An elephant at Chester Zoo left keepers ‘astonished’ by giving birth on Thursday, almost three months after its due date.
The boy was born to experienced mother Thi Hi Way, who was a great-grandmother and matriarch of the herd.
The newborn is the seventh calf to be born until the age of 35 after being pregnant for 25 months.
Scientists believed Thi had begun a natural resorption process after hormone monitoring showed she was due to give birth three months ago, but she is slowly returning to her normal weight.
Despite the unusual circumstances, Thi gave birth to a healthy baby boy and zookeepers say both the mother and baby, who have not been named, are doing well.
Mike Jordan, Chester Zoo’s Collection Director, said: ‘Thi is a wonderful matriarch to our family herd and a truly experienced mother. She had successfully given birth to seven calves before, but the circumstances were actually quite unexpected this time.
‘We believe that Ms. Thi has gone beyond her normal gestation period and we are monitoring it closely. Her hormone levels, behavior, and weight loss gave us every indication that she may have rehabilitated the calf – a natural process that some elephants go through.
‘Nevertheless, nature has always had that incredible ability to surprise you and that was certainly the case with us coming in yesterday morning.
The young stand up, suckle his milk, and bond closely with the rest of the family herd, which includes one-year-old calves, Indali and Aayu. It’s really great to see. ‘
Asian elephants are listed as endangered in the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List. This means they are threatened by habitat loss, po.a.ching, disease, and direct conflict with humans.
Chester Zoo is part of a breeding program focused on maintaining the elephant population in Europe, and the unexpected birth of the baby boy is a ‘huge boost’ to these efforts, the Zoo said.
Tim Rowlands, Curator of Mammals at the zoo, added: ‘It’s been amazing to see Thi bring another new arrival into the world.
These milestones always bring the entire elephant family together and we hope to see other calves in the herd showing so much care for the baby in the coming days, weeks, and months.
‘Importantly, this is important news for Asian elephants more broadly. This species is endangered in the wild. If we don’t act now, the unthinkable could happen. By combining the successes of our breeding program with field projects in the wild, we are really making a difference to these amazing animals. ‘
The project at Chester Zoo has been working with conservationists in India for over twelve years.
They aim to prevent extinction in the wild using studies produced in Chester.
A major project launched by the Zoo in Assam, northern India, has succeeded in eliminating conflict between local communities and nearby Asian elephant populations, providing a blueprint for the conservation of this species in the future.
Scientists at the zoo are also working on a cure for the d.ea.dly disease that threatens Asian elephants.
There is currently no cure for the endotheliotropic herpes virus in elephants, but scientists hope to produce a vaccine.