Despite contention from conservationists and a US court order that was meant to temporarily freeze the import, 18 wild elephants from Swaziland were flown to three zoos in the United States in March this year.
Five of these elephants found their way to a life in captivity at Dallas Zoo. And now the zoo has announced that one of these five elephants, a female named ‘Mlilo’, thought to be about 14 years of age, gave birth in the evening hours of 14 May 2016.
African elephants have a gestation period of 22 months, meaning that Mlilo was nearing the end of her pregnancy when she was export to the United States. Despite showing signs of possible pregnancy before the export, tests had proved inconclusive and it was said that chances of her being pregnant were low given that the breeding-age bull elephants in her reserve had had vasectomies. However, zoo officials did have some indications that the animal was expecting, and according to them, “were very careful in setting up conditions that really proved to be a perfect way for her to have her birth.” However, conservationists say that transport of elephants during pregnancy can be dangerous, especially late-term transports involving sedation, and are shocked to learn of the additional risks that the zoos were willing to put the elephants through, in order to attract more customers.
The calf is the first African elephant calf born in the U.S. in almost two years and the zoo’s first baby elephant. At about 175 pounds, the calf is on the lower end of newborn body weight, which is normally between 150 to 300 pounds. The little one is being kept in a special nursery with his mother and will be introduced back to the herd at a later date. Dallas Zoo president and CEO Gregg Hudson said: “That first year of an animal’s life is always very, very delicate, and so we’re managing it very closely. We know the public’s excited to see it, but the most important thing is those two are bonded together and we get them down here in a way that’s good.”
Swaziland’s Big Game Parks says they had to export the elephants to zoos to avoid culling them as they were destroying large tracts of vegetation. However, an outcry from conservationists, scientists and animal welfare groups said that alternative plans to move the elephants to other reserves within Swaziland or elsewhere in Africa had been ignored. The Dallas Zoo put up about US$1 million for the acquisition of the elephants, and they claim part of that money also went to Swaziland for conservation efforts.
- Subscribe to our newsletter.