Remarkable Turnaround for Elephant Calf at Howletts

Mon, 05/07/2010 - 1:00am

An Elephant calf that keepers feared would not survive has just been introduced to her herd for the first time, only six weeks after being rejected by her mother.

The six week old female was born at night to first time mum Justa. When keepers discovered the new arrival in the morning it had been totally rejected by its mother who was on the opposite side of the enclosure to her new calf. Not only was the calf not feeding, Justa was showing signs of aggression towards her.

Elephant calves that are solely raised by humans traditionally have very low chances of survival, so despite these worrying signs keepers made the brave decision to keep the calf in with its mother. Luckily Justa's docile temperament meant that Keepers were able to hand rear the calf and keep it alive without separating mother and daughter and thus breaking the very fragile bond that remained between the pair.

The as yet un-named calf was given a special milk formula by the keeping team who had to work on a rota that included 15 hour night shifts. After a worrying start the calf began to visibly strengthen, although keepers were still nervous as she had not received the ‘colostrum' in her mother's milk which contains antibodies to help offspring fight infection.

Over the course of the first week Justa gradually began to tolerate her calf, and then, crucially, began responding to her and showing tentative signs of maternal behaviour.

Amazingly, two weeks later it looked like the calf was beginning to feed from her mother, a suspicion which was confirmed by a rapid decline in the amount of formula milk she was taking from keepers. The calf was gradually weaned off the bottle and was able to be cared for entirely by Justa, a remarkable turnaround.

The bond between mother and daughter continued to strengthen but the still had a massive hurdle to overcome - being accepted and successfully integrated into her mother's herd.

The calf's own grandmother had initially shown a lot of aggression to the new arrival and keepers were naturally apprehensive when the time came. Crucially however Justa had now bonded fully with the calf and keepers were able to introduce the calf slowly to her family, who have accepted her as one of their own.

Now at six weeks old the new baby is enjoying life with the rest of the Howletts herd and keepers are delighted to announce her arrival to the world. This happy announcement, and the calf's 6 week ‘birthday', comes as the parks reflect on the 10th anniversary of the passing of their founder, the renowned philanthropist John Aspinall.

Mr Damian Aspinall, who now runs the parks, commented:

'Myself and the team at Howletts are delighted to present this very special elephant calf to the world. The Aspinall Foundation continues to be a world leader in breeding and conserving rare and endangered animals, both here in Kent at Howletts and Port Lympne Wild Animal Parks and at our pioneering projects worldwide. On the 10th anniversary of my father's passing this latest success story is both a fitting tribute to his memory and a celebration of the future as The Aspinall Foundation continues to go from strength to strength'

Howletts cares for the largest herd of African Elephants in the UK including bull elephant Jums who stands at over 11 feet tall and weighs around 5.5 tonnes, a stark contrast to the tiny new arrival. The Howletts herd is responsible for more elephant births than all other British zoos combined.