Tang Mo, along with four other adult Asian Elephants was brought to Taronga Zoo from Thailand in 2006 to establish the first Conservation Breeding Program for their species in Australasia.
Asian Elephants are endangered, with as few as 34,000 remaining in the wild. That’s why breeding programs around the world, including those at Taronga and Melbourne Zoos are vitally important to provide a safety net in case they go extinct in their home ranges.
Tang Mo is the last adult female elephant in Taronga’s herd yet to have a calf. Despite this, she is exceptionally maternal, and has been a model ‘Auntie’ to the three rambunctious calves born into the herd, ‘Luk Chai’, Pathi Harn’ and Tukta’. We’re pretty sure she had watched elephants give birth in Thailand and not only adores younger herd members, but is an extraordinary support for pregnant herd mates.
Given that all the other females have given birth, why is it important for Tang Mo to have a calf?
Having a calf of her own would be good for Tang Mo for many reasons. Firstly it would satisfy her personal maternal instincts. She dotes on the calves and is often seen at the bottom of the pile with the three youngsters rolling and playing all over her. She keeps a constant watch on them and is the most maternal in the group. She is a mother without her own calf and Tang Mo’s dedicated keepers would love to see her with her own offspring.
It’s also important for her reproductive health that Tang Mo fall pregnant and experience a birth sooner rather than later. International elephant reproductive experts have assessed all the adult female elephants in Taronga’s herd and recommended that they be bred. As a female elephant ages, they naturally develop scarring on their reproductive tract after each oestrus cycle, which makes it harder to conceive. A typical newborn elephant calf also tips the scales at approximately 100 kilograms and a younger mother is better able to withstand the rigours of birth and the lengthy 22 month gestation period.
The adult females in Taronga’s herd were specifically selected for their genetic diversity. If Tang Mo was to have a calf it would also increase the bloodlines within the Australasian Conservation Breeding Program and with Asian Elephants facing so much pressure in the wild, every birth puts the species one step further away from extinction. And that’s what we’re here for, to support wild populations and ensure that future generations live on a planet also inhabited by remarkable wildlife.