The baby elephant born in a locked zoo

Director´s view

Miroslav Bobek  |  04. 04. 2020


It’s a shame I can't invite you to the zoo this Sunday. Our youngest baby elephant, a ten-day-old female, will venture out for the first time. That’s if the weather is good. But there’s nothing to be done about it. Unfortunately, you will not see her with your own eyes and I’m more or less in the same boat as you. I also only get my information about the baby elephant through media. We’re watching the same videos and photos; so, I’ll try and convey the little extra I’ve heard about her to you.

The female elephant as pictured this Wednesday. Photo by Petr Hamerník, Prague Zoo The female elephant as pictured this Wednesday. Photo by Petr Hamerník, Prague Zoo

“Giving dates is a bit like fortune telling” replied mammal curator Pavel Brandl when he was asked when he expected our two pregnant elephants, Tamara and Janita, to give birth. It was quite a while ago and it seemed likely that the first of either female might give birth in the last days of February. But days and then weeks passed and the levels of progesterone didn’t indicate either of the elephants were nearing birth. Nervousness grew and grew. Caring for a group of elephants like ours is not easy, even under normal circumstances. Two births make it all the more complicated. Then throw in the pandemic, which has changed the circumstances of everything and threatens quarantine and disease. The situation can quickly become insoluble.

Finally, on Thursday, March 26th, it was certain that the first birth was approaching. Tamara’s progesterone level dropped, and in the evening, she stopped eating, she leaned her forehead against the barrier and started to stretch her legs back. Early Friday morning I started getting SMS texts from Pavel:

     2.39 – It looks like the start of the birth.

     3.11 – It’s out, alive, but not standing.

     3.19 – It’s starting to get up.

     3.44 – The baby’s standing, mother OK. I’ll write when we know its sex.

Baby elephant few hours after the birth. Photo: Petr Hamerník, Prague ZooBaby elephant few hours after the birth. Photo: Petr Hamerník, Prague Zoo

Before the speculations about it being a female were confirmed, I looked at the photos and videos. She was delightful! Exactly the same feelings I’d had all those years ago when our elephants had first given birth. Those eyes! The clumsy trunk and shaky legs! “Mammoth” hair! You can see it all for yourselves on the Internet.

Gradually I received more details and news. However, I’ve decided to give you just the most important ones from the thoughts of Head Keeper Martin Kristen:

“I wanted Tamara’s baby to be a female. Not just because out of the thirty elephants I've looked after, Tamara’s my favourite. It’s mainly because she’s the kind of female that every elephant herd would want and need. Not too ambitious, but caring for everyone else, and of course a great mother and aunt. She will be able to pass all of this on to her daughter, and in ten years, when her new daughter has her first birth, I won’t be afraid, because Tamara will be there, next to her, to help.”

Of course, Martin’s looking far into the future, but it is true that life marches on. The new-born female elephant soon met with “aunt” Janita, then tried and succeeded in drinking her mother’s milk. She’s learning about the world around her. She’s met Gulab and Shanti and tomorrow, maybe she’ll pop outdoors for the first time. And, she may well have a sibling soon.

The new-born female elephant drinking her mother’s milk. Photo: Petr Hamerník, Prague ZooThe new-born female elephant drinking her mother’s milk. Photo: Petr Hamerník, Prague Zoo