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BABY ELEPHANTS AT DISNEY’S ANIMAL KINGDOM
The world loves babies, and especially animal babies, but combine this with the magic of Disney and you have double the magic. Animal Kingdom is always one of our favourite parks to visit, and no more so than when there are new babies to view. Animal Kingdom is part of a breeding programme which aims to sustain the elephant population in North Africa. So the birth of the fourth baby elephant to be born at Disney’s Animal Kingdom was greeted with much joy.
This baby elephant was born to Moyo on June 28th, 2008, and joins Moyo’s first male calf, Nadirah, born in 2005. He is to be called Tsavo. He joins Kianga a female born in 2004, and Nadirah, another female born in 2005. Moyo, who is 26 years old, gave birth to this 327lb baby elephant after a pregnancy lasting 21 months. She became pregnant by artificial insemination, and the whole course of her pregnancy was monitored carefully. Once she showed signs of going into labour she received 24 hour care. Elephants are difficult to breed and are considered endangered, so the relief at this baby’s birth was considerable. Both mother and baby appeared to be doing well right from the outset, and began nursing successfully from his mother soon after birth. He found his feet quickly and is described as being ‘feisty. ’
Moyo received extensive ante-natal care, with extra exercise added to her morning routine, together with regular ultrasounds. Her hormone levels were monitored daily, to enable her carers to pinpoint when labour was imminent. The normal gestation period for an elephant averages 22 months, and this is the longest of any land mammal. Moyo, together with Thandi, joined Disney’s Animal Kingdom in 1997, from a zoo in Tacoma, having been captured in Zimbabwe in 1983. It cost Animal Kingdom $10, 000 to purchase these two elephants.
Of five births, only one ended in tragedy, when a bull elephant calf died during a caesarean section in 2005. He was not named. Tufani means ‘storm’ in Swahili, whilst Kianga means ‘sunshine’ and Nadirah means ‘precious gift. ‘ Kianga and Nadirah were the result of natural breeding, whilst Tufani was born as a result of artificial insemination. Nadirah was born to Donna, and weighed 233lbs. She was born after a 16 minute labour, despite it being her first birth! Kianga weighed 230 lbs and was born to her 18 year old mother, Vasha. Tufani weighed 296 lbs, and gained almost 2, 500 lbs in his first year.
The first few days and weeks are critical, as the baby must bond with its mother, in order for it to learn from her. She will also protect her new calf. It is not unusual for an elephant to lose her first calf through stillbirth or soon after birth.
The incredible care that the professionals take of the elephants in their care does not stop with the birth of the calf. Staff had to ensure that the elephant habitat was safe for the new baby. They planted more trees and shrubbery to provide shade, and they closed gaps between boulders. They also provided a shallow pool away from public glare where the calf could explore the water and learn to swim in safety.
The aim of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums aims for a five fold increase in African elephant reproduction, and in order to achieve this they use natural as well as artificial breeding methods. It hopes to create a self-sustaining elephant population in North American zoos and wildlife centres.
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