A baby Asian elephant has been named the Thai word for ‘Queen’ at the UK’s largest Zoo, in honour of ZSL Whipsnade Zoo’s patron, Queen Elizabeth II, who once met the calf’s mum.
The conservation Zoo gave the privilege of naming the not-so-tiny infant to ZSL conservationists who work in Thailand, protecting endangered, Asian elephants in the wild. The conservationists chose the name Nang Phaya (pronounced ‘nang-pie-yah'), which is an animal-related Thai word meaning ‘queen, or strong, female monarch.’
The female elephant calf was born at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo on Monday 22 August, to mum Donna, who HM Queen Elizabeth II met when she opened the Zoo’s Centre for Elephant Care in 2017. A photograph of HM The Queen feeding Donna a banana featured on her official Christmas card that year.
ZSL's Elephant Project Officer, Saravanee Namsupak said: “When we saw photos of the adorable elephant calf, we fell in love instantly, and were so delighted to be asked to name her. We wanted a name that represented who she is as a future matriarch of the Whipsnade herd, but also her part in the wider story of endangered Asian elephants, like those we work to protect from in Thailand.
“Naming her Nang Phaya, which is a Thai word for queen or matriarch, seemed like the perfect way to pay tribute to HM The Queen for her work as ZSL’s patron and honour Donna’s famous encounter with her, while symbolically connecting the calf to the herds of Asian elephants in Thailand that are under threat from increasing habitat disturbance and loss which escalates human-elephant conflict and the wellbeing of both elephants and communities.”
Asian elephants are classified as Endangered by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and recent estimates suggest that as few as 7000 are left in South-East Asia. ZSL’s Thailand Elephant Project works in the southern Western Forest Complex (sWEFCOM) to mitigate human-elephant conflict in the region. This work forms a key component of ZSL’s wider elephant conservation programme that spans across Africa and Asia.
Elephant Team Leader at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo, Stefan Groeneveld said: “Nang Phaya is a really important addition to the endangered species breeding programme for Asian elephants, and as the boisterous, youngest female in a matriarchal family line, her new name is perfect.
“Definitely a leader-in-the-making, Nang Phaya is energetic and playful, climbing on anything and everything and racing around the elephant habitat while her mum Donna, grandma Kaylee and the rest of the herd try to keep up. Although not on solid food yet, she has been experimenting with using her trunk to pick up twigs and is gradually getting the knack of using it! She’s currently weighing in at a healthy 152kg and putting on about a kilo a day.”
Visitors are able to see Nang Phaya with her mum Donna and the rest of the herd at Whipsnade Zoo, as well as the conservation zoo’s 10,000 other animals.