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Melbourne Zoo awaits elephant birth
January 6, 2010

It's a Melbourne first: a mum so heavily pregnant she's doing headstands in the night and a father with a cool disinterest. Veterinarians are nervously monitoring the final stages of a 22-month pregnancy as Asian elephants at the Melbourne Zoo start a family this week.

Dokkoon, who was brought to the zoo three years ago from Thailand, is expected to give birth within the next 72 hours.. If the labour is successful, it will be only the second elephant born in Australia."We don't know if it's a boy or a girl. We're just hoping for a healthy baby really," said Dr Michael Lynch, who sounded more like an expectant father than the elephant's veterinarian."It's true," he told reporters on Wednesday with a laugh."It's been a very long journey."



The elephant was artificially inseminated as part of the zoo's plan to create a family group in Australia.Dr Lynch said a sharp drop in progesterone levels showed Dokkoon had reached the final stages of her pregnancy.While the elephant is becoming more restless as her labour looms, the father is acting like nothing has happened."There's no change in his behaviour, Dr Lynch said."He's just doing his thing. That's the way these animals do it."Leading elephant reproductive specialist, Dr Thomas Hildebrandt, has flown in from Germany to monitor the event.An ultrasound taken on Wednesday showed the baby, weighing an estimated 100kg, is positioned head-first towards the birthing canal.The mum will spend the next two nights trying to stand on her head, Dr Hildebrandt said, so she can shift the baby around in the womb and have it face hind legs first.He said it's not a serious issue if the baby doesn't shift before it's born.

About 40 per cent of elephants are born head-first but those pregnancies have more issues during labour."An elephant birth is really something special," he said."We know if we do not manage it in the right way then there's a high risk of something going wrong."It's so exciting that we will not sleep."Australia's first home-grown elephant was born at Sydney's Taronga Zoo in July - a boy named Luk Chai.Another elephant at the Melbourne Zoo is pregnant and due to give birth in August.If this week's pregnancy is successful, a public competition is expected to be held to name the new baby elephant.   

By Steve Liilebuen