Science

Artificially inseminated elephant gives birth

Thai veterinarians announced Thursday that an artificially inseminated elephant has given birth to a bouncing baby boy — a first in Asia that could be a crucial step in conserving the endangered species.

Thai veterinarians announced Thursday that an artificially inseminated elephant has given birth to a bouncing baby boy — a first in Asia that could be a crucial step in conserving the endangered species.

The baby Asian elephant was born late Wednesday at the Elephant Hospital at the Thai Elephant Conservation Centre in the northern town of Lampang, said Sittidej Mahasawangkul, head of the hospital.

The 100-kilogram male calf was healthy and could walk immediately, he said, adding that the mother was also doing well.

"This is the first time that artificial insemination is successfully carried out in Thailand and in Asia," he said. "We hope that this will help increase the elephant population in Thailand which [has] been declining for the past several decades."

Asian elephants have been impregnated through similar methods in the past, but this is the first such birth in the animal's home continent.

German veterinarians impregnated an Asian elephant who gave birth in Israel in December to what was the 11th Asian elephant born using this method, according to Israeli news reports at the time.

Asian elephants are an endangered species, with only between 34,000 to 54,000 believed to be alive in the wild, according to scientists.

Sittidej has said that Thai veterinarians were attempting to develop a technique that would enable them to artificially inseminate elephants using frozen sperm which lasts for 20 years, giving them greater flexibility in their efforts to increase the population of Asian elephants.

But Sittidej's work has come under fire from some Thai conservationists who say artificial insemination is invasive and unnecessary, and contend that Thailand has plenty of male elephants to ensure a healthy population and that efforts would be better directed toward protecting their dwindling habitat in the country and elsewhere in Asia.

"If we could take good care of the elephants, they can reproduce naturally," said Soraida Salwala, founder of Friends of the Asian Elephant, which also runs an elephant hospital in Lampang.

"It seems what they are doing here is trying to introduce themselves to the public and saying, 'Come on and buy our products.'"

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