Happy 4th Birthday, dear Ludwig!

On 6 May 2015, Hellabrunn Zoo threw a big birthday party - which was also a farewell party for our beloved elephant Ludwig who will be moving to Heidelberg shortly.

Copyright: Tierpark Hellabrunn / Sebastian Widmann

Copyright: Tierpark Hellabrunn / Sebastian Widmann

Copyright: Tierpark Hellabrunn / Sebastian Widmann

Copyright: Tierpark Hellabrunn / Sebastian Widmann

Ludwig, the Asian elephant, is one of the stars of the Munich zoo - a true Bavarian prankster. On 6 May, Hellabrunn celebrated Ludwig's fourth birthday. It was a great day for Ludwig and all the fans who came to congratulate him: his keepers, the zoo director, the mayor, visitors, journalists and TV crews. They were all aware it was also a farewell party: The little grey giant will soon be leaving his hometown Munich to move to Heidelberg Zoo to live with other juvenile male elephants of his own age. But a farewell party need not be a sad occasion as young Ludwig has shown.

"Our bull elephant Ludwig has now come of age and is ready to start the next phase of his life. On the one hand, we are celebrating his fourth birthday, but on the other also bidding farewell as he leaves his hometown Munich and Hellabrunn Zoo, where he was born on 6 May 2011," says zoo director Rasem Baban. "Ludwig will move to Heidelberg Zoo in May. Heidelberg is the only zoo in Germany that has a juvenile bull group and therefore offers the best environment. There, he will spend the next few years preparing himself for the time when he will be old enough to start his own family."

In the wild, juvenile male elephants are driven out of the group in which they were reared at the age of four or five. This coming of age process, during which juvenile bulls are still too young to be accepted by adult females as a breeding partner, also takes place in zoos. Juvenile male elephants of Ludwig's age therefore live in bachelor communities where they learn the vital skills required to live in a group.

Ludwig now weighs a full 1.6 tonnes. He has recently been testing his tusks with increasing strength, much to the chagrin of the female elephants Mangala, Steffi and Panang. Even his mother Temi finds herself torn between caring for Ludwig and putting up with his nerve-racking behaviour, as they often quarrel. He likes to display his strength, for example, by using his tusks to push his enrichment toy - a ball filled with stones - back and forth or by playing with a 300 kg log. This is a sign that the time has come for Ludwig to move to a zoo where he can play with other bulls of his age.

At his birthday party, Ludwig, the youngest member of the elephant group, gave his fans an impressive display of what he has learned during his years of training at Hellabrunn. When his keeper commands "salute", Ludwig responds sharply by raising his trunk and one front leg in the air. At the end of the ten-minute demonstration he is given a reward: a pretzel - the Munich boy's favourite food. However this birthday pretzel was much bigger than those sold at the Oktoberfest! Ludwig was delighted when presented with the giant pretzel, which he accepted from the hands of his well-wishers, zoo director Rasem Baban and mayor and chairman of the zoo Christine Strobl with his trunk. The pretzel then quickly disappeared between his tusks. On a normal day, Ludwig is fed mainly grass, leaves, bark, softwood and fruits. He loves bananas and oranges, but does not care much for vegetables.

Christine Strobl has grown particularly fond of Ludwig. "Our 'Wiggerl' has always been very clever. Four minutes after he was born, he was already standing. Now, at the age of four, he has shown in training that he can master all the commands that his mother and his aunts can - from trunk lifting to lying down. We will all dearly miss our little prankster when he moves to Heidelberg Zoo, but we know that life there with his new companions will be best for him in the years to come. I wish him all the very best!"

The exact date of his departure has not been announced in order to ensure that Ludwig has a smooth, stress-free move to Heidelberg. He will be accompanied by his trusted keeper, who will spend the first few days with him in Heidelberg to help him adapt to his new environment.

Hellabrunn will provide further information once he has arrived safely at Heidelberg Zoo.