she is supported by, Pak Boon, also 17. Having successfully mated a shorter female Thong Dee, Gung has moved on to mount and breed the older taller females. This has placed pressure on the females, so they have been keeping him out of the upper paddock. It's time for him to "leave the nest".
Gung's new home is a custom-designed complex featuring a barn with rubberised floors, CCTV, a sand pit, heaters and showers, surrounded by yards with sleeping mounds, a mud wallow and pools, complete with water jets. The new barn is next to Taronga's historic Elephant Temple.
Due to lots of preparation by Gung's keepers, the move to his new complex from ANZ Wild Asia was very uneventful and stress-free. Gung was transported in a specially-designed crate on the back of a low loader. The elephant team prepared Gung for the move by walking in and out of the crate in the weeks leading up to the move.
Mr Miller said: "Once Gung's settled in, we'll be bringing the females that aren't in season up to spend time with him. Gung is an important part of the program as he is the only breeding bull in Australia at this time. Gung's success in natural mating, along with Taronga and Melbourne Zoos' success in getting cows pregnant by Artificial Insemination under the advice of international elephant reproductive breeding specialists, is good news for the regionally sustainable herd."
With wild elephant numbers across Asia as low as 34,000, having viable breeding programs in Australasian Zoos contributes to insurance against sudden wild population slumps and motivation of the community to support elephants in their range states.
Taronga's female elephant Thong Dee's calf is due in mid-year. It will be the first ever born in an Australasian zoo. Comprehensive keeping and veterinary preparations have been made to support the birth and minimise the risks, even though birth survival rates for first-time mothers can be as low as 50 percent.
Thong Dee was recommended to be bred first by one of the world's foremost elephant reproductive specialists, Dr Thomas Hildebrandt, from Berlin's Institute and Zoo and Wildlife Research. Her pregnancy was followed some months later with Taronga's first successful pregnancy by Artificial Insemination with the herd's matriarch, Porntip, whose calf is due in the first half of 2010.