The Asian elephant Elephas maximus and the African elephant, Loxodonta
africanaare 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.
So when the Asian elephant cow "Sheba" in Chester Zoo, England, 1978 gave
birth to a calf with an African elephant bull" Jumbolino" as father
the scientists became puzzled.
The staff had observed several matings between
the elephants, but since a cross was impossible, noone 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.
This sensational elephant died two weeks after the birth. It was an early birth and Motty had
stomach problems. Thres no real evidence however, that there is any genetical difference preventing this type of crossbreeding,
since the two species has the same numbers of chromosomes.
A conculsion from this, is that the present taxonomy, dividing the Asian and the African elephant into two different genus, Elephas and Loxodonta, should be reconsidered, like the case of scientific name for the Polar bear; Constantine John Phipps was the first to describe the polar bear as a distinct species in 1774. He chose the scientific name Ursus maritimus, the Latin for 'maritime bear The polar bear was later considered to be in its own genus, Thalarctos. However, evidence of hybrids between polar bears and brown bears, and of the recent evolutionary divergence of the two species, does not support the establishment of this separate genus, and the accepted scientific name is now therefore Ursus maritimus, as Phipps originally proposed.
In the similair case with the African elephant, the first scientific description of the African elephant was written by Johann Friedrich Blumenbach in 1797 who proposed the scientific name Elephas africanus. The African elephant was later considered to be in its own genus, Loxodonte which was proposed as generic name for the African elephant by Georges Cuvier in 1824, and an anonymous author used the Latinized spelling Loxodonta in 1827, which was hence commonly used and recognized as authority by the International Code of Zoological Nomenclature in 1999
However, evidence of hybrids between Asian elephant and African elephant, and of the recent evolutionary divergence of the two species, does not support the establishment of this separate genus, and the accepted scientific name for the African elephant should in my opinion therefore be Elephas africanus, as Blumenbach originally proposed in 1797.
"I hope you find the following of some interest as several people believed that our cross-bred never occured!
Believe me it did.The following is a brief resume.
Mother "Sheba"-arrived Chester Zoo 13/2/65 aged 9yrs. Had a dead
Asian babyborn 26/10/74-father "Nobby"(Asian).
Sheba's second pregnancy was result of mating with African bull"Jumbolina"(Bubbles).Bubbles
arrived at Chester on 14/8/64 from the NorthRhodesian Wildlife Conservation
Society."Motty" was born on 11/7/78.The suspicion of pregnancy
was somewhat doubted at the time as it was ONLY possible for her to be pregnant
to with "Bubbles" and crossbreds were not believed to have been
possible."Nobby" had been destroyed at a time earlier that would
have been impossible for him to have been the father.
Clinical signs during "Sheba's" pregnancy consisted of the appearance
of afluid filled area along the ventral abdominal wall in Feb 1978.By May
1978this swelling had persisted and increased in size to about 2 feet in
lengthand 7-8 inches wide.By 1/7/78 the swelling had gone(oral diuretics
had been given previously) and abdominal enlargement was noted, particularly
on the left hand side.
For several months during the later stages of her pregnancy "Sheba" spent aconsiderable
amount of time on her own.On 10/7/78 parturition initiallystarted with production
of small amounts of a milky vulval discharge."Motty"was born in
the outside paddock at 9.20am on 11/7/78.
Foetal membranes wereremoved by the keepers and the placenta followed almost immediately.
The other Elephants were taken and kept inside away from "Sheba" and calf who both remained
outside.From the calf's size it was thought to bepremature(?).Initially, hourly
feeds of glucose were given and later that daysupplemented by hourly feeds
consisting of cow's milk/Shebas colostrum/Duphalyte (electrolytes, vitamins, amino
acids and dextrose) and A-vitamin supplement(Abidec).
The calf during this time had not yet stood. By9.20pm on 12/7/78 the calf was standing and walking after
36 hrs of recumbencysince his birth during which time the keepers had aided
and encouragedstanding by packing straw beneath the calf. On 13/7/78 "Sheba"
and "Motty" were introduced to the rest of the herd on the outside
paddock and the calf later allowed to the inside house for the first time.
Hourly bottle feeding continued up to 12.30pm on 14/7/78 when it was possible for
the calf to suckle from"Sheba" for the first time.
By 10.00 pm on 15/7/78 "Motty" was suckling normally and bottle feeding
On 18/7/78 the calf developed an umbilical infection-treated with oral and topical antibiotcs.
48hrs the calf appeared to have recovered and wasfeeding and sleepng normally.
At 9.00am on 21/7/78 the calf was found comatoseand dying and despite being
given extra warmth,cardiac stimulants, artificialrespiration and chest massage
died an hour later. Post mortem revealed death tobe due to necrotic-enterocolitis
and E coli septicaemia.
All very,very sad."
1998-01-17 Derek Lyon
Consultant Derek Lyon was Veterinary surgeon at Chester Zoo for 30 years, and is now an active member of the British Veterinary Zoological Society.