Friday, March 12, 2010

Elephant multiple and miracle births

On Sunday, the news was that the first known twin birth of male elephants occurred in Surin, Thailand. They emerged 2 hours apart weighing upwards of 150lbs each before a cheering crowd after their 35-year-old mother had carried them for the usual 2 years. Note that this was not the 1st time that twins were known to be born - it was the 1st birth of male twins. The news story mentions a female pair born in Thailand 15 years ago. "Joom" and "Jim" were born at Khao Kheow Zoo in 1993 and were the star attractions for 9 years until their keepers had to take Jim off public display. She had become inconsolable after the unexplained death of her sister. Jim had refused to eat and her trainer was afraid she, too, would die, but she survived her grief and has now reached the age of 17.

Three sets of twins have been born at Addo Elephant National Park near Port Elizabeth, South Africa, most recently "Dawn" and "Dusk" in December 2004, who were observed within a few days of their birth by park rangers. It was hoped that both would survive because recent rains had ensured that the mother was well-fed. As Megan Bradfield, the park's social ecologist, explained, "Elephant twins are very rare. We've had two sets of elephant twins born in the park in the past, and in both cases one of the twins died during the second month. Elephant mothers don't really have enough milk for two babies, so usually the stronger twin manages to get more milk than the weaker one, and gradually the weaker one loses condition." Two sets of twins were also spotted in South Africa's Kruger National Park by safari guide Hendrik van Deventer, who described, "It was the first time I’d ever seen elephant twins, and I was so captivated by the sight of them that I nearly forgot to pick up my camera to photograph them!"

Just days after the announcement of the twin birth in Thailand, news from Sydney, Australia, that an elephant pregnancy expected to produce a stillborn baby instead resulted in a live birth. Veterinarians at the Taronga Zoo detected no signs of life after 6 days of start and stop labor left the calf trapped in a position - upside-down and face-first - from which no elephant had ever been born before. Though the male newborn's delivery defied the odds, the zoo said it was too early to speculate about its long-term survival. (Coincidentally, on the same day, it was announced that 3 calves had been born to a cow in Landrake, Cornwall, U.K., with the odds of such a rare triple birth calculated at 105,000:1.)

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