Expectant elephant

21 December 2012

The Zoo is gearing up for the exciting event of another elephant birth.

Num-Oi is reaching the end of her 22-month pregnancy, and her due date is expected to be some time between December 31st and January 20th.

Zoo Vet Dr. Michael Lynch explains that the best predictor of the due date will be a sudden drop in the concentration of the hormone progesterone in Num-Oi’s blood.   

‘We have monitored the progesterone levels in Num-Oi’s blood since early in her pregnancy, and we have been increasing the frequency of the blood tests as her due date draws near. 

‘We are currently testing her blood twice a week, but as of December 21st we will be increasing that to every second day and then daily from Boxing Day.

‘When the progesterone levels drop to near zero we know that she is likely to give birth within the next 24-48 hours.  This means that we know when to have staff on site on a 24-hour basis to assist her and the calf if needed.’

Zoo Director Kevin Tanner says that ‘we have already achieved two Asian Elephant births in our regional endangered species breeding program, when Mali and Ongard were born in 2010.

‘But this is Num-Oi’s first pregnancy, so we will be on tenterhooks until we see a calf delivered safely.  We are taking every precaution, consulting the world’s leading elephant reproductive team, and have additional experience in managing elephant births, but there are still no guarantees in nature.’

Curator Jan Steele says that since Mali was born almost three years ago, Num-Oi has proved to be a doting ‘auntie’, so Keepers expect that those strong maternal instincts will make her a successful mother.

She explains that ‘Keepers are already on standby, and when the birth is imminent they will move into the Zoo, sleeping in a caravan generously lent to us by Jayco so the Keepers can be on the spot when she goes into labour.’

Dokkoon, Kulab, and Num-Oi have all become pregnant via artificial insemination, and the Zoo’s extremely fertile bull Bong Su is the father in all three cases.

The AI procedures have been carried out in partnership with world-leading elephant reproductive expert Dr. Thomas Hildebrandt of the Berlin Institute.

Dr. Hildebrandt has come to Australia for both Melbourne Zoo births and the three Taronga Zoo births, and he has been invited to be here for Num-Oi’s delivery also.