Securing a shared future for wildlife and people

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Photo by Joel Kerr
Sabai meets Luk Chai

Since his birth on 2 November 2016, Sabai, our young Asian elephant calf, has gone from strength to strength. His initial birth weight was 101kg but he now tips the scales at a whopping 220kg, over double his weight in less than three months.

Sabai suckles milk from his mother, generally taking up to 12 litres each day. Within the first three months, a young calf's food intake is typically provided solely by the mother, and Sabai will be nutritionally dependant on his mother Thong Dee for his first two years. By the time a calf is nine months old, 40 per cent of its diet is vegetation. The calf learns how and what to eat by watching the older elephants.

Visitors may notice Sabai eating his mother’s faecal material. This is an essential step in a young elephant’s development and may not happen until the calf is six months old. Sabai started doing this at two months of age which demonstrates how advanced he is in his development. Approx 60% of the faecal material is undigested plant material. It is already chewed up and soft and is usually the first solid food eaten by young elephants. The faecal material also contains bacteria that is ingested by the elephant calves and is essential to help them process and digest plant material once eating solid foods.

Sabai is showing incredible dexterity and use of his trunk for a calf his age. Carrying objects, picking up food items to put into his mouth as well as sucking up water to then deposit in his mouth and drink. An elephant calf is not born with the ability to use its trunk, it is a skill learnt and developed over time with practice.

When visiting the elephants it can be hard to determine which elephant cow is the calf’s mother as Sabai spends a lot of time with his aunty Porntip. She cares for him as if he was her own calf which is typical elephant behaviour for these social animals to support their herd mates. It is wonderful to see the important role Porntip plays in Sabai’s life now and in to the future, as well as how much pleasure and enrichment Sabai brings to Porntip’s life.

Another important step in Sabai’s social development was the opportunity to spend time with his big brother Luk Chai for the first time. This has been a very successful introduction and is a very important opportunity for him to learn social skills as well as develop a good healthy relationship with Luk Chai early on in his life.

By Elephant Keeper, Joel Kerr

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