Securing a shared future for wildlife and people

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Photo by Rick Stevens
Taronga's male elephant, Gung

With the much-anticipated birth of Pak Boon’s second calf getting closer, there is one important factor that hasn’t received as much attention – and his name is Gung.

Gung is Tukta’s father, as well as the father of Luk Chai and Sabai who live at Taronga Western Plains Zoo. This makes this latest calf the fourth he has sired since arriving in Australia just over 10 years ago.

At 17 years of age, Gung is sexually mature but still growing, even though he already tips the scales at 4.25 tonnes.

In the wild, male elephants normally have to reach full size and maturity (typically in their mid-late 20s) before they can compete for dominance among other males, and then be allowed by the females to mate with them. This ensures only the fittest and most impressive males get to pass on their genetics.

As Gung is Taronga’s only resident bull, his position as a breeding male was predestined and he’s been fortunate to have bred successfully a number of times before even reaching his 20s.

Gung also has a very good working relationship with keepers and is very motivated and cooperative during his multiple training and play sessions each day. Guests at Taronga are often amazed when watching Gung during these sessions, as he has a remarkable array of behaviours and incredible physical strength.

During play sessions, Gung will move large items around his exhibit as part of his physical conditioning routine. This ability to move massive objects is one of the reasons elephants have historically been used as working animals in the logging industry across Asia and why they are sometimes called the perfect tractors.

Ironically, the logging industry across Asia, as well as the clearing of forests for residential and commercial use, is contributing to the loss and fragmentation of elephant habitats at an alarming fast rate.

With conservative estimates putting the numbers of wild elephants at fewer than 34,000, habitat loss and poaching could see elephants become extinct in the wild in 20 years or less.

Conservation plights such as this make the role of good Zoo’s ever more significant in helping to inform people of the issues elephants are facing in the wild. By encouraging visitors to consider purchasing recycled paper and sustainably sourced timber, we can hopefully help stem the downward trend being witnessed in wild elephant populations.

- Elephant keeper, Johny Wade

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