All about elephants
Friday 16 April 2004
Our new elephant calf was born on March 16 and joins our herd of Asian elephants. Find out more about elephants here...
ZSL's conservation plan for the Asian elephant took shape in 1997 with the arrival of a young male, Emmett, from New York.
Since then we have extended our existing elephant facilities and provided a six-acre paddock for him and the females. Our long term plan to move London Zoo's three females, Layang Layang/Aziza, Dilberta/Gita and Mya to Whipsnade, was realised in December 2001 when they travelled 30 miles up the M1 to Bedfordshire to join Whipsnade's existing ladies, Kaylee and Luca.
At ZSL our scientists have been monitoring the reproductive systems of each female and investigating hormone levels in the urine to find out when she is about to produce an egg, or if she is pregnant. Collecting urine from elephants can be tricky, so we have developed a new technique for obtaining the same information from their dung, a technique that can also be used on wild elephants.
Elephant calf with her mother
- The average birth weight of Captive Asian Calf is 91 kg
- Females give birth within the family group and other females often called "aunties", but the correct term is allo-mother. These helpers play an important role by playing with and watching out for the new baby, allowing the mother time to rest and eat, which is important for lactation (milk production).
- An elephant calf can stand and walk within about 40 mins of being born, but it may take up to three months before it has conquered the motor skills to navigate the landscape without assistance from its mother or aunties.
- The baby elephant must locate the teats between the mother's forelegs unaided and they suckle several times an hour for two to three minutes at a time.
- A female may allow an older calf to suckle at the same time as an infant.
- Baby elephants are usually dependent on mother's milk for at least three years, although they can be weaned at two years of age. The mother's milk is highly nutritious but has low fat content (0.63%-6.2%). By the time a calf is nine months old, 40% of its diet is vegetation. The calf learns how and what to eat by watching the older elephants.
- The calf will also eat small amounts of older animal's dung which helps them acquire necessary microbes to aid digestion.
- The elephant calf can use other senses to learn about its environment like, chemical and tactile information received through its trunk.
- It takes time, however, to acquire trunk coordination. At first the calf may only be able to wave it around in the air, suck on it or trip over it, however within a week the calf has usually gained enough control to try picking up and carrying small objects and food.