Meet ZSL Whipsnade Zoo’s Asian elephant herd.
The ten elephants share a seven acre paddock at the Zoo, which comprises of five linked outside areas, including a large grass paddock, as well as two separate houses.
Additional facilities include three pools, mud wallows, dust baths and rubbing posts and high feeders.
Emmett is the herd’s only adult male and he is also father to Donna born in July 2009, George born in April 2010, Scott born in 2011 and latest arrival Sam born in 2014.
So… we had a brand new bouncing baby boy! But before I tell you about how Sam’s getting on, you may be interested to hear a little more about his arrival.
An elephant pregnancy is 22 months. Yes that’s right, nearly two years, that’s the longest pregnancy of any animal, even the blue whale! Normally you feel like this waiting game drags and drags in anticipation but this time baby Max kept us busy. While Karishma’s new son, Max excelled in his training it seemed like time flew and soon enough we needed to start ultra-sounding Azizah in preparation for her 4th Calf.
As the date drew nearer we ultrasounded Azizah on a regular basis to monitor the position of the calf and the readiness of Azizah’s body to give birth. Along with information from blood tests, the elephant team eventually decided to stay overnight and watch Azizah more closely to make sure we were there at the birth. We are their birth partners. We can encourage them, calm them and more importantly we can provide immediate help if we are needed.
Now this birth was a little different from Whipsnade’s previous elephant births because, as a fourth time mother, we thought it would be nice for Azizah to give birth right in amongst her herd and in the open grass paddocks. Especially with little Donna present so that Donna could see what it’s all about. This is what would happen in the wild, with young elephants learning from the adults before becoming mother’s themselves.
Having performed numerous night watches in amongst day shifts, seven committed but tired elephant keepers kept watch on Azizah. Finally she showed some signs of discomfort. She began straining at about 10pm on Monday night. We were all poised ready but after a while, she went to sleep and all seemed quiet. Finally at 6a.m the next morning she really went for it. Labour lasted about an hour progressing from small straining behaviours to obvious pushes and finally at 7.10a.m Sam arrived into the world with a bump. All 133kg of him! Kaylee, Lucha and Donna immediately gathered around Azizah as she touched the calf tentatively with her trunk. As she did, he took his first deep breaths and opened his eyes. The herd squeaked and roared but respectfully surrounded the new-born without pushing. Within 15 minutes, Sam was stood up on all four shaky legs, looking for his first feed from mum.
After a couple of hours learning how to stand steady and walk with mum, it was time to meet the rest of the awaiting herd. All the elephants gathered around excitedly, making all manner of noises. Donna remained protective over the baby, she decided that this was her new responsibility and she was making sure the big brothers were not going to bother baby Sam. Quite typical of young boys, Scott and George checked out their new sibling before continuing their playful battle with each other. All the females however, remained gathered around the calf for some time, flapping their ears, squeaking, roaring and pumping their trunks on the ground. The calf stayed steady on his feet in amongst the forest of legs while his mother slowly directed him around the paddock with a gentle nudge from either her foot or her long nose.
Having learnt a little more about his new home and having been sniffed by what must have seemed a hundred trunks, Sam positioned himself carefully below Azizah and lay down for a nap. It must be exhausting being a brand new baby elephant. The babies tend to sleep a lot throughout the day, followed by a feed from mum and perhaps a quick chase of a bird if it’s a particularly busy day.
Over the next few days, he will learn more about his home, about being an elephant and how to use that all important trunk. And while he catches up on the much needed sleep, mother (and of course babysitter Donna) stay stood over baby Sam to protect him. For the keepers, it’s another triumph and another reason to be in complete awe of this very special species. Yet again they clearly demonstrate their close relationships with each other and their true sense of family.
So that’s how our eleventh elephant joined the Whipsnade family. I will write again soon to tell you about all he’s learnt in his first month but until then you are all welcome to come and see him for yourselves. He’s the littlest one!
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