Narrating the correlation of elephants as related to their import, groupings, breeding and transfers,
along with other elephant related topics.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Studbook Mysteries - Israel

A February 1977 issue of The Circus Report announces the birth of an Israeli elephant, inadvertently creating the topic of a curious mystery for an elephant historian 35 years later.

Circus Report, 6th year No 6, Page 9, 02/07/1977
Courtesy of

This animal, by birth and by name, does not appear in many database sources, including, and Europe Regional EAZA/EEP Asian Elephant Studbook. The vagueness of the report does not clarify which Israeli zoo celebrated the birth, nor to which species the female elephant belonged.

Israeli Elephant Births
Referencing studbook and database records, it would seem two zoos in this Middle Eastern country began their breeding programs for elephants of both species in the decade discussed - the Tel Aviv Zoo and the Ramat Gan Zoo. According to records, at Tel Aviv, the male African Yossi was born in 1974, followed by another male, an Asian named Alexander, in 1978. Both of these animals still survive and are still breeding, boasting an impressive 37 combined recorded offspring! [Correction: Yossi sired his last calf in 2006 and Alexander in 2009]. According to records, these two animals were the only recorded births for the zoo, which closed down and was translocated to Ramat Gan in 1981.

Yossi, Ramat Gan Zoo, 10/2010
Courtesy of

Alexander, Amersfoort Zoo, 09/2010
Courtesy of

Ramat Gan Zoo has one of the most successful captive elephant breeding programs in the world, breeding elephants with over three dozen births of both the African and Asian species. This record number of offspring, according to records, also began in the 1970s, with two Asian elephants of unknown sex born in 1973 and 1976 to parents Motek and Warda. Very little information is available regarding these animals and if they were not stillborn, neither survived long after birth. Two female Africans were subsequently born - Lara and Sara/Shara in 1977 and 1978, respectively. Both Africans were sired by Timbo to different mothers and later went to live together at facilities in the United Kingdom.

Lara, Port Lympne Zoo, 08/2008
Courtesy of

"Hi Ryan, thanks for your friendly words.. !! Shara was at my Archiv. I don´t have a foto about her, so I couldn´t present her at my " FOTO_Lexikon".... Maybe you know somebody who have a pictures of her??
All the Best, Petra."

Historical Reference
"Elephant - The Publication of the Elephant Research Foundation" features a fantastic article by Amelia S. Terkel (Curator, Zoological Center, Tel Aviv-Ramat Gan) in its Volume 2, Number 4, January 2000 Edition. Titled "History, Update, and the 'Baby Boom' of Elephants in 1987 at the Zoological Center, Ramat Gan, Israel," pictures and a beginning history of the elephant program are discussed on pages 37 - 47.

Courtesy of the Elephant Research Foundation

Dr. Terkel's article, photographs and subsequent "Table 3: History of the Elephants, Tel Aviv/Ramat Gan Zoological Center" provide more information regarding the Israeli elephant breeding program and make clear discrepancies in the records referenced above.

The Asian elephant breeding program did not begin at Ramat Gan, but rather at the old Tel Aviv location. Motek and Warda sired three calves in total at the Tel Aviv Zoo before transferring to Ramat Gan. The first (EEP 7316), born in 1973, was not named, of unknown gender and died shortly after birth. The second (EEP 7608), born in 1976, is of unknown name gender, but actually survived three years before it died of unknown causes. Alexander was the third calf. 43 years after the birth of his first recorded calf, Motek sired his last in 2006, again with Warda, making 17 in total recorded (though not all were with the same cow). He is now 52 years old.

Motek, Ramat Gan Zoo, 10/2010
Courtesy of

In contrast, the same reference source also discloses that the African elephant breeding program did not begin at Tel Aviv, but rather Ramat Gan. Yossi, Lara and Sara are all listed born at the Zoological Center Ramat Gan.

Courtesy of the Elephant Research Foundation

Picture Analysis
It would seem that the Asian elephant family pictured in the Elephant Research Foundation's publication would be Motek and Warda's two offspring, the unnamed three year old and either newly born Alexander or perhaps newly born Amy (if Amy was an Asian elephant, an issue still unresolved).

The exact birth dates for any of the Asian Tel Aviv calves are unknown; only years are given. Perhaps with the lack of accurate record keeping at the facility, it is curious to wonder if "Alexander" was not the "Amy" described in the Circus Report article. A mistaken gender identity would not be surprising for a newborn calf forty years ago. If this is the case, an exact birth date for one of Europe's leading breeding elephants has been found (01/20/1977, as opposed to 00/00/1978) and a new elephant has not been identified. If not, a mystery is left without an answer, though not without helpfully bringing to light other record keeping errors and corrections.

