Success Story for Elephant Birth


First-ever African elephant born from artificial insemination
with frozen sperm

(Pittsburgh) (September 2013)—In partnership with the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, the Vienna Zoo, Berlin’s Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research, and ZooParc de Beauval, history has been made for the second time in two years. The Vienna Zoo welcomed a beautiful female African elephant calf who was conceived through the first-ever successful artificial insemination using frozen sperm.

The healthy female calf was born on September 4 after a 645 day gestation period to 28-year-old mom Tonga at the Vienna Zoo. Mom and baby are doing well. The little pachyderm is nursing and bonding with mom.  Dad is a wild bull elephant at the Phinda Reserve in Africa.

            “This is just incredible news” Dr. Barbara Baker, President and CEO of the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium said. “Having a healthy baby elephant is an important occasion, but the breakthrough in reproduction research is a major milestone in saving an aging African population in zoos. Using frozen sperm through artificial insemination will infuse new genetics to ensure the elephants future.”

The success of the artificial insemination birth highlights the intensive work performed by Dr. Thomas Hildebrandt, a well-known reproductive specialist at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin, Germany. Dr. Hildebrandt developed a program that would enable sperm to be collected and frozen from the wild—without damage to the collection—for later use. The program is titled Project Frozen Dumbo.

 “Breeding African elephants is a very difficult process,” says Dr. Baker. “With the aging population, there is a prospect of them disappearing from the United States within the next 40 years.  That would be a devastating occurrence for such an incredible species.  But Project Frozen Dumbo’s success will support and strengthen efforts to save the African elephant populations with the infusion of new genetics.  We are also excited to work with Dr. Hildebrandt to establish a North American sperm bank at the International Conservation Center in Somerset and to continue into the future.”


Vienna Zoo Press Release   

    PRESS RELEASE 05-09-2013     

    Newborn Elephant at Vienna Zoo  

The wait at Vienna Zoo is over: after a gestation period of 645 days elephant Tonga gave birth yesterday, Sept. 4, 2013 at 7.30 p.m. The birth was quick and unproblematic. “Tonga is on the hierarchical top of our elephant group and generally an even-tempered animal. Together with her daughter Mongu she was in the outdoor exhibit when giving birth”. The little pachyderm is a female.  

For 28-year-old Tonga, who lives at Vienna Zoo since 1998, this is the second offspring. In 2003 she gave birth to Mongu. Tonga shepherds her newborn caringly and also Mongu is looking out for her sibling. The baby constantly remains close to its mother, following her at every turn, nursing approximately every half hour. The elephant keepers will now come up with three names for the offspring which will be put to the vote on the zoo’s website within the next days.  

Vienna Zoo is coordinating the European studbook for African elephants and it is already the fourth birth of an African elephant at the zoo. However, this offspring is a worldwide sensation. It is the first calf which was sired through artificial insemination with frozen sperm and its father is a wild elephant bull at Phinda Reserve in Africa. Through a novel technique which was developed by a team from Berlin’s Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research the sperm gained in the bush was frozen and successfully thawed.

This technique offers a major opportunity to refresh the genpool of zoo elephants and also to successfully breed other endangered species in human care.

The little elephant is the joyful result of an effective cooperation between Vienna Zoo, Berlin’s Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research, the Zooparc de Beauval, and Pittsburgh Zoo.  

credit line photos: Tiergarten Schönbrunn/ Gerhard Kasbauer

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