The elephants at Disney’s Animal Kingdom just got a little bigger with the birth of a calf.
Weighing in at 311lbs, the male African elephant was welcomed into the herd by his mother Vasha, ten members of the herd, and a team of specialist animal care professionals.
The 25-year-old mother gave birth to her sixth baby after gaining more than 800lbs during her 22 months of pregnancy. This latest addition, which has yet to be named, is the second calf from Vasha, who gave birth to a female calf, Kianga, in 2004.
With support from the animal care team, the newborn, taking its first steps into becoming stronger and more confident, is now successfully suckling from its mother.
An Animal Kingdom spokesman said Vasha was familiar with the calf, gently touching the young animal with its trunk and always monitoring it.
In a press release, Jackie Ogden, Ph.D., Disney’s Vice President of Animals, Science, and Environment Programs, said: ‘The natural bond between mother and calf is fascinating. The team is encouraged by the early interaction between mother and calf and will continue to monitor them closely over the next few weeks. ‘
The next critical milestone is for the calf to continue bonding with its mother, who will teach it important lessons and protect it as it gradually adjusts to the rest of the savannah herd over the next few weeks. With 12 elephants, Disney’s Animal Kingdom has one of the largest herds of African elephants in North America, consisting of four males and eight females.
Vasha became pregnant through IVF in October 2009 and received extensive prenatal care throughout her pregnancy. Since early August, animal care teams have offered round-the-clock monitoring, regular ultrasounds, and daily hormone monitoring to more accurately predict when labor will begin.
Over the past few years, Disney’s animal care teams have been able to narrow the birth window to within four days, helping them better prepare for the birth. With this one, the team had been warning about the infant’s height since Monday.
This is the sixth elephant born at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Others include Tufani, male, born 2003; Kianga, a female, born in 2004; Nadirah female, born in 2005; Tsavo, male, born in 2008; and Luna, a girl born in 2010.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom is part of a breeding program coordinated by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), focusing on maintaining North America elephant populations.
AZA’s Elephant Species Survival Plan has called for a fivefold increase in African elephant breeding efforts – using both natural and artificial breeding methods – to create a self-sustaining elephant population in North American zoos and Wildlife Center.