Ludwig the elephant arrives safely at Heidelberg Zoo

On Tuesday, 12 May, a specially-designed transport vehicle made its way from Munich to Heidelberg. The 1.6-tonne elephant Ludwig travelled to his new home at Heidelberg Zoo in a custom-built truck. Everything went well. The four-year-old arrived safe and sound and has now joined the elephant bachelor group at Heidelberg Zoo.

Copyright: Zoo Heidelberg

Copyright: Zoo Heidelberg

Ludwig departed on 12 May. He made the journey to Heidelberg Zoo in southwest Germany in a specially converted shipping container loaded onto a flatbed truck. The container was supplied by the animal transport specialist Roy Smith of InterZoo in Walsrode (Lower Saxony), who has decades of experience providing safe, relaxing transportation for zoo animals and their accompanying keepers. Ludwig was accompanied on the journey by three elephant keepers from Hellabrunn Zoo, who stayed with him for his first few days in Heidelberg to help him adapt to his new environment and the bachelor group he will join. The other bachelors in the group are Gandhi (9 years), Khin Yadanar Min (5) and Tarak (9). The transfer was coordinated with the European Endangered Species Programme (EEP) for Asian elephants.

At 6 am in the morning, the crane at Hellabrunn Zoo came to life. Preparations for the journey ahead began with the lifting of the custom-built transport container for Ludwig's trip and placing it directly in front of his elephant stall. Before entering the container, the vet gave Ludwig "rose-tinted glasses": a mild sedative that ensures he copes well during the journey in the truck, while still enabling him to follow commands necessary for getting him inside the vehicle. At 7 am, the doors of the elephant stall opened. With the container positioned directly in front, it only took a few minutes for the patient keepers to persuade Ludwig to step inside. The young elephant was very cooperative.

At 7.45 am, the crane lifted the container with Ludwig inside onto a flatbed truck. At 8.23 am, the custom-built elephant transporter rolled out of Gate 9 of the Munich zoo and headed towards the A8 motorway.

In the past few weeks, zoo director Rasem Baban had been following the preparations for Ludwig's trip, particularly so in the days leading up to his departure: "Ludwig did exceptionally well in training for his upcoming trip and during the preparation for the trip showed what a fine lad he is. We wish him all the best in Heidelberg with his new companions. We will miss him, because he has captured the hearts of many keepers, visitors, elephant fans and, of course, especially mine."

After approximately seven hours on the road, with several breaks, Ludwig eventually arrived at Heidelberg Zoo at 3:40 pm. There, a team awaited him. With a crane already in position, the heavy container was gently lifted off the truck and placed in front of the entrance to Heidelberg's Elephant House. For Ludwig, it seems to have been a smooth ride. Before unloading, one of the Munich keepers had a look inside the container and informed his two colleagues that Ludwig had been asleep and was only just waking up. The keepers from Munich will stay in Heidelberg with Ludwig for the first few days to observe how he befriends his new companions in the bachelor group of his new home. As the smallest and youngest in the group, he is sure to win the hearts of visitors to Heidelberg Zoo in no time.

The keepers at Heidelberg Zoo expect that nine-year-old Gandhi will become the head of the bachelor group as the previous leader Voi Nam has recently departed. Gandhi is particularly dominant and clearly demonstrates his claim to this position. Tarak, who is the same age, is more defensive when it comes to power games. Ludwig will probably get along best with five-year-old Khin Yadanar, who is closest to his own age.

Ludwig will now spend his adolescence in Heidelberg under the European Endangered Species Programme (EEP) - for breeding Asian elephants - and will continue to be trained until he is old enough to become a breeding bull at another zoo. It is therefore particularly important that the bachelors learn some social skills so that one day they will be able to head a large herd.

In 2010, Heidelberg Zoo decided to accept juvenile male elephants that had reached adolescence and thus by nature had to leave their family group - in the wild juvenile bulls are driven away from their families to form bachelor groups. Heidelberg Zoo built a special elephant house for this purpose, which features a spacious outdoor area for up to four juvenile bulls. Opened in summer 2010, the 3,000 m2 enclosure is popular with the bachelors, who enjoy taking a dip in the spacious indoor pool and playing in the large outdoor area. Earlier this month, 13-year-old Voi Nam left the bachelor group to return to his birthplace at Leipzig Zoo to take on the role of breeding bull there. In search of an optimal replacement, the elephant keepers at Heidelberg first came to Munich to look at the young Ludwig. They were all very excited about the first meeting of the four young elephants. The first night went smoothly, and although in separate areas, the elephants had an opportunity to nuzzle and sniff each other each other with their trunks.