Twin Asian elephant calves have been born at a wildlife centre in the US in what animal
keepers are calling a ‘miracle’.
They are now part of the herd at the Rosamond Gifford Zoo in Syracuse, New York, after
arriving last month to parents Mali and Doc.
For the past two weeks, the elephant care team has been monitoring the twins around the
clock to ensure both are thriving at the animal park, which also carries out research into the
healthcare and conservation of Asian elephants.
Elephant twins comprise less than one per cent of births worldwide. Often in twin
pregnancies, new born animals are stillborn or are too weak to survive. The mother also frequently dies.
To date, there has never before been a recorded case of surviving elephant twins in the United States making the birth a historic moment for the facility. The few successful twin births have only taken place in Asia and Africa.
Mali delivered the first calf at 2am on October 24 with no complications. The calf was a male
at 220lbs and perfectly healthy.
The second calf at 11:50am and was also male, weighing 237lbs, but was noticeably
weaker than his brother. The difficulty of interpreting ultrasound scans from elephants and the less than one per cent probability meant the team weren’t expecting Mali to have twins. But, they swung into action and responded quickly to offer specialised nutrient supplements to ensure his survival.
‘I can’t commend my team enough for all they have done these past few weeks to ensure the
care and safety of Mali and her twins,’ said zoo director Ted Fox. ‘It has been incredible to watch them in action and witness the high level of expertise, professionalism and focus under pressure.
‘The continued work and research that follows will significantly contribute to global research
efforts on behalf of elephant care, Elephant Endotheliotropic Herpes Virus (EEHV), and
The facility, in partnership with local veterinary centres and Baylor University, Texas, is a
centre for the study of EEHV, a lethal strain of herpes that can kill young elephants, both in
wildlife parks and in their natural habitat.
Twins Aid Research
The birth of the elephant twins has provided a chance for researchers to study the newborns’ placentas for vaccine development and possible treatments.
Mali’s two previous calves, Batu and Ajay, died from the disease in December 2020, and all
the elephants at the zoo are tested for the condition twice a week.
It is believed to be naturally present in a dormant form, but can become active without
warning and is the leading cause of death among young elephants.
The new twins, who have not been named, bring the zoo’s herd to eight at the facility’s Helga Beck Asian Elephant Preserve. The new calves will be the third generation in the family which includes Mali and her half-sister Kirina and Mali’s mother Targa – mirroring natural herd compositions in the wild.
As adults, the calves will likely weigh around 11,000 pounds and stand between 6 and 11 feet tall, the World Wildlife Fund’s size estimates.
Asian elephants are classified as endangered by the International Union for the Conservation
of Nature (IUCN). Their wild populations are threatened by human conflict, habitat
destruction and ivory poachers. There are an estimated 20,000 individuals left in the wild.