It’s an 80 kilo girl!
A beautiful bouncing baby girl, slightly hairy and weighing in at 80 kilograms, was born at 8.45 last Sunday to mother Phyo Phyo in the Antwerp Zoo. The country’s first elephant birth was followed closely by tens of thousands worldwide via the internet. Kai-Mook’s name was chosen from more than 8,000 submissions from members of the public.
Kai-Mook is the first-ever elephant born in Belgium
The happy event was a long time coming. Not only does an elephant’s gestation period last an uncomfortable 22 months, but Phyo Phyo’s labour was prematurely announced. Because of a low hormone reading weeks ago, a special website was set up, complete with webcam, to provide information to a waiting world. Nothing happened.
The final stages arrived for real last weekend. Phyo Phyo’s hormones were down, she had taken to sleeping standing up (a sign of approaching labour), and her teats were swollen.
Kai-Mook is the first baby elephant ever to be born in Belgium. In fact, only about one-third of all Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) in European zoos – of which there are about 330 in total – were born in the zoo where they live. The rest are bred in native countries (India, Nepal, Thailand or Bangladesh) and imported or come from circuses, which also import them. As a female, Kaai-Sook’s future is safe in Antwerp. A male calf, on the other hand, would eventually have been separated from his mother and gone into the European breeding exchange programme.
Interest in the long-awaited baby elephant’s birth took the zoo by surprise, and the webcam, under pressure from 30,000 visitors at one time, missed the vital moments. The calf, whose name, under worldwide elephant breeding requirements, had to begin with a ‘K’ and sound “Asiatic” was soon on her feet. In her first days she will consume up to 11.5 litres of milk a day. Kai-Mook will be raised by a matriarchal group of mother, adoptive aunt Yu Yu Yin and sister May Tagu. The zoo’s elephant compound also includes the unrelated matriarch Dumbo and father Alexander.
Elephant calves have an extraordinarily long childhood, continuing to suckle until they are 10 years old (or until a new baby comes along). Motherhood duties are shared by the adult females in a group: Yu Yu Yin, who lost her last calf at birth, suckled May Tagu along with Phyo Phyo, although she is not related to either. This prolonged dependency is seen as crucial to the creation of the strong social bonds that hold elephant groups together.
The Asian elephant is endangered, with only about 50,000 left in the wild. Antwerp Zoo is preparing a new habitat at Planckendael animal park in Mechelen, which could take up to 14 elephants. Kai-Mook’s birth is a small step towards the European target of eight calves a year, which would restock European zoos without recourse to imports.
And she is from good breeding stock; mother Phyo Phyo has given birth to three other calves, two of whom survived. Father Alexander, meanwhile, has fathered three males and no fewer than eight females.