It’s big news: we’ve welcomed a male African elephant calf, born Saturday, May 14, to Mlilo, one of our elephants rescued from drought-stricken Swaziland. The relocation of these elephants to Dallas in March not only saved Mlilo, but also provided for the survival of this beautiful calf, who will be an excellent ambassador for his species, inspiring guests to help find answers to the grave crisis elephants face in Africa.
“This birth validates the critical importance of our rescue efforts and why we worked so hard to get these animals to safety as quickly as possible,” said Gregg Hudson, our Dallas Zoo president and CEO.
“I shudder to think what would have happened to Mlilo and her calf if this move hadn’t occurred, and without the last six months of food and water we provided while they were in Swaziland, plus the excellent care and nutrition they have received upon their arrival.”
Here’s a Q&A about the birth, a precious ray of hope for African elephants:
How are mom and baby? They’re doing great, receiving round-the-clock veterinary and keeper care. The baby is active and exploring the barn, although he doesn’t get too far from mom. He’s nursing and vocalizing as expected.
The calf stands about 3 feet tall, and his tiny trunk is just over a foot long. His ears are light pink, contrasting with his darker gray body. He weighs 175 pounds, which is on the low end of the 150- to 300-pound range for newborn African elephants. A low birth weight isn’t surprising, given the difficult conditions in Swaziland during his 22-month gestation.
Does he have a name yet? No, that will come later. Our staff is busy now caring for him and our other nine elephants, but will come up with names reflecting his heritage.
When was he born? Mlilo went into labor Saturday night, May 14. The birth went uneventfully and quickly, and the calf was born naturally at 10:15 p.m.
Were you prepared for the calf? Yes. Since the elephants arrived, our veterinary and keeper teams have constantly monitored all of the elephants, noting Mlilo’s potential pregnancy. Our elephants’ habitat has deep, soft sand, which provided a soft natural landing for the newborn.
Are they being monitored? Absolutely. For those critical first few days after his birth, keepers even stayed around-the-clock in the barn, providing regular updates to the veterinary and nutrition teams. As our elephant experts continue to build trust and develop relationships with the Swaziland elephants, husbandry training will allow more detailed veterinary care.
When did you know Mlilo was pregnant? We had some indications of a possible pregnancy in Swaziland, but hormone testing was inconclusive. Additionally, breeding-age bull elephants in Swaziland had been vasectomized, so the chances of a pregnancy were extremely low. Regardless, we have been very careful with Mlilo’s day-to-day care, and were able to create the positive conditions for a successful birth. Better nutrition for the past two months has helped Mlilo, who’s estimated to be about 14 years old, gain 300 crucial pounds.
Who is the father? We don’t know which bull in Swaziland fathered the calf. Wildlife management officials there don’t always witness breeding behavior. And because elephant overpopulation is a challenge in their parks, they performed vasectomies on their bulls. However, elephant contraception isn’t yet perfected; just as in humans, the vasectomy may not always work to prevent pregnancies.
Are any of the other Swaziland elephants pregnant? There are no indications that any are pregnant. Elephants have a 22-month gestation, so it is possible, but not something we’re anticipating.
Does the birth show that Swaziland plans to breed elephants? No. Swaziland’s detailed wildlife plan doesn’t include breeding elephants. Officials there are pursuing efforts, such as the vasectomies, to prevent future births.
Is your staff experienced with elephant husbandry to care for the calf and mother? Yes. Experts on our staff previously have cared for young elephants. We also are collaborating with elephant experts at other AZA-accredited institutions, taking advantage of the wealth of knowledge among that group.
When will guests be able to see them? We don’t know yet. It could be several months, while Mlilo, her calf, and the rest of the herd bond.