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Baby Asian elephant named Thai word for Queen in honour of the late monarch

The Queen once fed a banana to the calf’s mother when she opened ZSL Whipsnade Zoo’s centre for elephant care in 2017.

26 September 2022

A month-old Asian elephant has been named the Thai word for Queen in honour of the late monarch, who once fed a banana to the calf’s mother.

The Queen, patron of ZSL Whipsnade Zoo since her coronation in 1953, shook the trunk of Donna when she opened the Bedfordshire zoo’s centre for elephant care in 2017 and a picture of the meeting even featured on her official Christmas card later that year.

Donna’s “not-so-tiny” infant – weighing in at 152 kilograms – has now been named Nang Phaya, an animal-related Thai word meaning “queen” or “strong, female monarch”, following the Queen’s death on September 8.

Queen Elizabeth II death
The Queen with the calf’s mother, Donna, when she opened ZSL Whipsnade Zoo’s centre for elephant care in 2017 (Chris Radburn/PA)

“When we saw photos of the adorable elephant calf, we fell in love instantly,” ZSL’s elephant project officer Saravanee Namsupak said.

“We were so delighted to be asked to name her.

“We wanted a name that represented who she is as a future matriarch of the Whipsnade herd, but also her part in the wider story of endangered Asian elephants, like those we work to protect in Thailand.

Nang Phaya is a 'healthy' 152 kilograms (Luke Capeling/ZSL)
Nang Phaya is a ‘healthy’ 152 kilograms (Zoological Society of London)

“Naming her Nang Phaya, which is a Thai word for queen or matriarch, seemed like the perfect way to pay tribute to HM The Queen for her work as ZSL’s patron and honour Donna’s famous encounter with her, while symbolically connecting the calf to the herds of Asian elephants in Thailand that are under threat from increasing habitat disturbance and loss which escalates human-elephant conflict and the wellbeing of both elephants and communities.”

Nang Phaya’s birth into the Whipsnade herd at the zoo on August 22 made the young calf a “really important addition” to the endangered species breeding programme for Asian elephants.

Nang Phaya
Nang Phaya with her mother, Donna (Zoological Society of London)

“As the boisterous, youngest female in a matriarchal family line, her new name is perfect,” elephant team leader at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo Stefan Groeneveld said.

“Definitely a leader-in-the-making, Nang Phaya is energetic and playful, climbing on anything and everything and racing around the elephant habitat while her mum Donna, grandma Kaylee and the rest of the herd try to keep up.

Nang Phaya has been described as an 'energetic, playful' young elephant (Zoological Society of London)
Nang Phaya has been described as an ‘energetic, playful’ young elephant (Zoological Society of London)

“Although not on solid food yet, she has been experimenting with using her trunk to pick up twigs and is gradually getting the knack of using it.”

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