SYDNEY - An elephant gave birth to a calf at Sydney's main zoo on Wednesday, March 10, surprising vets and keepers who two days earlier declared the baby had died in the womb. On Monday, staff at the zoo had said ultrasounds showed the calf was in an upside-down position, making it impossible for the mother to have the baby. Video HERE
The Asian elephant mother delivered the male baby in the early hours of Wednesday in what Taronga Park Zoo officials said was "unbelievable good fortune". "Dedicated keepers reported the amazing news early this morning that the calf had been born and was showing signs of life," said zoo director Cameron Kerr.
"When the keepers learned the calf had survived this morning, the looks of disbelief on our faces were quite a picture. We couldn't believe that this could be true," said Taronga Zoo's elephant manager Gary Miller.
The calf, who was monitored by the zoo's keepers throughout the night and today weighed 116 kilograms, has started to suckle from his mother, Porntip, without help and tries to run. He has been nicknamed "Baby Boy" and "Mr. Shuffles", but will be given a Thai name after public input.
The calf’s muscles were stiff but he had been receiving massages. The zoo’s senior veterinarian, Dr. Larry Vogelnest, said the elephant’s progression during the day yesterday was ‘‘quite phenomenal’’. Slideshow: From Sydney Morning Herald HERE
Zoo keeper Katharina Theodore revealed today how she found the calf after going to the barn to check on things. ‘‘Porntip seemed to be in a stupor,’’ Ms. Theodore said. ‘‘I started to cry.’’
Ms. Theodore then noticed blood on Porntip’s leg and thought it was good that the deceased calf had been delivered. She went looking for the calf, which she found lying just outside the barn. ‘‘Then the calf raised its head,’’ she said, ‘‘I was just blown away.’’ That was when she started to shout: ‘‘It’s alive, it’s alive!"
After the excitement, Ms. Theodore said her training kicked in and she started to care for the calf. ‘‘It was mind-blowing."
Mr. Kerr said the other elephants were interested in the calf, so much so that they had given up their breakfasts this morning to ‘‘run in’’ and see him.
The baby was born at 3.27 am, shocking both zookeepers and the public. "The looks of disbelief on our faces were quite a picture. We couldn't believe that this could be true," elephant manager Miller said.
On Monday, Dr. Vogelnest had said the calf was dead after one week of labour. Berlin-based elephant reproduction expert Thomas Hildebrandt, said then that "should the calf be born alive, it would be a miracle".
The female elephant arrived at Taronga in 2006 from work camps in Thailand and was included in the zoo's conservation breeding program. "Porntip," whose name means "gift from heaven", was artificially inseminated 22 months ago and went into labour on March 1.
LEARNS TO STAND
The elephant calf that was believed to have died during a nine-day labor is feeding itself and has earned the nickname "Mr. Shuffles" since learning to stand, Taronga Zoo officials said Thursday, March 11. First Steps Video HERE
"Despite no vital signs of life for several days, we now have obviously a healthy little calf on the ground," Taronga Zoo director Cameron Kerr told reporters.
He said the calf had turned upside down during the traumatic labor and may have entered a coma, fooling zoo vets into thinking it had died.
New mother Porntip, 18 years old and the matriarch of the zoo herd, is being very gentle with her newborn, which weighs a healthy 256 pounds Kerr said.
"This little calf has been through an incredibly tough time," he said. "There is no record anywhere else in the world ... of a labor that has gone this long. There is no recording of a calf being absolutely still for several days like this."
In spite of his apparent good health, however, Mr. Shuffles is not out of the woods yet and keepers were maintaining an around-the-clock vigil. The calf and his mother are expected to remain in a warm elephant barn out of public sight for some time, Kerr said.
"Advice from world elephant reproduction expert, Dr. Thomas Hildebrandt of the Berlin Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Health is that such an outcome after a protracted labour has never been seen before," according to the zoo’s pages on the new calf. "He said the birth will completely re-write the elephant birth text books."
ELEPHANT CALF "PATHI HARN"
TRUMPETS AS BLESSED BY MONKS
Frank Sartor, Climate Change and Environment Minister, announced that the calf, nicknamed Mr. Shuffles because of his walk, would now be named "Pathi Harn" (pronounced par tea harn). The baby elephant calf trumpeted as he was given a traditional blessing by a senior Thai monk.
The youngster received blessings for good health and success at Taronga Zoo from Pra Ratcha Silaporn of Wat Buddharangsee, the first Thai temple to be opened in Australia. Reverend Bill Crews from the Exodus Foundation led an ecumenical blessing. Video HERE
"Pathi Harn," which means "miracle," hid under the tummy of his mother Porntip for most of the blessing, but, as the monks, from Canberra and Sydney temples, chanted, he let out a sound. His eyes were fixed on the monks and his mum Porntip growled and rumbled during the blessing. Gallery: See more photos from the blessing HERE
Thousands of people voted online to name the calf. Sartor said the story of the elephant calf — believed to have died in the womb and then born alive — had "captured the public’s imagination and they have chosen a name that reflects this."
Zoo visitors, school children and plenty of media were at the zoo this morning to see the famous elephant calf who is now 130kg and drinking up to 12 litres of milk a day.
Taronga Conservation Society chairman Len Bleasel said Pathi Harn was getting stronger and now playing with his older cousin Luk Chai, who weighs more than 350kg, in the mud wallow. He said Pathi Harn was “cheeky’’ and a “water baby.’’
Mr. Bleasel spoke about the birth on March 10, when the elephant "literally came back from the dead" and stunned and thrilled a nation. He talked about how the elephant keepers took over a process that couldn’t have happened in the wild. They massaged the legs, trunk and tummy of little Pathi Harn and saved his life, Mr. Bleasel said.
“If this birth didn’t happen in a zoo ... that little animal wouldn’t be alive today,’’ he said.