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Twin Asian elephants born in Syracuse make history

Rosamond Gifford Zoo

The Rosamond Gifford Zoo in Syracuse recently welcomed some new additions: twin Asian elephants. Twin elephant births make up less than 1 percent of all elephant pregnancies worldwide.

The United States had never had a successful twin Asian elephant birth until the twins at the Syracuse Rosamond Gifford Zoo were born. In previous occurrences, only one calf survived, both calves were stillborn or there was a miscarriage.

The Syracuse twins were born October 24, ten hours apart. Zoo executive director Ted Fox said the second birth was a surprise to everyone.

“It was just remarkable,” Fox said. “I think we were all in shock for the rest of that entire day. We had joked about the size of her through the last couple months of her pregnancy, that it's probably twins and no one believing that that would possibly be true.”

Rosamond Gifford Zoo

Fox said the second calf was weaker than the first, but the team was able to assist the baby so he could rejoin his mother and brother. Because elephants typically have only one baby, the zoo was concerned at first that mother, Mali, and the rest of the herd could reject the second calf - something common in species which deliver twins unexpectedly.

“It was quite the opposite of that,” Fox said. “Mali is very attentive to both, as a matter of fact, more often the grandmother Targa is way more focused on the second calf.”

Not only are the twin elephants exciting for the conservation of endangered species, the placentas from the birth will be used for researching a vaccine for the Elephant Endotheliotropic Herpes Virus. The virus was fatal for Mali’s previous two calves who died in December 2020.

The public can see the babies daily between 11:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and again from 2:00 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. The zoo is planning to allow the people to vote on names for the calves soon.

The Syracuse zoo is part of the Species Survival Plan within the Association of Zoos and Aquariums - which Fox said is a collaboration of zoos committed to the advancement of health and wellbeing for not just animals in the zoo’s care, but their wild counterparts.

“So many of the things that are important in the solutions and the vaccines and the treatments for some animals in the wild have come from the observations and the research that happens within the animal collections within human care," Fox said.

The elephant twins aren’t the only new additions to the Syracuse zoo. A baby red panda cub was born at the end of July.

Rosamond Gifford Zoo
Raji, the red panda cub, was born July 31.

The public voted to name the cub Raji, a Hindu name for “princess” or “shining.”

"Her mother had never produced a cub before so genetically she's going to be a very, very valuable panda to add to the North American collection," Fox said.

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.