Night Safari's baby has learnt new skills

Senior keepers Rahimi Rashid, 39, and A. Lachmana, 48, leading Neha through a conditioning session yesterday. By offering treats like bananas, Neha is encouraged to respond positively to its keepers.
Senior keepers Rahimi Rashid, 39, and A. Lachmana, 48, leading Neha through a conditioning session yesterday. By offering treats like bananas, Neha is encouraged to respond positively to its keepers.ST PHOTO: DAVE LIM

Turning one today, the baby elephant responds to many commands

Night Safari's baby elephant, Neha, turns one today and it has much to be proud of.

The animal - the first female elephant to be born in the Night Safari since the 1990s - has not only tripled its birth weight to 527kg, but it can also respond to about 10 commands, such as the ones to lift its leg and open its mouth.

Neha also allows its temperature and weight to be taken daily, and is comfortable with receiving oral and rectal medications, and having blood drawn from its ear.

The command skills and routines are taught through conditioning sessions which are designed as play dates with its keepers.

The health checks are part of an attempt to protect Neha from elephant endotheliotropic herpes virus (EEHV), the leading cause of death in juvenile Asian elephants under human care.

The virus, which lies dormant in every elephant, can result in a severe haemorrhagic disease which is fatal. Calves between the ages of one and eight are at the highest risk of contracting it.

This is why Neha - the youngest elephant at the Night Safari - must be monitored closely.

This type of conditioning was introduced after its older brother, Nila Utama, died of the disease in 2013. The disease is not genetic and there are no vaccinations available. Medication only suppresses the virus. Once it hits, elephants usually have only one to two days before they die.

Neha, who started conditioning in November, goes through three 15- 20-minute sessions a day with its four caregivers. But whether a session takes place is completely up to it.

The gate is left open and Neha can choose to participate or not.

While Neha will not have any special celebrations today, it was given boxes filled with hay, mangoes and bananas yesterday.

WATCH THE VIDEO: Baby Neha's first birthday http://str.sg/neha

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 12, 2017, with the headline 'Night Safari's baby has learnt new skills'. Print Edition | Subscribe