“Dalip,” an Asian bull elephant, recently celebrated his 55th birthday at Zoo Miami with a variety of special enrichment items that included a massive custom, multi-layered popsicle that consisted of frozen Gatorade, fruits, flowers and vegetables. In addition, he received a special sheet cake made of flour and carrots.
Weighing more than 10,000 pounds and standing over 10 feet tall, he is considered one of the largest Asian elephants in the country and is a far cry from the 700-pound, 4-foot tall calf that arrived at the Crandon Park Zoo on Key Biscayne in August 1967. Dalip, which means “King” in Hindi, was born on June 8, 1966 at the Trivandrum Zoo in Kerela, India and was brought to the United States as a gift to the Crandon Park Zoo by benefactor Ralph Scott.
At 55 years old, this magnificent elephant is the oldest Asian bull elephant in North America and is one of the last remaining “founder” animals at Zoo Miami. Having been here since the zoo opened in 1980, he has experienced several major hurricanes including the devastation of Hurricane Andrew which required him to be sent to another facility for nearly three years while the zoo was being rebuilt.
Dalip sired a male calf back in 1980 named, “Spike,” who lives as part of the elephant herd at the National Zoo in Washington, DC. As a “senior citizen” of elephant society, he now serves as a mentor for “Ongard,” a 10-year-old Asian bull who arrived from Australia in 2018.
With less than 50,000 individuals left in the wild, the Asian elephant is listed as an endangered species. The main threats to their population are habitat fragmentation, poaching for ivory and conflicts with farmers.
Found in small herds in isolated forested areas of 13 countries on the Asian continent, it has had a history with humans for thousands of years as a cultural icon in the Hindu religion where the elephant-headed deity, Lord Ganesh, is honored before all sacred rituals.
In the wild, Asian elephants can each eat over 200 pounds of leaves, grass and other vegetation while drinking over 50 gallons of water daily. They are matriarchal with older females leading the herds and older males being found in small bachelor groups or becoming solitary as they mature. They play a major role in seed dispersal and the health of the forests where they are found.