Page last updated at 16:14 GMT, Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Elephant birth surprises Australian zoo


Zookeeper: "Mind blowingly enough, the calf raised its head"

An elephant in an Australian zoo has shocked vets by giving birth to a live elephant calf which zoo-keepers believed had died in the womb.

Experts had said the survival of the baby elephant after six days of labour would be "a miracle".

But the male calf was delivered showing signs of life on Wednesday morning and, by the afternoon, took its first steps.

Experts say they think the baby elephant was in a coma in the womb during the labour period.

On Monday, the zoo had said that the calf had died in the womb, after becoming trapped in a position from which a live birth was thought to be impossible. Ultrasound appeared to confirm this diagnosis.

'Amazing news'

"Dedicated keepers reported the amazing news early this morning that the calf had been born and was showing signs of life," said zoo director Cameron Kerr.

Baby elephant in Taronga Zoo
The calf is said to be the second born after artificial insemination in Australia

He added that he had consulted Berlin-based elephant reproduction expert Thomas Hildebrandt on the unusual outcome.

"He said the birth will completely rewrite the elephant birth textbooks," Mr Kerr said.

A senior vet said the elephant was believed to have been in a coma during the labour period.

"That unconscious state would explain the complete absence of any vital signs during all the checks and examinations conducted during the labour," Larry Vogelnest said.

The zoo says that the next 24 hours will be crucial in keeping the calf, who weighs 100kg, alive.

The new male calf is the second elephant conceived by artificial insemination in the country, AFP reports.

The zoo's Asian elephants are part of a controversial programme to breed the endangered creatures which began after the animals arrived from Thailand in 2006.

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