HYBRID ELEPHANTS, RHINOS & TAPIRS

ELEPHANTS

The Asian and African elephants look similar, but are not only different species, they are different genera i.e. each belongs to a different genus, making them even more distantly related). Crossbreeds between different genera is regarded as impossible. On 11th July 1978, an Asian elephant cow called Sheba gave birth to a hybrid calf sired by a 15 year old African elephant bull, Jumbolino. Though the pair had mated several times, pregnancy was believed to be impossible. The hybrid male calf, "Motty", had an African elephant's cheek, ears (large with pointed lobes) and legs (longer and slimmer), but the toenail numbers, (5 front, 4 hind) and the single trunk finger were like Asians although the wrinkled trunk was like an African. The forehead was sloping with one dome and two smaller domes behind it. The body was African in type, but had an Asian-type centre hump and an African-type rear hump. Sadly the calf was premature and died of infection 12 days later. There have also been rumours of three other hybrid elephants, all of which were deformed and did not survive.

African elephants are divided into 2 species - the Forest elephant and the Savannah elephant. Though these can hybridise successfully, their preference for different terrains reduces the opportunities to hybridise and they are genetically distinct from each other. The forest elephant (Loxodonta africana cyclotis), considered a subspecies of African elephant, has been raised to species status (Loxodonta cyclotis). Typical savannah elephants have 4 toenails on each forefoot and 3 on each hind foot. The forest elephant typically has 5 toenails on each forefoot and 4 on each hind foot. Both species have 5 toenails on all 4 feet at birth - the number of toenails at maturity is related to wear and tear on different terrain! There are differences in the shape of the jaw and ears. The forest elephant is considerably smaller and has thinner, straighter tusks.

A Chinese safari park has a sub-specific hybrid of Malay elephant x Indian elephant. It was born in Xiangjiang Safari Park, Guangzhou in April 2005. The mother was a Malaysian elephant. The gender of the calf was unknown as the mother was nervous and elephant calves are fragile and prone to infection in captivity, but it was suspected to be female. The mother had a long trunk and short tail, typical of the Malaysian elephant, while the father had a shorter trunk and longer tail.

RHINOS

In 2004 there was confirmation of a hybrid between a black rhino and white rhino. It is possible that these species are kept separate by geographical boundaries rather than genetic differences. Reference: Robinson, Terry J; Trifonov V; Espie I; Harley EH "Interspecific hybridization in rhinoceroses: Confirmation of a Black White rhinoceros hybrid by karyotype, fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) and microsatellite analysis". Conservation Genetics 6 (1): 141-145. DOI:10.1007/s10592-004-7750-9.

A subspecific hybrid white rhino (Ceratotherium s. simum x C s cottoni) was bred at the Dvurkralv Zoo (Zoological Garden Dvur Kralove nad Labem) in the Czech Republic in 1977.

TAPIRS

Hybrid tapirs from Baird's Tapir (T bairdii) and the Lowland Tapir (T terrestris) were bred at the San Francisco Zoo around 1968 and produced a 2nd generation around 1970.

 

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