beasts: asian elephant

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Erik Hijweege: Endangered Species in Frozen Time

There is no permanent way to defy the natural process of time and decay; human ability and scientific process could only delay. Photographer Erik Hijweege visits a repository of frozen endangered species to immortalize them in photographs.

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The Asian elephant elephas maximus and the African elephant, loxodonta africana are not only regarded as different species, but also belonging to different genus. Crossbreeds between two individuals, belonging to the same genus, but different species, are in most cases sterile, like the the mule, while a crossbreed between to genus was regarded as impossible - but it had never been tried, because of the natural geographical distribution of the two species in the wild.

However, in captive situations, an artificial environment is created, in which the two species interact. So, in 1978 in Chester Zoo, England, when the Asian elephant cow “Sheba” gave birth to a calf with an African elephant bull “Jumbolino” as father, scientists became puzzled. The staff had observed several matings between the elephants, but since a cross was thought to be impossible, none expected a delivery. The male calf, named Motty, had an African elephants cheek, ears and back, while nail numbers, (5 front, 4 hind) and the single trunk finger were like Asians. His paternity was determined through immunalogical tests. Sadly, this sensational elephant died two weeks after the birth. It was an early birth and Motty had stomach problems.

Details of the hybrid elephant calf

  • Ears - Large, African shaped with pointed lobes
  • Head - Sloping forehead with one dome and two smaller ones behind
  • Trunk - Deeply wrinkled, like African, but with one finger at the tip
  • Body - Overall like African, with centre hump as in Asian, and hump in rear as in African
  • Tail - Long, hangs below the ankle, flat with hairs in small groups forming two rows, one row on each edge,
  • Foot - Asian, fore-feet five nails, back-feet four nails
  • Legs - Long and slim like African