Zoo's Rare Elephant Pregnancy Thought To Have Failed Until Last-Minute Plot Twist


Robin Andrews

Science & Policy Writer

Asian elephants are endangered in the wild; this newborn, then, is a welcome addition to the global family. Chester Zoo

The world can be pretty disgracefully awful sometimes. Watching the White House’s freakishly weird, badly acted attempt to join in on the Yanny or Laurel viral game was so grim that we pleaded with fate or destiny or something equally as silly to give us something purely optimistic and hopeful.

Thankfully, that’s when the UK’s Chester Zoo came through – with an unexpected baby elephant. As reported by The Chester Chronicle, a rare Asian calf made its debut and shocked experts somewhat after they thought the pregnancy in which it was being built, so to speak, was a failure.


Gestation periods in Asian elephants max out at 22 months, but by 25 months, all looked to be lost. Based on falling hormone levels and the mother’s weight loss, zoologists suspected that she was resorbing her calf, which is a freakishly natural process. Last Thursday, however, the newborn popped out, much to everyone’s surprise.

According to a press release by Chester Zoo, his mother, 35-year-old Thi Hi Way, had given birth to healthy offspring plenty of times before, but the emergence of this little male elephant – who is doing well, and has yet to be named – is easily her most memorable progeny production to date.


As marvelous and lovely as this is in isolation, there is a serious side to proceedings. Chester Zoo is part of an international breeding program, one that’s coordinated by the European Association of Zoos and Aquariums (EAZA). The aim is to produce a sustainable breeding population of elephants in Europe.

Asian elephants – which contain three subspecies, the Indian, Sumatran, and Sri Lankan – are in trouble. According to the WWF, at the start of the 20th century, there were at least 100,000 of them alive. They’ve been in decline ever since, due to habitat loss and fragmentation, poaching, capture, and human-wildlife conflict. Such conflict is thought to be the leading cause of Asian elephant deaths, mostly involving farmers aggressively defending their land from the elephantine encroachers.


Altogether, this means that their numbers have been slashed by at least 50 percent since the early-20th century – a profound decline when you consider that this took place over just three elephant generations. The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists them as “endangered.”

It's a boy! Chester Zoo

Although efforts by non-profits and a handful of governments are helping to turn back the tide a little bit, breeding programs, like the one run by the EAZA, certainly helps too. This aims to give the species – one on an expansive list of beasties – a future, one in which conservation work in their natural habitats goes hand in hand with their captivity-maintained genetic health.

This newborn calf, then, is a welcome addition in every which way.


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