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Zoo Vienna's Elephant Calf is a Conservation Success

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At Zoo Vienna, the wait is over: after a lengthy gestation period of 645 days, Tonga the African Elephant brought a baby into the world. The little pachyderm, born on September 4, is a female.  She follows her mother's every step with clumsy feet, and nurses about every half hour. Zoo Staff have picked out three names to chose from but haven't decided on the perfect one yet. 

This is the second offspring for 28-year-old Tonga, who has lived at the zoo since 1998. Her first calf was born in 2003.  Says Zoo Director Dagmar Schratter, "Tonga is the matriarch of our herd and generally a very balanced animal."  She is devoted and caring mother, and will be raising for her own baby. For now, Tonga and her calf will live separate from the rest of the herd, to ensure that they will be able to bond and rest together. 

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Photo credits: Zoo Vienna

For Zoo Vienna, the coordinator of the European studbook for African Elephants, this is the fourth birth. Worldwide, the little elephant is a sensation: she is the first calf conceived through artificial insemination using frozen semen. The father is a wild bull from the Phinda Gamer Reserve in Africa, who was placed under general anesthesia for the collection.  

Artificial insemination is now routine in African Elephant breeding - but only with fresh or chilled semen. To transport the sperm of a wild bull of Africa in a European zoo, but it had to be frozen. But the sperm of elephants are extremely sensitive: only two cases using frozen and thawed sperm had resulted in a fertilization, and both pregnancies ended early. The successful new technique was developed by a team from the Berlin Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research. 

This new method is a great opportunity: it can be used to help strengthen the genetics of not only elephants, but of other endangered species in captivity as well. This little elephant is a positive result of a successful collaboration between the Vienna Zoo and Berlin Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW), the Zooparc de Beauval and the Pittsburgh Zoo.