A pair of rare baby twin elephants have been spotted in a national park in Sri Lanka, officials have confirmed. This is the first time Sri Lanka has recorded twin calves, which are incredibly rare in elephants. It’s thought the young calves are around just three or four weeks old.
The pair were spotted feeding from the same mother in Minneriya National Park this week. Because elephant twins are so unusual – it’s thought elephants are less than 1 percent likely to give birth to twins – rangers weren’t sure at first if this was a case of twins or another baby feeding from another mother, but after observing them from a distance are now confident enough to confirm it.
“For the first time in Sri Lanka has recorded the birth of twin elephant calves,” Tharaka Prasad, the director of Wildlife Health at the Department of Wildlife Conservation, told Press Trust of India (PTI).
The babies were photographed by conservationist Sumith Pilapitiy on Monday. “We have been observing a group of elephants during the last few days, and yesterday through observations we were able to confirm there is a set of twins born to an adult female,” Pilapitiy confirmed Wednesday, PTI reported.
“This is the first time this has been recorded in the country," he added.
Of course, the only way to absolutely determine it is with a DNA test. Prasad told AFP the rangers were carrying out DNA tests on the herd's dung to confirm.
It’s not entirely clear why twins in elephants are so rare, but they have a bigger challenge to survive than a single calf. Elephant calves are completely dependent on their mothers for their first 3-5 years. Born weighing around 100 kilograms (220 pounds), they drink up to 11.4 liters of milk per day. At about 4 months old, they will start to eat some plants, but as they can’t control their trunk yet, they won’t really start to feed themselves until 6-8 months and will continue to drink their mother’s milk for about 2 years. The energy demand on the mother is enormous if there are two calves, so twins often don’t make it to adulthood.
A pair of twins born in Amboseli National Park in Kenya in 2018 made news around the world but sadly a few months later one of the calves died. However, according to the park's Facebook page, another set of twins has been spotted this very week.
Sri Lankan elephants (Elephas maximus maximus) are one of the three subspecies of Asian elephants and are native to Sri Lanka. Their numbers are confusingly estimated at between 2,500 and 4,000 to up to 7,000, down from 12,000 at the start of the last century, primarily due to habitat loss and human-elephant conflict. They are listed as endangered by the IUCN Red List and have serious protection under Sri Lankan law. The penalty for killing an elephant includes the death penalty. However, it's still thought around 200 of the animals are killed each year, most likely by farmers when the creatures have strayed into farmland.
Two new sets of twins, then, is perhaps a good omen that things are looking up for the Sri Lankan elephants and not everything about 2020 is awful.