Page last updated at 13:30 GMT, Friday, 17 October 2008 14:30 UK

'Leggy blonde' pregnant with calf

Elephant
Noorjahan has tufts of blonde hair

An elephant dubbed "the leggy blonde" has made a little piece of history.

Noorjahan, whose nickname come from her distinctive hair, has become the first Asian elephant in the UK to become pregnant by artificial insemination.

Keepers at Twycross Zoo said the procedure had been "incredibly successful" and that the baby elephant was expected to be born in August 2009.

The Leicestershire zoo decided to use artificial insemination because it had no male elephants in its collection.

Moving elephants between zoos for mating is avoided because it is bad for herd dynamics.

Baby elephant scan
The foetus is growing steadily

Zoo manager John Ray said: "The (implanting) was done on the first time.

"That was down to the keeper's really good training regime with the elephant, so she was able to stand steady enough."

Elephant pregnancies are famously lengthy and sometimes suffer complications.

But Mr Ray said: "We're incredibly hopeful and have our fingers crossed."

Ultrasound scans have shown the foetus growing steadily.

Keeper Sue Baeumler said: "It's a long wait, but we hope next year we will have our calf on the ground."

She described Noorjahan as "our star of the herd" and amongst the zoo's best behaved elephants.

"She can be sly, but she keeps trying to please people," Ms Baeumler added.

Noorjahan arrived at the zoo from West Bengal in 1998 when she was two-and-a-half years old.

At the time, two other Twycross elephants were pregnant and her main role was helping the "expecting" mothers to become familiar with smaller elephants.

But Noorjahan now finds herself on the brink of adding a new calf to the herd.

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The calf is expected to be born during the second half of next year




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