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Oz teen elephant pregnancy sparks protests

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Animals rights groups are none too pleased that Sydney's Taronga zoo has allowed a nine-year-old Asian elephant to get up the duff a full two years before what they consider is the captive pachyderm age of consent.

Elephant Thong Dee is is apparently five months into her 22-month pregnancy, something which has delighted the zoo since, should she go to term, it'd be Oz's first captive elephant birth. The zoo's director, Guy Cooper, enthused: "The zoo is proud to announce this historic event."

However, Erica Martin, Asia Pacific director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, claimed that "under captive breeding plans elephants should be at least 11-years-old before conceiving", and that letting Thong Dee become heavy with calf was "the equivalent of allowing your 12-year-old daughter to become pregnant".

She thundered: "It is completely irresponsible."

Cooper countered: "The well-being of all animals in our care is of paramount importance and our breeding programmes are carefully managed to exacting standards that ensure our specialist staff employ the latest advice and scientific research."

Thong Dee was one of a group of eight Asian elephants imported from Thailand in November 2006, Reuters notes. Taronga Conservation Society Australia explained that the female elephants, Porntip, Pak Boon, Tang Mo and Thong Dee, were "assessed by reproductive specialists from Germany and found they were eligible for breeding".

The zoo defended that "the earliest Asian Elephant pregnancy in a European zoo was five and a half years", but Bidda Jones, chief scientist with Australia's RSCPA, warned: "We know that calves born in zoos have double the mortality rate in the wild, and this pregnancy will put both mother and calf at great risk.

"Still birth, infanticide and rejection of calves are the main causes of infant mortality and Thong Dee's age and lack of maternal and social experience make this pregnancy very risky." ®

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