Aussie ‘miracle’ elephant baby gaining strength

Taronga Zoo veterinarians give treatment to a newborn elephant calf in Sydney
Taronga Zoo veterinarians give treatment to a newborn elephant calf as its mother Porntip (R) stands next to it in Sydney March 10, 2010. An elephant gave birth to a calf at Sydney's main zoo on Wednesday, surprising vets and keepers who two days earlier declared the baby had died in the womb. Ho / Taronga Zoo
/ Source: The Associated Press

An elephant calf that was believed to have died during a nine-day labor is feeding itself and has earned the nickname "Mr. Shuffles" since learning to stand, Taronga Zoo officials said Thursday.

Keepers said Tuesday that the calf had died during the difficult labor, which started March 1. But a live calf was born early Wednesday to mother Porntip.

"Despite no vital signs of life for several days, we now have obviously a healthy little calf on the ground," Taronga Zoo director Cameron Kerr told reporters Thursday.

He said the calf had turned upside down during the traumatic labor and may have entered a coma, fooling zoo vets into thinking it had died. When it was born at 3:27 a.m. on Wednesday, zoo officials called it a miracle.

New mother Porntip, 18 years old and the matriarch of the zoo herd, is being very gentle with her newborn, which weighs a healthy 256 pounds, Kerr said.

"This little calf has been through an incredibly tough time," he said. "There is no record anywhere else in the world ... of a labor that has gone this long. There is no recording of a calf being absolutely still for several days like this."

Despite his apparent good health, however, Mr. Shuffles is not out of the woods yet and keepers were maintaining an around-the-clock vigil.

Other members of Taronga's elephant herd have warmly accepted the calf, and even missed their breakfast on Thursday morning to greet him.

The calf and his mother are expected to remain in a warm elephant barn out of public sight for some time, Kerr said.

The calf is the second Asian elephant to be born at the Sydney zoo.