Janita’s Baby Elephant

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The birth of the little Asian elephant male on April 5, 2016, has been recorded in the history of Prague Zoo, for he is the first baby elephant not only born at Prague Zoo but also conceived here.

Janita's baby. Source: Archives Prague Zoo Janita's baby. Source: Archives Prague Zoo

The history of elephant breeding at Prague Zoo is almost as old as the zoo itself. The first elephant, Baby, came to the zoo in 1933, two years after it had been opened to visitors. However, the zoo waited 80 years to see the first baby: the female Sita. She was born in February 2013, shortly before the ceremonious opening of the Elephant Valley. However, she was not conceived in Prague: her mother, Donna, was already pregnant when she moved to the zoo from Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Thus, the newly-born male is the first baby elephant really “made in Prague”.

The mother of the elephant male is 11-year-old Janita, who came to Prague Zoo together with female Tamara from Sri Lanka as a gift from Sri Lanka’s government at the end of 2012. The arrival of both the female elephants was extremely important at that time. Importing an Asian elephant directly from the country of its natural range is not usual and requires a great deal of diplomacy. This dream of Prague Zoo came true after two years of difficult negotiations. The female elephants were acquired with the strong assistance of the then ambassador of the Czech Republic in India, Mr. Miloslav Stašek.
The father of the baby elephant is Mekong, who traveled from Prague Zoo to Amsterdam Zoo at the end of 2014. Until August 2014, Mekong was the only male elephant in Prague; however, due to the fact that the female elephants in Prague had left him more or less cold, the zoo decided to exchange him for experienced 31-year-old Ankhor, father of 11 descendants. Nevertheless, before Mekong’s departure, the 32-year-old male took the initiative after all, which resulted in the joyful discovery of Janita’s pregnancy.

The last stages of Janita’s pregnancy were monitored daily by veterinary surgeons by means of measuring progesterone levels. The values of this hormone drop to almost zero just before birth. Moreover, Wednesday, April 6, was the 640th day of mean pregnancy length. Thanks to all this information, the keepers were well-prepared for the event. On the morning of April 5, at quarter to three, a bump appeared under Janita’s tail, which was an unmistakable signal of commencing birth. The keepers who were on duty at that moment led Janita into a box and called the whole team, including a veterinary surgeon.

Owing to her lack of experience, Janita was tied up during the birth and this proved to be a good decision. The first-time mother did not accept the baby at the beginning and it even looked as though she might attack the baby, which is not rare in female elephants lacking experience (probably due to the pain experienced at birth, which is associated by the female elephants with the baby). Therefore, the baby elephant was pulled away to be safe and only after it had been released from the amniotic sac, dried and weighed, was it gradually drawn nearer to his mother in order for her to get used to him. Fortunately, Janita’s behavior changed and after several unsuccessful attempts, the baby drank milk from his mother for the first time 4 hours after his birth.

The young male has been very active since the very first moment and availed himself of each opportunity to drink milk from his mother. Because everything has been going smoothly, he could get acquainted with female elephant Tamara under the keepers’ supervision one day after his birth, and with Donna and her three-year-old daughter Sita one day later. On the same day, the two-day- old baby elephant was shown to visitors to the zoo for the first time. Come to see him, too!

Janita’s Baby Elephant

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