Meet the Night Safari's latest addition: a baby Asian elephant

SINGAPORE - Visitors to the Night Safari now have an adorable new star to visit, as the park's month-and-half-old baby elephant made her public debut on Tuesday (June 28) evening.

Accompanied by her mother Sri Nandong and "aunts" Tun and Jamilah, who are not related, the rambunctious calf played in the sand and tossed around a rubber ball during her first official tour of the Asian elephant exhibit.

The adults, meanwhile, feasted on watermelons, carrots, pineapples, coconut leaves and even durians as they watched over the calf.

The calf was born on May 12, nearly three months earlier than expected, to 30-year-old Sri Nandong and 39-year-old Chawang, marking the park's first elephant birth in six years. Typically, an elephant's gestation period lasts between 22 and 24 months, making it the longest pregnancy in the animal kingdom.

She joins five other elephants in the nocturnal wildlife park - three females and two males - including her brother, 15-year-old Sang Wira.

The yet-to-be-named calf is already showing off her playful personality, said deputy head keeper of Asian elephants Novendran Suppiah, 43.

"She loves water, every morning she plays in the water. She also loves running around and disturbing the aunties, who she's very close to," he said.

Elephants live in herds which are primarily made up of related females, who act as surrogate mothers to juveniles in the group.

The young calf suckles her mother's milk up to 20 times a day, and has grown from her birth weight of 149kg to 210kg in less than two months.

Caregivers will choose a name reflecting her character in the coming months, when her personality has fully developed.

Said Wildlife Reserves Singapore's (WRS) chief life sciences officer Cheng Wen-Haur: "The birth of this female calf is particularly significant as elephants are very slow breeders, and she will contribute towards achieving a sustainable population under human care."

Dr Cheng, who is also WRS's deputy chief executive officer, added: "She will also play a leading role as an ambassador to help raise awareness on the plight of her threatened relatives in the wild."

Asian elephants are endangered due to threats such as habitat loss and human-elephant conflicts, with only an estimated 40,000 to 50,000 remaining in the wild.

This article was first published on June 28, 2016.
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