African Breeding Program
[Update: 05/02/2012]
It perhaps may be more likely that the calf was an African not recorded. The Tel Aviv/Ramat Gan African elephant program began six years after the arrival of the first Asian elephant. Arusha, Tanzania, provided a source for both the first import of this species in 1964, a male and three females, and a second ingression in July 1973 of six more females. The first group of animals were estimated at three years of age at time of arrival and the second group estimated at four. Given rare records of captive female elephants giving birth to their first offspring as young as four years of age (conceiving as young as two), seven of these nine females pose as candidates as dam of January 1977-born Amy (should she have been an African). Atari and Motek (the African female, not to be confused with the institutions Asian male of the same name) are not candidates, birthing daughters Lara and Sarah in 1977 and 1978, respectively. Both of these females were two of the three imported with breeding male Timbo in the first group. The third female, Bahati, gave birth first, dam to Yossi in 1974. Should the 'Amy' calf have been African, Bahati would be the most likely candidate as her mother with plenty of time passing between births for a 22 month gestation. It also expels the idea that the six imported females under 10 years of age would have birthed the calf. This is all speculation of course, an attempt to solve the mystery of the Circus Report news blip.

Dan Koehl states Ramat Gan was not active with African elephants until 1981, informing that although the facility opened in 1974, they did not display large tropical animals until seven years later. This is contradictory to Dr. Terkel's article and tables citing the African births at Ramat Gan. Clarification regarding where the African elephant herd was imported and began breeding is sought.

If anyone has further information regarding the animals in question, please leave a comment or message me in an effort to complete their records for elephant historians.


  1. Thank you for the correction, Anonymous. I hope you can expand on any other errors as well so that they may be corrected.

  2. AnonymousMay 13, 2012

    Your handling of dissidents is very interesting.
    On the one hand, you and Dan boast to be open-minded and to use a WIKI-like style, but it is only a single fake. Wrong expressions (e.g. the wrong gender of the calf at Hagenbeck Zoo) are silently corrected by you, but on the other hand, factual or putative errors of others (e.g. studbook coordinators et al.) are stressed in a scrupulous manner with only one message: "Look at us wonderful guys!". And there is absolutely no reason for you to be proud of such a poor behaviour with regard to such inaccurate data. What are you only for poor busybodyboys?

    Smart Ass

    I assume, one of your fan club will solve this baby mystery at nursery school level soon, but it will only lead to another one. That's the problem of superficial guys who do not realize the background.

  3. I'm not quite sure what information you have or don't have, but I am in the US and know our Asian studbook well. The "baby boom" you describe at Ramat Gan the mid-80s included two female calves from Motek/Warda who were sold to a park in Canada. One, Lilly, was born on 1/31/85, and the second, her sister Phoebe, was born on 5/15/87. Both were transferred on 5/31/93, and both were pregnant. The US studbook listing 355 indicates an unnamed female calf born on 11/16/93 with parents Phoebe 353 and Motek, her father, 344. Lilly's calf Piccolo 364 was born 12/11/94, sired by 363, Alexander, her full brother. The numbers 344, 345, and 363 are blank in the listing, because elephants who have numbers in foreign studbooks and don't reside here are given numbers for paternity purposes only, but this information is cross-documented in two different sources. This is from the 2010 US studbook:

    The latter provides ample evidence from its Asian records that Motek was bred not only to his daughters Wered and LaBelle, but when they were shockingly young. LaBelle was 5 when bred for her pregnancy producing Letangi, and Wered only 3 when bred for what turned out to be a stillbirth in 1996 at age 5. Phoebe was 4 when bred to her father and had a stillbirth at age 6. There are other examples in the European studbook. Photos show Motek sharing the enclosure with his family; at the very least, the zoo turned a blind eye to clear inbreeding for at least 20 years, allowing it to occur for reasons one can only presume to be financial gain.

    This information certainly offers a clear reason why Ramat Gan would not wish to keep accurate records of its breedings and births. Fortunately, this information has been meticulously recorded by others so that future inbreeding can be avoided to be preserve the genepool as extinction of the species in the wild seems possible.

  4. I've just seen the rest of the site for the first time, and now I feel foolish for offering information you clearly must know. WONDERFUL site! A week's worth of reading!

  5. I think the three births in 1973, 1976, and Alexander in 1978 were born in Tel Aviv, not Ramat Gan, so I guess this is an error in the database, I will double check this and correct it. The elephant known as Amy, named after Jimmy Carters daughter, and born on January 20, 1977, the same day as Carter started serving as served as the 39th President of the United States, is as far as I understand, Lara.

  6. See also, where the name Amy is discussed. (In German)


I eagerly anticipate associating with new individuals with an interest or history in elephants, elephant history and elephant record keeping. If you have further information regarding the animals or locations questioned in the article, please leave a comment or message me in an effort to complete their records for elephant historians.