The Royal Melbourne Zoological Park received its first elephant in 1883 from Calcutta, a year after opening an institution modeled after the London Zoo. The female Asian elephant, named Ranee, died 21 years after her arrival. The zoo’s most famous elephant, Queenie, arrived in 1902 and gave rides for more than forty years until she killed a keeper in 1944 (possibly by accident). The following year she was put down by zoo management due to a food shortage stemming from World War II. In 1962, the zoo discontinued elephant rides. The two oldest residing elephants at the Melbourne Zoo, Bong Su and Mek Kapah, arrived in 1977 and 1978, respectively. They would remain together until the import of three juvenile females from Thailand in 2006.
The $15 million "Trail of the Elephants" exhibit opened in 2003, the result of preparations for building a regional captive elephant breeding program, one of the first in Australia. Under a joint collaboration between the Melbourne and Taronga Zoos, eight elephants were imported from Thailand’s successful and large domestic breeding population. Legal action and protests, located in both Thailand and Australia, delayed the elephants’ importation for two years after quarantine in both southern Thailand and the Cocos Islands. Diplomatic and ministerial negotiations between the two countries succeeded and, in November 2006, the eight animals were flown to the Avalon Airport by a Russian Ilyushin cargo plane and delivered to their new homes via tray trucks. Females Num-Oi, Kulab and Dokkoon found new home in Melbourne, while females Tong Dee, Tang Mao, Porntip, and Pak Boon and male Gung made residence in Sydney.
In March 2008, fifteen year old Dokkoon was artificially inseminated by elephant fertility experts from Berlin and zoo vets with sperm from the zoo’s bull, Bong Su. She was confirmed pregnant in June via ultrasound. She was the first elephant in Australia to conceive a calf through AI and gave birth in January 2010 to a female calf.
In November 2008, a second pregnancy at the Melbourne Zoo was initiated after ten year old Kulab was artificially inseminated by elephant fertility experts from Berlin and zoo vets with sperm from the zoo’s bull, Bong Su. She was confirmed pregnant in February via ultrasound.
The Melbourne Zoo’s bull elephant Bong Su, who arrived in February 1977 as a gift from the Sultan of Pahang, West Malaysia, is said to be the one of the world’s most fertile Asian elephants in the world. His sperm concentration was repeatedly measured between 2.2-2.5 billion per milliliter, compared to the average 600-800 million per milliliter. He is involved in research projects regarding freezing and exporting sperm after the donation of a sperm-freezing machine from the German Government.
The new calf, born to seventeen year old first time mother Dokkoon, set several records. She was the first elephant born in the 147-year history of the Melbourne Zoo and the first elephant born via artificial insemination in Australia. She was the second elephant born in Australia, following the birth of a male calf in July 2009 at the Taronga Zoo. She joined the current herd of three females, her dam, and her sire, Bong Su.