It’s all hands on deck at Taronga Zoo as keepers prepare for the birth of an Asian Elephant. Here’s keeper Tim on how Taronga’s staff—and the elephants—are getting ready for the big moment.
“We’re just a few days or possibly a few weeks out from expecting our fourth Elephant calf born here at Sydney. The mother is Pak Boon—she’s a second-time mum—the first was Tukta, born just over six and a half years ago. Asian elephants are endangered in the wild—less than 35,000 left in the forest of Asia—so having a really strong breeding program is important to sustain those numbers.
“The pregnancy of an elephant is between 21-21 months. Pak Boon’s last pregnancy was about 648 days — it’s the longest pregnancy in the animal kingdom.
“The calf will be about 90-120kg when it’s born, but Pak Boon weighs just over 3,700kg so it shouldn’t be too bad for her!
“At the moment we’re monitoring Pak Boon’s blood levels. We’re measuring all of her hormones to see where they’re at. When they reach a certain level, that’s when we’ll start staying overnight to assist her with that labour.
“The labour can last between an hour and up to several days, but it tends to happen in the middle of the night. Elephants have this amazing ability that if it does get a little bit too early in the morning, they can actually pause the pregnancy and start again the following night.
“During the birthing process, we’ll actually be staying here over night to help Pak Bon if there are any issues. We’ll also have a team of vets on standby, just in case anything does happen. We are expecting a healthy calf but on the other hand, if there is something wrong with the calf we want to be able to step in and make sure that Pak Boon knows that we can help her, get that calf into a safe position and help with any complications.
"Elephants have a very strong social group in the wild and in captivity. They all rely on each other. The other elephant’s will play a big role in helping to raise the calf and give Pak Boon some time off.
“The way we’re planning for this birth to go is to have all the girls together to help Pak Boon during the birth—we’re calling it a ‘herd birth’. The other adult female, Tang Mo, will be there. She’ll play the mid-wife role with Pak Boon. It’s quite similar in the wild, they all gather around the female that’s in labour, touching her, letting her know it’s OK, making a whole bunch of noises and generally trying to protect her and to let her know that things will be alright.
“I’m very excited. It’s a big moment for everyone! We do have a lot of experienced keepers here that know exactly what they’re doing so we have a lot of confidence in the team and how we’re going to respond. We all know it’s going to be a very big change to the elephants and to our team. These elephants are part of our families pretty much. That’s the way we love it and having a new little run running around will make it even more exciting.”
Find our more about the Elephants at Taronga Zoo Sydney.