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

The baby calf has been named Nang Phaya, a Thai word meaning ‘Queen’ or ‘strong, female monarch’ (Zoological Society of London)
The baby calf has been named Nang Phaya, a Thai word meaning ‘Queen’ or ‘strong, female monarch’ (Zoological Society of London)

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.

“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.

“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.

“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.

“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.”