First Asian elephant born in Australian zoo

July 5, 2009 7:59:29 AM PDT
A 265-pound (120-kilogram), big-eared and long-nosed bundle of joy was welcomed in Australia as an important step in helping to save the endangered Asian elephant.

The male calf - so far without a name - was born in Sydney's Taronga Zoo early Saturday and was healthy and generating many curious responses from among its herd, zoo officials said.

The calf was born to Thong Dee, one of a group of elephants brought to the zoo from Thailand in 2006 after logging camps were closed and there was no work for them at tourist operations in the country.

"Thong Dee's maternal instincts are kicking in, and she's being very protective of the newborn," elephant keeper Kat wrote on a zoo weblog announcing the birth. "The little calf is suckling and standing close to mum, but getting a bit wobbly."

In another post, an unidentified keeper said: "The other cows all are all curious. They're reaching into Thong Dee's pen to try to touch the little elephant with their trunks. They even look worried if the calf makes a little sound."

Taronga Zoo director Guy Cooper said Sunday that the calf was suckling successfully - a sign of good health because newborn elephants can rapidly lose weight once they are out of the womb.

"He's already quite assertive," Cooper told reporters on Sunday.

The group of elephants is part of an international breeding program that aims to preserve the genetic diversity of the Asian elephant.

The species is listed as endangered in the wild, with only an estimated 34,000 animals left across the continent.

Two other elephants in the Taronga Zoo group are also pregnant and are due to give birth next year and in 2011. Elephants' 22-month gestation period is the longest of any mammal.

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