All Going Swimmingly - Melbourne Zoo's New Elephant Meets the Rest of the Herd

18 December 2020

Melbourne Zoo's new Asian Elephant – Luk Chai - is proving to be the perfect addition to the existing herd – as well as an excellent swimmer!

The 11-year-old elephant bull arrived at Melbourne Zoo earlier this month from Taronga Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo, NSW, and has gradually been meeting all of the Zoo's six other Asian Elephants.

Melbourne Zoo Trail of the Elephants Coordinator Lucy Truelson said Luk Chai has a vital role within the social dynamics of the Zoo's elephant herd – as a potential natural breeding bull and as a mentor to the Zoo's young bull Man Jai, who has just turned seven.

Ms Truelson said Man Jai and Luk Chai immediately bonded over a shared love of swimming in one of the Zoo's elephant pools.

"We know that elephants love swimming," Ms Truelson said. "So having Man Jai and Luk Chai meet around a pool has meant that they can extend their play into the water and that has made them really comfortable with each other. They can just play around and that is how they are going to bond really well.

"It's really important that bull elephants grow up around other bull elephants. The younger bull will learn manners from other bulls. We’ve been ecstatic about the meeting. We have been so impressed with Luk Chai’s confidence and ability to interact. It couldn’t have gone better. They are having so much fun that it was actually hard to separate them at the end of their play. Man Jai being playful and young really wants to be around Luk Chai and engage him in a playful sense."

Luk Chai also met the Zoo's five female elephants, some of whom he may one day breed with as part of a regional conservation breeding program for the endangered Asian Elephant species.

"Luk Chai has met all of our females and we are thrilled," Ms Truelson said. "The meetings have exceeded our expectations. We were able to play around with different combinations of females, so we are not overwhelming him with all five at once. We are sectioning off two or three at a time to allow him to learn the personalities of all the females.

"Again, he is showing so much maturity, in that he is not pushing too far. He is walking over and he is responding to the behaviour the females are giving him. Trunk touching, eating next to each other, it was a big thrill to see that, because you know that they are both relaxed enough to stand next to each other and eat."

Melbourne Zoo is part of a regional breeding program for Asian elephants, with the overarching objective of supporting the conservation of the species in the wild, which is 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 $84million expansion funded by the Victorian Government.