We have our second elephant princess!

Director´s view

Miroslav Bobek  |  16. 05. 2020

Eight days ago, last Friday night, we published a video taken by our keeper Irek Dabrowski. It captured the highly pregnant elephant Janita with a swollen belly, which clearly showed the baby elephant moving inside.

Photo: Miroslav Bobek, Prague Zoo Photo: Miroslav Bobek, Prague Zoo

“It’s grinding away, it’s a wonder it doesn’t pop out of Janita’s side,” was my comment on Irek’s footage. “I bet it will be born tonight.”

We’d been waiting for Janita to give birth for ten weeks, but my bet still wouldn’t have been a safe one. Two days earlier, on Wednesday, Janita’s progesterone levels dropped significantly, signalling she would give birth soon.

At the time the curator Pavel Brandl wrote to me “She’ll give birth no later than Friday night”, “Although, I can’t be absolutely certain.”

But Pavel’s prediction came true. Last Saturday, shortly after two in the morning, I rushed to the zoo so I could also take part in the first inspection of Janita’s newly born baby elephant.

The birth itself began fifty minutes after midnight and lasted about an hour. On Saturday, 9 May, at 1.48, the baby elephant was born and was standing after another ten minutes. As head breeder, Martin Kristen, later told us, immediately after the birth the second of the elephants, Tamara, stood over the baby elephant to protect it. It wasn't until a few minutes later that she made room for its mother.

As we entered the interior rooms in Elephant Valley, at half past three in the morning, we caught them all together, in one crowd: Tamara with her March-born female and Janita with the baby elephant, who had been born an hour and a half ago.

“Which is today’s elephant?” I turned to Martin Kristen, confused. “The one at the back?”

I had guessed right. Janita’s new-born was indeed more at the back, but it was almost the same size as Tamara’s baby elephant, born on March 27. This was later confirmed by data on the weight of both calves: Tamara’s female had a birth weight of 92 kg and had gradually gained 138 kg by 9 May, while Janita’s baby elephant weighed 124 kg at birth! Without a doubt, this is related to the fact that this time Janita was pregnant for a very long time, a full 683 days.

As soon as I got my bearings, I started taking pictures of the new-born baby. It was still wrinkled and covered in blood, but it tried to drink from its mother’s teats as well as Aunt Tamara’s. It all seemed very vital. I watched them in amazement and kept taking photos. I almost missed the fact that our breeders had quickly agreed on its gender.

“Really?” I had to make sure. “A female? Great!”

On Saturday, the 9th of May, a second princess, another continuation in our Asian elephant breeding, joined our Elephant Valley. I hadn’t dared to hope that this spring would bring us two female elephants. Despite all other current events, the spring months of 2020 will go down in the history of Prague Zoo as a happy time.