Singapore, 4 April 2011 – This April, Night Safari visitors will get to see the park’s first baby elephant in nine years, when the five-month-old calf makes his first public appearance. Born on 23 November last year, this latest addition to Night Safari’s brood of endangered Asian elephants has been named ‘Nila Utama’, after the Sumatran prince Sang Nila Utama, who founded the kingdom of Singapura in 1324.

The bold and inquisitive elephant was sired by Chawang, the sole bull elephant at Night Safari, which is managed by Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS). Now 125cm tall and weighing a hefty 318 kg, it is the first elephant to be born at both Night Safari and Singapore Zoo in almost a decade. Visitors can witness the close bond between mother and baby at the Asian elephant exhibit from April onwards.

“Our four-month-old calf is growing up to be strong, curious, and independent. He is not afraid to leave his mother’s side to explore his surroundings and we have seen the little one even getting into the pool of water himself. Nila Utama is like our very own ‘Singapore son’ and we are excited for Singaporeans and tourists to get acquainted with him. WRS hopes his birth will go towards sustaining and increasing the population of Asian elephants both in captivity and in the wild,” said Ms Fanny Lai, Group CEO of WRS.

Nila Utama is the 11th addition to the family of Asian elephants at WRS, which also runs the Jurong Bird Park, Singapore Zoo and the upcoming River Safari. His mother, Sri Nandong, has raised two other males, Sang Raja (‘noble one’) in 1999 and Sang Wira (‘brave one’) in 2001.

WRS runs successful breeding programmes across all its parks, and has done particularly well with breeding endangered animals such as the pangolin, Malayan sun bear, the orang utans and many others. It works with global partners to increase the gene pool of captive animals through various exchange programmes. For example, Chawang’s semen has been sent to zoos in Australia to help facilitate artificial inseminations with elephants there.

The population of Asian elephants in the wild is dwindling fast – even more so than their better recognised counterpart, the African elephant. An estimated 30,000 to 50,000 are left in the forests of India, Sri Lanka, Laos, Myanmar, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia.

Habitat loss poses the most serious threat to the future of these magnificent creatures, as a large part of their native homes are being logged and cleared for urban and agricultural development resulting in human – elephant conflict. WRS is working with Wildlife Conservation Society in mitigating this in Sumatra, Indonesia.

Photo courtesy of Bjorn Olesen

Photo courtesy of Bjorn Olesen