The Fort Worth Zoo welcomed a male Asian elephant calf on Oct. 21, 2021. This birth, a major triumph for this endangered species, is the fourth elephant birth in the Fort Worth Zoo’s 112-year history.
The calf was born at 11:35 p.m. on Oct. 21 after a 22-month gestation. He weighs 255 pounds and stands 37 inches tall. Both mother (22-year-old Bluebonnet) and baby are doing well. The initial bonding between an elephant calf and its mother is vital to a successful rearing. As the calf gets acclimated to his surroundings, he will be viewable at various times during the day. Those times will be dictated by his growth as well as outside temperatures and weather.
When born, Asian elephant calves emerge covered in hair, as they mature and grow their skin expands and hair follicles move apart making them appear to have less hair.
Newborn calves usually stand within about one hour of birth. Brazos stood within 37 minutes of being born.
During the first month of its life, the elephant calf stays very close to its mother and nurses frequently, consuming about three gallons of milk each day.
Baby elephants usually nurse from the first year of life until about 3 to 4 years old. Each elephant calf differs, and length of nursing can depend on when their mother chooses to wean them (some up to the age of 6)
The mother isn’t the baby’s only caretaker – all the other females in the herd become “aunts” and immediately begin helping the mother care for the calf.
During the first year, a baby elephant gains about 2-3 pounds a day.
During the first few months of life, the calf will stay close and stand underneath its mother for protection and comfort. The calf will move out from underneath its mother in order to nurse and explore its surroundings but always within sight of mom.
A mother and calf constantly communicate through touch, sight, smell, as well as sound. These sounds range from chirping to trumpeting, squeaks and squawks, and there are even rumbles that are beyond the range the human can hear.
Over the last 55 million years, more than 500 different subspecies of elephants have inhabited the earth. Only three species remain today – Asian, African and African forest elephants. Having the distinction of being the largest land mammals, elephants have been known to grow up to 12.5 feet tall and weigh up to 15,000 pounds. Elephants’ large columnar feet allow them to move surprisingly quick for their large size. For a short distance, elephants can walk at a rate of 24 mph – twice as fast as a human. Elephants are herbivores and eat ample amounts of grass, roots, leaves, twigs, bark and fruit. Their trunks, which have 140,000 muscles and tendons, help them smell and gather food. On an average day, an elephant will spend as many as 16 hours eating, so luckily, the gentle giants do not require much sleep. Two to four hours of sleep is adequate for an elephant.
Asian or African?
The Fort Worth Zoo is home to eight Asian elephants: four males, Romeo, Colonel, Bowie and our newest calf, Brazos; and four females, Angel, Rasha, Bluebonnet and Belle. Asian elephants differ from the African species in various ways. Asian elephants are smaller in size, commonly growing 9-11 feet tall and weighing approximately 10,000 pounds. An Asian elephant is also distinguishable from an African by its head: The Asian variety has smaller ears, only the males typically carry tusks, and a large forehead with two domes on top.
People and Elephants
Man is both friend and foe to the elephant. For thousands of years, people have worked together with elephants to accomplish many tasks that assist with daily work and home activities. The Asian elephant is still used today in southern Asia for logging to maneuver through dense forests where modern machinery cannot operate creating a much smaller environmental footprint which limits clearcutting. Unfortunately, human/elephant conflict has affected elephants’ population numbers in the wild. Today, only an estimated 30,000 to 50,000 Asian elephants remain in the wild, with about 14,000 living in professional care around the world. Asian elephants are classified as endangered largely due to habitat alteration, human-animal conflict and poaching for their ivory tusks.
Asian elephants are social animals and live in herds that average five to 20 related females. Adult males live either alone or in a bachelor group, only joining the females for breeding purposes. Starting as early as age 4, females can be bred and can give birth every three to four years up to age 50. After a gestation period of about 22 months, a baby elephant weighing between 200 and 300 pounds is born. Newborn elephants are covered with hair, as they mature and grow their skin expands and hair follicles move apart making them appear to have less hair. Elephants continue to grow until they reach peak height, for females in their late 20s early 30s for males, as we all know weight can fluctuate with age. The typical lifespan of an elephant is around 55 years, but some have been known to live into their 70s.
Elephant Springs is the second phase of A Wilder Vision and opened to the public on April 15, 2021. Almost tripling its original size, this updated habitat serves as the home to our Asian elephant herd, which includes a three-generation family. The addition of multiple, expanded yards and varied habitats helped to enhance the Zoo’s successful breeding program. These improvements allow the herd numerous enrichment opportunities with multiple pools and yards. The Fort Worth Zoo intends to remain at the forefront of elephant conservation and management. Elephant Springs allows the Zoo to further this leadership role and guarantee the survival of these magnificent creatures for generations to come.
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