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Syracuse miracle 'eletwins' celebrate first birthday

Friends of the Rosamond Gifford Zoo

The Syracuse Rosamond Gifford Zoo celebrated a very special birthday this weekend: miracle elephant twins Yaad and Tukada's first birthday.

A cold and rainy day couldn’t dampen the birthday celebration of Yaad and Tukada. Like other toddlers, the twins celebrated turning one by making a mess — destroying some cardboard box presents filled with hay and smashing their frozen fruit birthday cake.

Yaad and Tukada made history last year as the first successful twin Asian elephant birth in the United States. Twin elephant births make up less than 1% of all elephant pregnancies worldwide.

"They're the picture of health, especially now moving around with the rest of the herd," Ted Fox, executive director of the Syracuse Rosamond Gifford Zoo said. "It's amazing to see their dad with them, they interact with him all the time. They're exploring everything, they're learning all the new things. It's amazing, also, to see all the people that come to visit them on a regular basis. Our attendance is crazy this year and I think it's primarily because of the elephant twins."

Fox said attendance records were up 51% this September compared to last September before the twins were born — saying people are coming from all over the world just to see the twins. That rang true for their birthday celebration bringing in visitors who came every weekend to watch the twins grow up and some who came for the first time like Elena Asofsky and Anna Schuff.

Friends of the Rosamond Gifford Zoo

"I had no idea how special it was," Asofsky said. "They said it was less than 1% chance that this happens with these elephants and it's the only ones in North America. But I was like, 'Wow! Right here in Syracuse? Wow!'"

"They and I have almost the same birthday," Schuff said. "So this is also a fun early birthday for me."

"Oh, my gosh they're Scorpios," Asofsky laughed.

Both Yaad and Tukada are now about 1,000 pounds each. Carekeepers notice the twins often run to each other kind of like a security blanket in stressful situations rather than their mother or grandmother.

Fox said the twins continue to grow into distinctive personalities.

"Tukada is the easy going one that is just relaxed all the time takes things as it goes," Fox said. "He not very food motivated but Yaad on the other hand is very food motivated. He'll do anything for food. He's very eager to learn, but his attention span is a little shorter than his brother Tukada."

Long-term the zoo hopes to see the twins stay in Syracuse with the rest of the herd but it is common for adult elephants to leave the maternal herd. There are also some spatial constraints with the current habitat — especially since male Asian elephants can grow to be between 9,000 to 11,000 pounds.

"We didn't really plan on having two more males," Fox said. "So we'll have to see how this goes. We do have some ideas for an expansion, maybe that could happen. But if not, we know we want to keep them together, whether it be here or at another facility. They will always be together."

But the twins have a few more years of growing ahead of them before the zoo would need to make a decision about their future.

Ava Pukatch joined the WRVO news team in September 2022. She previously reported for WCHL in Chapel Hill, NC and earned a degree in Journalism and Media from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. At UNC, Ava was a Stembler Scholar and a reporter and producer for the award-winning UNC Hussman broadcast Carolina Connection. In her free time, Ava enjoys theatre, coffee and cheering on Tar Heel sports. Find her on Twitter @apukatch.