It is with a heavy heart that we announce that one of our Asian elephants, Tess, miscarried two fetuses overnight. Tess was nearly halfway through her gestation. Regular monitoring by Houston Zoo veterinarians and the Zoo’s elephant care team indicated that Tess’ pregnancy was developing normally. However, the miscarriage revealed that Tess was carrying two calves. The instance of twin pregnancies in Asian elephants is extremely rare and the survival rate after birth of the calves is exceedingly unlikely. Asian elephants can typically only carry and deliver one calf at a time and records show that there are only a very limited number of twin births in the world where both calves have survived.
“Twins increase the chance of fetal loss in all species, including Asian elephants,” said Dr. Dennis Schmitt, DVM, PhD, world-renowned elephant reproductive expert and professor emeritus at Missouri State University. “In Asian elephants, twins may share a common blood source which can compromise the health of the calves. Twins can also present complications in delivery and compromise the health of the mother,” added Schmitt.
Tess was recently in the spotlight for her pre-natal exercise and weight management program. “As part of her prenatal care protocol, the elephant care team and Zoo veterinarians monitored the progress of her pregnancy,” said Dr. Joe Flanagan, Houston Zoo Chief Veterinarian. “Like all of our elephants, Tess was participating in an extensive wellness program,” noted Dr. Flanagan.
Tess is being watched closely by the entire elephant care team and the Zoo’s veterinarians for indications of any possible signs of physical and psychological effects from the miscarriage. Understandably, our elephant keepers are devastated. The entire Houston Zoo family celebrates every birth and deeply mourns our losses.