The results of the latest round of super-sized pregnancy testing at Blackpool Zoo has revealed that two elephants are expecting (big) little bundles of joy.

Mother and daughter duo, Noorjahan and Esha, are both due to give birth to the hugely anticipated babies in late 2024.

The calves will be the first to be born at Blackpool Zoo in its 52-year history and, with the Asian elephant listed as endangered and numbers declining in the wild, the incredible news is a massive boost for everyone involved in the European Ex Situ Programme (EEP) for the management of this endangered species.

Elephants have the longest gestation period of any mammal and Asian elephants are pregnant for 18-22 months. Newborn Asian elephant calves weigh approximately 100kg and are able to stand and walk within their first hour.

Adam Kenyon, Section Head at Blackpool Zoo said: “This announcement is a historic moment for Blackpool Zoo and it is testament to an incredible amount of work that has taken place over the last decade.   

“Elephant mothers are fiercely nurturing and protective and, together with the herd, teach their calves everything required for elephant life, including how to stand, swim and find food.

“Complex social matriarchal groups mean that the females in the herd help to care for the young of other elephants, which is vital for the development of calves.

“We will be closely monitoring Noorjahan and Esha in the coming months and while all indications currently point to healthy pregnancies, there are inherent risks.

“Just like in humans there may be unknown factors that can lead to complications during gestation and delivery. Miscarriage and stillbirth are not uncommon in the species as a whole.

“The development of birthing strategies and additional monitoring is a key component to understanding as much as possible about our expectant mothers.''

“We look forward to keeping everyone up to date with their progress before hopefully welcoming two new additions to the herd later this year.”

Jeroen Kappelhof, Species Coordinator for the Asian elephant EEP added: "The recent news of the two pregnancies within Blackpool Zoo's elephant herd is truly magnificent.

“It signifies a huge milestone in their development of a multi-generational herd, which will provide a wealth of learning opportunities for its inhabitants.

“Hopefully, these successful births will continue to contribute to the goals of the EEP, in developing herds with social structures closely resembling those in the wild, as well as managing the genetic diversity of the ex-situ population".

Asian elephants have been listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List since 1986 and the population is estimated to have declined by at least 50 percent over the last three generations, which means that EEPs serve as a crucial lifeline for ensuring the survival of the species.

Adam continued: “By collaborating, sharing research and exchanging ideas, zoos play a crucial role in the global effort to protect and conserve these highly intelligent and complex animals.

“In addition, studies carried out in zoos can monitor elephant behaviour, physiology and reproductive biology more closely to provide valuable insights that can further inform conservation strategies.”

The journey towards Blackpool Zoo’s momentous announcement started over a decade ago, when zoo management first looked at where a new elephant facility could be created within the zoo, to enable the team to provide the best possible care.

Following two years of discussions and preparations, plans were submitted to the local council in 2016 and ground broke on what was to become Project Elephant Base Camp six months later.

In Autumn 2017 Kate the Asian elephant, who was one of the first animals to arrive at the zoo before it opened in 1972, moved into her new home.

Senior animal staff were in discussions with the Species Coordinator for the Asian elephant EEP to find a suitable group of female elephants and in late 2017, the zoo announced that a herd of four would join Kate from Twycross Zoo the following year.

Tara arrived in February, followed by Minbu in March and then Noorjahan and Esha in September.

Just over a year later Emmett, the first male elephant ever to reside at Blackpool Zoo, made the journey from ZSL Whipsnade Zoo to complete the herd.

Following recommendations from the EEP for Tara, Noorjahan and Esha, staff needed a way to successfully identify individual dung samples so they could be sent for hormone analysis.

Each individual elephant was given food containing a different colour of edible glitter, which inevitably appears in their faeces so keepers can see which dung belongs to whom.

Samples were collected twice a week and sent to a cutting-edge research laboratory at Chester Zoo for analysis, with the results confirming the pregnancies.

Project Elephant underpins Blackpool Zoo’s ongoing commitment to the endangered Asian elephant.  It focuses on a multi-faceted approach to the continuous long-term management, breeding and welfare needs of the zoo’s elephants, with special focus on their physiological and psychological wellbeing.

Base Camp, which is Blackpool Zoo’s largest ever single investment, combines the UK’s largest indoor elephant house with several outdoor habitats, all of which were meticulously designed to support the complicated needs of Asian elephants.




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