An elephant gave birth to a calf at Sydney's main zoo on Wednesday, surprising vets and keepers who two days earlier declared the baby had died in the womb.
The Asian elephant mother delivered the male baby in the early hours of Wednesday in what Taronga Park Zoo officials said was "unbelievable good fortune".
"Dedicated keepers reported the amazing news early this morning that the calf had been born and was showing signs of life," said zoo director Cameron Kerr.
On Monday, Kerr said despite an expert team of vets who had prepared for every eventuality, the calf had not survived after six days of labor, and ultrasounds found there was no chance of a successful birth.
Officials said they now believe the calf was in a coma throughout the labor. They said the calf had since taken its first steps, but it was too early to know if it would survive.
"When the keepers learned the calf had survived this morning, the looks of disbelief on our faces were quite a picture. We couldn't believe....
(Reporting by James Grubel, editing by Miral Fahmy)
'Back from the dead' baby elephant takes first steps
A baby elephant that was presumed to have died in the womb has taken its first steps after a 'miracle' birth, in an encouraging sign that it might survive its crucial first days.
The male Asian Elephant calf, which was born at 3.27 am at Sydney's Taronga Zoo, was showing some early encouraging signs including attempting to suckle from its mother, Porntip and meeting other herdmates, a statement from the zoo said.
Dr Larry Vogelnest, Taronga's senior veterinarian, said: "The calf has already had some contact with the other elephants in the herd, touching trunks with the older females and also the zoo's first calf, Luk Chai, an eight-month old male.
"The others are very excited and curious, reaching out to him with their trunks whenever he gets close."
"Porntip is already showing signs of being an excellent mother, trying to help him suckle although he hasn't quite managed to suckle yet. She's in good health and has been getting to know her calf, gently touching the young animal with her trunk."
The calf's live birth was hailed as a miracle after several in utero checks showed that it had no vital signs. Dr Thomas Hildebrandt, an elephant reproduction expert who had flown to Sydney from Berlin to attend the birth, had said the calf was in a position - upside down and head first - that would make survival almost impossible.
But zoo staff's sorrow turned to joy when the calf was born weak but breathing.
The Birth Team has since reported that in between sleeps, the baby elephant has been taking its first steps and moving around the birthing pen in the Elephant Barn.
Dr Vogelnest said: "We've been able to give him several litres of colostrum, the important first milk for newborns and we think he weighs between 90 and 100 kg."
"Our initial impressions are that he is stockier than Luk Chai but maybe not as tall."
Cameron Kerr, the zoo's director, said: "The Zoo's elephant team are focusing entirely on supporting the calf through the critical first 24 hours and we're asking for patience and understanding while they endeavour to give the youngster its best chance of survival."
"Advice from world elephant reproduction expert, Dr Thomas Hildebrandt of the Berlin Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Health is that such an outcome after a protracted labour has never been seen before. He said the birth will completely re-write the elephant birth text books."
Dr Vogelnest said: "The early indications are that the calf survived the protracted labour in a coma. That unconscious state would explain the complete absence of any vital signs during all the checks and examinations we conducted during the labour and led us to believe the calf had not survived."
Gary Miller, the elephant manager, said: "When the keepers learned the calf had survived this morning, the looks of disbelief on our faces were quite a picture. We couldn't believe that this could be true."
The other elephants in the herd, Pak Boon, Tang Mo and Thong Dee, as well as the older calf, Luk Chai, have been gently caressing the newborn with their trunks, touching trunk tips and very interested in the new calf.
Dr Vogelnest said the Birth Team was taking