Friday, September 6, 2019

Feel Good Story! Follow-Up on 2010 Miracle Elephant Birth at Taronga Zoo in Sydney, Australia

I was doing something totally unrelated (sort of - elephants are ALWAYS related to chess because of the game's ancient origins, both in one of the pieces (the Elephant, which became the Rook in some places in modern Indian chess and evolved into the Bishop in western chess), and the fact that early gaming pieces were often carved out of elephant tusks, when I came across this 2010 blog entry.

It was what started out as a tragic story of a 22-months long pregnancy that ended in a dead baby elephant, trapped inside its mother's womb and birth canal because it was a "feet first" delivery.  The veterinarians had determined there was no way for them to be able to turn the baby to try to deliver it, and a Caesarian section birth was determined to be too risky to the mother elephant.  But lo and behold, two days after the death of the fetus had been announced as determined by an ultrasound that did not detect a fetal heart beat, very early in the morning one of the zoo keepers doing a routine check on the elephants discovered that the mother elephant, Porntip, had not only been delivered after six days of hard labor, but the calf was alive!

See the second story listed, containing  citations to several articles about the declared death of the unborn baby elephant and its subsequent miracle birth, under "Isis Interregnum" posted in 2010.  You can find some early photos of the miracle baby elephant from later in March, 2010 at Zoo Borns

So happy to report that the little male "calf that could," whom zookeepers named "Mr. Shuffles" after he was born because he had a little trouble getting his gait straight at first, was named Pathi Harn (meaning "Miracle") after a naming contest and is now 9 years old!  

He's led a very interesting life thus far.  In October 2012 when he was just 2 1/2 years old, he pinned a female zoo keeper against a post, severely injuring her.  Interestingly, the injured zoo keeper explained in a later interview what had happened and it appears that she did not blame the "challenge" to any malice or bad behavior on the part of Pathi Harn.  Crushed Taronga Zoo Elephant Keeper Reveals Her Ordeal (November 23, 2012).  

In 2014, Pathi Harn along with his mother, Porntip, her sister elephant, Thong Dee, and Pathi Harn's bosom buddy, Luk Chai, another young male Asian elephant born a few months before he was, were transferred to a sister zoo in Dubbo from Taronga Zoo in Sydney.  The article disclosed that after the crushing incident of the zookeeper in 2012, tests done on Pathi Harn revealed an unusually high level of testosterone in his system. Taronga Zoo to relocate Four Asian Elephants to Dubbo to Ease Overcrowding (July 24, 2014).  

Senior elephant keeper Lucy Melo pictured back at work with Pathi Harn, the young male that pinned her to a pole. Picture: Jo Clow

Asian male elephants typically don't enter puberty until between 8 and 13 years of age according to this article from the Smithsonian's National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute:

Male elephants typically leave the herd when they reach puberty, between the ages of 8 and 13. This is often a gradual process, driven by the males' competitive and independent nature and the females' lack of tolerance for their aggressive behavior. Young males tend to form loose bachelor herds, sometimes following female herds or foraging alone. As males age, they typically become more competitive and spend more time alone.
Reproduction and Development
Wild males and females reach sexual maturity between 8 and 13 years of age. Females usually have their first birth in their mid-teens. Behavioral studies tell us that males are unlikely to father a calf until they are in their 30s, when they are best able to compete with older, larger males. By about the age of 30, most healthy males begin to experience a regular period of heightened sexual and aggressive activity called musth.
Musth is a massive rush of testosterone that makes males aggressive and competitive. It also makes them especially attractive to females in estrus. 

Now that is interesting.  It so happens that on the day the female zookeeper's authority was "challenged" by Pathi Horn, he had had an encounter with an older female elephant who happened to be in estrus.  It seems difficult to believe that at only 2 1/2 years of age he would be going into puberty, but what else explains the rush of testosterone in his system that led to his challenging and aggressive behavior toward both the older female elephant and his female zookeeper?  

Porntip, Pathi Harn's mom, gave birth to her second calf, a female, in June 2018:  "Elephant Calf Birth Heralds Future Breeding Success." 

I expect at some point, if I remember to check, I'll be reading a story about Pathi Horn fathering his first calf!  

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