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A third female Asian Elephant in Taronga Zoo’s herd, Pak Boon, is pregnant, Zoo Director, Guy Cooper, said today.

Mr Cooper said: “Pak Boon fell pregnant naturally to our male elephant, Gung, and the calf is due in early 2011.”

“This is further promising news for our regional zoo-based Conservation Management Plan for Asian Elephants with three of the four cows at Taronga Zoo now pregnant.”

“We are well advanced in fulfilling our commitment to build a sustainable breeding herd in our region to support Asian Elephants whose numbers are plummeting in the wild. Even domestic elephant herds in Asia are under pressure.”

“Modern management practices and the best global scientific advice have been fundamental to our success, with Taronga’s Thong Dee expected to deliver the first calf ever born in Australasia in the middle of this year.”

Taronga’s Porntip, the matriarch of the zoo’s herd, is expecting a calf in early 2010, which will be Taronga’s first conceived by artificial insemination. Porntip and Melbourne female, Dokkoon, were both inseminated under advice by world experts at the Berlin Institute of Wildlife Research, led by Dr Thomas Hildebrandt.

Dr Hildebrandt conducted the initial reproductive assessment of the four female elephants at Taronga and the three at Melbourne.  The AI success is tremendously valuable in the genetic management of the Australasian herd, enabling of blood lines to be established without transporting male elephants for breeding.

Mr Cooper said: “We’re very delighted with the success of Gung. He has matured into an outstanding and proven bull in the care of our remarkable elephant keepers.  They’ve established strong bonds of trust and an environment in which the elephants feel safe and enjoy excellent health.  All of which are major factors in the elephants feeling comfortable to breed.”

“Our next challenge is the safe delivery of Thong Dee’s calf and while global statistics show a 50 percent survival rate for first calves, we are as well prepared as we can be. An extensive birth plan is already in place and a veterinary team and specialists from the Berlin Institute are ready to support our elephants and their keepers.”

“The immense value of a coordinated regional conservation plan is that regardless of the outcome of the first pregnancy, the next stages are already in place with no fewer than five of the seven females at Taronga and Melbourne Zoos brought from Thailand already confirmed pregnant”

Globally zoos’ scientific and husbandry knowledge of elephants has rapidly expanded in recent years and hundreds of millions of zoo visitors worldwide are being given opportunities to learn about elephants and become directly involved with their conservation.

Australasian zoos are involved in more than a dozen projects for elephants ranging from construction of Thailand’s first elephant veterinary health centre to the provision of elephant DNA to assist with population mapping of wild elephants in South-east Asia.

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