Friday, November 11, 2011

Motty--Chester Zoo 1978

Karl Shukar blog:

Whatever doubts had been entertained in the past that an intergeneric elephant hybrid was possible were emphatically swept away by this living, breathing refutation, because Motty’s entire morphology was a complex and thoroughly fascinating composite of maternal Elephas and paternal Loxodonta characteristics. To begin with, whereas the back of Elephas is arched and that of Loxodonta is concave, Motty’s back was both – possessing a central hump but also a pelvic one. His head exhibited a similar ambiguity, for although his brow was sloping with a single frontal dome like Loxodonta, he also sported the smaller paired posterior skull domes characteristic of Elephas. Even his trunk was an intergeneric compromise – heavily wrinkled like that of Loxodonta, but with only a single digit at its tip like Elephas (Loxodonta has two trunk digits). Adding to his Elephas features were his feet, as they bore five toenails on each front foot and four on each hind foot (more than in savannah Loxodonta elephants), but his Loxodonta heritage reasserted itself in his longer slimmer legs and his larger pointed ears.

At 9 am on Day 11 (21 July), the keepers arrived to start work at the elephant house as usual – only to discover to their horror that Motty was comatose and dying. Immediately, the zoo’s vets began emergency heart massage and artificial respiration, and also injected a cardiac stimulant as well as providing him with extra warmth, but all to no avail. Less than an hour later, little Motty the miracle elephant was dead. A full autopsy discovered that he had been suffering from an unsuspected outbreak of necrotic enterocolitis – parts of the large intestine’s wall possessed dead tissue, becoming almost perforated – plus E. coli septicaemia. It seems likely that Motty’s weakened immune system – due in turn not only to his premature birth but also to his hybrid identity – had been insufficient to combat these conditions.

Yet even though, tragically, Motty was no more, the very fact that he had indeed once existed was surely enough to have immortalised him not just in the media – which covered his all-too-brief life with considerable enthusiasm – but also in the scientific literature, for he was, after all, truly unique. In reality, conversely, nothing could have been further from the truth. Indeed, the lack of formal zoological interest in Motty was in its way every bit as surprising as Motty himself. To quote an extensive online history of Motty by Sam Whitbread:

"…the coverage by scientific journals was significant by its absence. Here was an animal the like of which had never been seen before and, it is almost certain, will never be seen again. Indeed, it was almost as though the world of science had chosen to turn its back on this unique event and ignore that the impossible had occurred. Specialist elephant journals and publications did recognise the birth for what it was but the International Zoo Yearbook merely made a casual mention of the birth in their reference section and IZN only carried a brief note."

Nor was that all. Following the autopsy, Motty’s skin was professionally mounted by a London taxidermist and after a short time in storage back at Chester Zoo was taken by Michael Brambell, the zoo’s director, to the British Museum (Natural History), where the zoo hoped that Motty would be placed on permanent display to be seen by as many people as possible. To date, however, he is still in storage, preserved securely for posterity but still unseen by the general public. How fitting it would now be, therefore, more than 30 years after his birth, for the zoological marvel that was once Motty to be commemorated and celebrated at last in a public exhibition, restoring to prominence a too-long-forgotten wonder who spent all too little time in our world.

Motty, an asian elephant x african bush elephant (cross-breed) at ...

Motty the african and asian elephant crossbreed

Elephant data base

1 comment:

Dr Karl Shuker said...

I'm glad that my ShukerNature blog post of 1 March 2011 re Motty - at - from which this present The Circus "No Spin Zone" post has been excerpted is of interest. Motty was certainly a fascinating, unique little animal, and it was such a tragedy that he did not survive. Best wishes, Dr Karl Shuker (not Shukar)