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Test Tube Jumbo: world's first baby elephant produced by artificial insemination.

It is understood that Thailand's first baby elephant produced by artificial insemination may be the recipient of a Royal name. Since his birth last month at Lampang's Thai Elephant Conservation Centre, it has been reported that moves are afoot to have the King bestow a name on the little chap in celebration of His Majesty's 80th year.
The male calf was born on March the 7th, 2007 and weighed in at 100 kilograms, stood 90 centimeters tall, and measured 120 centimeters from trunk to tail.

The baby and his mother are both thriving, according to a spokesman at the centre where the telephone has never stopped ringing since Asia's first test-tube baby elephant was born.

Speaking to the media shortly after the birth, the head veterinarian at Lampang's Elephant Hospital, Sitthidech Mahasawangkul, said "We hope that this will help increase the country's elephant population which has been declining in recent decades."

The proud mother, 24 year old Paang Khord, was impregnated with the semen from 15 year old Plai Japati, who was born in Israel and moved to Thailand just three years ago.

Paang Khord attacked her first baby some five years ago and the pair had to be separated, with the mother being given medication to calm her down. Mother and calf were eventually reunited, much to the relief of veterinarians at the centre.

The insemination that led to last month's scientific first for Asia was a joint effort by the National Elephant Institute (NEI), The Elephant Hospital, Kasetsart University, Chiang Mai University and related agencies. There have been several previous successful Asian elephant inseminations in Europe and the United States; this was the first in Asia.

A dramatic decline in the Thai elephant population is a result of food and water shortages. This, when combined with a low birth rate, has resulted in a decreasing amount of productive male elephants in captivity. This has been compounded by the fact that most breeding animals work all year round and could not naturally reproduce in the mating periods.

Some 20 veterinarians and researchers introduced fresh semen into Paang Khord on the 10th of June 2005; she was found to be pregnant three months later.

Research into frozen elephant semen has been carried out since the year 2000 by experts at the NEI and Kasetsart University. This project is the first in the world to succeed in producing frozen semen using biological technology to freeze elephant semen for between 20 and 30 years for artificial insemination purposes. Currently, there is a frozen bank of "good-breed" semen, which can lose up to 30 percent of its strength if kept for too long.

Experts indicate that more artificial inseminations will take place in the near future following the success involving Paang Khord.
Thailand currently has some 2,300 elephants in captivity, with another 2,000 or so living in the wild. Conservationists have expressed alarm at the rapid decline of the elephant population in Thailand, due in no small part to nationwide deforestation. Experts say, however, that they are cautiously optimistic that the Asian elephant will remain in the kingdom for many years to come, albeit in smaller numbers.

Keeping elephants in their natural habitat is now all but a dream, and their very survival today is largely down to a handful of dedicated organizations. Tourism helps, and well-run elephant camps such as that at Mae Sai on the outskirts of Chiang Mai do their best to cater for a dwindling elephant population. There are, as one would expect, two schools of thought on elephants performing for the public. Those against this activity claim it demeans this noble beast, and on paper at least they appear to have a point. But anyone who has witnessed the fun being had by those pachyderms playing musical instruments, painting pictures, or even engaging in football matches will scorn such observations.

The animals at Mae Sai, and at several other elephant camps around the country, are well cared for in every respect. Nourishing and plentiful food supplies, regular health checks, and personal attention from individual mahouts combine to ensure that the relatively few beasts remaining in the kingdom are well cared for.

Despite the efforts of the government and a handful of caring NGOs, however, there remain too many poorly cared for animals in the streets of Bangkok and in resort towns along Thailand's coastline. Mahouts who simply can't afford to pay for the required 250 kilos of food it takes to maintain a healthy animal on a daily basis can be seen leading sick looking elephants in search of handouts.
Well-meaning people merely encourage this street trade by paying to have photographs taken with these once elegant beasts. The laws governing the ownership, treatment and upkeep of elephants in Thailand are woefully out of date. The time for action to be taken to update the statute books is running out. An animal that once graced the national flag cannot be permitted to head for extinction in the name of progress.

Thanks to "Anchalee Kalmapijit" <anchaleeele@gmail.com> for the photos.

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