A Massive Welcome for a Huge New Melbourne Zoo Resident

03 December 2020

In huge news for zoo-based elephant conservation efforts, Melbourne Zoo has welcomed a very large new resident.

Male Asian elephant Luk Chai (pronounced LOOK-chai) arrived at Melbourne Zoo early this morning from Taronga Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo, New South Wales.

Eleven-year-old Luk Chai (his name means 'son' in Thai) was the first Asian Elephant calf ever born in Australia, in 2009.

He made the trip to Melbourne by road and is now settling into his new habitat before being introduced to the rest of Melbourne Zoo's elephant herd, which includes young male Man Jai and five females – Mek Kapah, Dokkoon, Num-Oi, Kulab and Mali.

As a potential mate, Luk Chai brings important genetic diversity to the breeding females in Melbourne Zoo’s matriarchal herd. He will also play an important mentoring role for adolescent bull, Man Jai.

Melbourne Zoo Trail of the Elephants Life Sciences Manager Erin Gardiner said keepers are thrilled to have Luk Chai join the herd.

"We are so excited that Luk Chai is here,” Ms Gardiner said. “We have worked really hard to make sure that he is going to settle in, including having the Taronga Western Plains Zoo keepers with him for a week to help us learn about him and for him to learn about us.

"Herd cohesion is our biggest welfare priority. Everything we do with our elephants is always looking at ways to provide cohesion within the herd, opportunities for social interaction and natural behaviours. Not only is it exciting to have Luk Chai here for the breeding aspect, but also for the social dynamic aspect."

Luk Chai weighs in at 3.5 tonnes and has been described by Taronga elephant keepers as an outgoing and social bull elephant who loves water play. One of his new companions is Mali, who was Melbourne Zoo's first-ever calf, born in 2010, and the first female calf born in Australia.

"We hope to introduce him to our breeding females and give them opportunities to reproduce and have calves here at Melbourne Zoo,” Ms Gardiner said. “However, we will take our time and let him get to know them and vice versa."

Melbourne Zoo is part of a regional breeding program for Asian elephants, with the overarching objective to support the conservation of Elephants in the wild, which are classified as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List.

Zoos Victoria has previously announced its plans to move its entire Asian Elephant herd from Melbourne Zoo to Werribee Open Range Zoo by early 2024, following completion of an $84.5million expansion funded by the Victorian Government.

There will be temporary visitor restrictions at Melbourne Zoo's Trail of the Elephants precinct while Luk Chai settles in. Zoo members and visitors are encouraged to follow Luk Chai’s journey on Zoos Victoria's social media accounts.