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Rosamond Gifford Zoo celebrates extremely rare birth of twin Asian elephants

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Onondaga County
Asian elephant twins greet the public for the first time Thursday.

Syracuse’s Rosamond Gifford Zoo is celebrating the extremely rare birth of Asian elephant twins.  The males were born to parents Mali and Doc on October 24th, and an elephant care team has been monitoring the twins’ health around the clock.

The first calf was born at two am, and much to the surprise of staff, a second calf arrived 10 hours later. The second was heavier but weaker, and the team was able to improve his condition with him with a supplemental specialized milk replacer. Both are thriving and were introduced for the first time Thursday.

The sheer improbability and the complexity of elephant ultrasounds means the zoo team did not anticipate twins. Elephant twins comprise less than one percent of births worldwide. Usually, the twins are stillborn or too weak to survive, and sometimes the mother does not survive. There has never been a recorded case of surviving elephant twins in the US.

In a news release, Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon called the births a truly historic moment for the zoo and the community.

I couldn’t be prouder of our exceptional animal care team, the support of the veterinary staff and their tremendous dedication,” said McMahon. “The important research happening right here at the zoo will have a significant impact worldwide on behalf of this magnificent endangered species”

Zoo Director Ted Fox commended his team to ensure the care and safety of Mali and her twins.

"It has been incredible to watch them in action and witness the high level of expertise, professionalism and focus under pressure,” said Fox. “The continued work and research that follows will significantly contribute to global research efforts on behalf of elephant care, Elephant Endotheliotropic Herpes Virus (EEHV), and more.”

Experts at Baylor University will study the placentas for research toward the development of a vaccine to combat a lethal, naturally occurring strain of herpes. The virus claimed the lives of Mali and Doc’s previous two calves in December 2020. The birth of the twins is the third generation in the herd’s family, which now swells to eight members.

Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at srwillis@syr.edu.