A rare Asian elephant has been born at Chester Zoo, with the incredible birth captured live on CCTV.

The female calf arrived to 12-year-old mum Sundara after a 22-month gestation and was on her feet within minutes. The youngster was welcomed by the rest of the elephant herd, including one-year-old half-sister Nandita who was witnessing a birth for the very first time.

Keepers at the zoo say both mum and daughter, who is yet to be named, are doing well.

Asian elephants are listed as endangered on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN’s) Red List, threatened by habitat loss, poaching, disease and direct conflict with humans. The new calf is a huge boost to the endangered species breeding programme.

A rare Asian elephant has been born at Chester Zoo
A rare Asian elephant has been born at Chester Zoo

Richard Fraser, assistant team manager of elephants at Chester Zoo, described the birth as “perfect” and a “great family occasion”.

He said: “The arrival of a calf is a great family occasion for the elephant herd and brings the whole group together. As soon as Sundara began showing early signs of labour, you could see the rest of the family knew something special was about to happen.

Video thumbnail, CCTV of rare Asian elephant calf being born at Chester Zoo
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“This was Sundara’s second pregnancy and the birth was pretty much perfect. She delivered her calf on to soft sand with all the family gathered around. Sundara then gave her a series of little kicks to gently stimulate and encourage her to her feet. Minutes later, the new arrival was up and standing and making her first attempts to suckle.

“There’s always a lot of excitement among the elephants whenever there’s a birth. It’s a hugely positive event for the herd - not least for one-year-old Nandita who was experiencing a new arrival for the very first time. Having a new play mate around means that Christmas really has come early for her!”

A rare Asian elephant has been born at Chester Zoo
A rare Asian elephant has been born at Chester Zoo

Conservationists from the zoo have been working in Assam in India for over a decade on projects which are successfully helping to protect wild elephants and the people who live with them. The zoo now hopes their latest arrival can help raise more awareness of the species - and the threats they are facing.

Mike Jordan, collections director, added: “Sundara’s new calf is a fantastic addition to the zoo’s Hi Way family of elephants and we hope that news of her arrival will generate more much needed awareness of these incredible animals and the pressures for survival that they are faced with in the wild.

“In India, Asian elephants are regularly injured and killed in conflicts with humans. They wander into villages, destroying crops and property as they go and this often results in forceful retaliation by villagers. Chester Zoo’s conservation work in Assam in northern India is, however, successfully helping to mitigate these problems, finding effective ways for people and wild elephants to live side-by-side.”

Chester Zoo is part of a breeding programme coordinated by the European Association of Zoos and Aquariums (EAZA) that is focused on sustaining the elephant population in Europe.

The zoo’s elephant house is open daily.

A rare Asian elephant has been born at Chester Zoo
A rare Asian elephant has been born at Chester Zoo

Elephant fact file:

  • Chester Zoo is home to four members of the Hi Way family – Thi, Sithami, Sundara and Nandita, as well as male Aung Bo (dad to the latest calf) and female Maya.
  • The new calf is will be sexed soon. The zoo’s elephant team of keepers will soon be choosing a name for the new arrival.
  • Asian elephants are native to South and South East Asia.
  • They can weigh up to 5000kg.
  • The new calf was born overnight on Friday and Saturday, December 16-17.
  • Keepers at the zoo are able to watch the elephants remotely from home on CCTV cameras to track the progress of the labour without disturbing the herd.