THE sound of not so tiny feet may be heard at the Dublin Zoo where staff are hopeful that a baby elephant is on the way in the new year.
Senior zookeeper Gerry Creighton and his team have been taking hormonal samples from the herd of four female Asian elephants at their enclosure at Kaziranga Forest Trail and are optimistic that there may be a new addition to the herd in the future.
"The early indications are that we could have a few babies," he told the Herald.
Samples from the herd have been sent for analysis and the team should know by the New Year whether their mating programme with the single male Uphali has been successful.
But no one is breaking out the champagne just yet.
The average gestation period for an Asian elephant is 22 months, the longest period of pregnancy in the animal kingdom, he explained.
But if the females, including, Yasmin, Bernhardine, Asha and Anak, are in a "motherly way" the team is ready after delivering Asha, the first elephant to be born at the zoo in May 2007.
Like a proud father in a maternity ward, Mr Creighton recorded the birth himself, which took about 18 hours and was flawlessly executed thanks to a team of vets who were on standby.
Elephants are one of the few animals alongside humans that retain a lifelong bond with their offspring that begins at birth, he said.
"It's amazing to see the intimacy and gentleness of them towards their babies," he said. The zoo has a long association with elephants which dates back to 1835 when the first elephant was brought there on a ship from Burma.
They became a popular attraction during the 1950s when visitors were given rides on their backs.
But since then the zoo has been one of the leading proponents of a worldwide breeding programme to help keep the estimated 30,000 to 40,000 Asian elephants left in the wild from becoming extinct. Mr Creighton was speaking after the zoo published a stunning illustrated children's book Dublin Zoo Elephants which introduces young readers to the zoo's elephant herd, their quirks and daily habits as well as the dedicated staff who care for them.
Written by Catherine de Courcy and illustrated by Cathy Callan, all proceeds from the book, which costs €7.95, go towards caring for animals at the zoo.