Encyclopaedia of Cryptozoology
Motty Derek G

Photograph of Motty taken by Derek G. Lyon.

Motty (11 July 1978 – 21 July 1978[note 1]) was the only proven elephant hybrid in history. He was born at Chester Zoo in England in 1978, the calf of a female Asian elephant and a male African elephant, but lived for only eleven[note 2] days.[1]


In early 1978, one of Chester Zoo's Asian elephants, Sheba, began to show signs of pregnancy, but zoo staff dismissed the prospect, as the only male elephant at the zoo was an African elephant, named Jumbolino. Jumbolino had been seen mating with Sheba, but it was believed that hybrids between the two elephant species were impossible due to genetic differences. However, by July, it was clear that Sheba was pregnant, and she gave birth at 9:20 am on 11 July, in full view of her keepers.[1]

The calf was a male, and his small size, weakness, and lack of hair showed that he was some six weeks premature. As he was her first surviving calf, Sheba was unsure how to treat him, and gently pushed him down whenever he tried to stand. The keepers intervened, leading the other elephants back inside, and were forced to bottle-feed the calf, as his mother had no milk due to the premature birth. By the end of the next day, the calf had become stronger, was trying to walk, and was being aided by Sheba. The staff named him Motty, after the zoo's founder, George Mottershead, who had died two months earlier.[1]

By the end of the first week of his life, Motty seemed to be in good health. He was sleeping well, suckling enthusiastically, and was receiving care from his mother. Tests run on a sample of his faeces suggested he had a mild bowel infection, but it was decided not to treat it, as he was otherwise healthy and it was believed his own immune system could deal with the problem. On 18 July, Motty seemed restless and troubled, and it was found that his umbilical scar had become infected, so he was given a course of antibiotics and vitamins, which improved his condition.[1]


At 9:00 am on 21 July, zookeepers arrived in the elephant house to find that Motty was comatose and dying. The zoo's vets immediately began emergency heart massage and artificual respiration, injected a cardiac stimulant, and provided him with extra warmth, but within an hour he was dead. An autopsy performed by Derek G. Lyon revealed that he had been suffering from an outbreak of necrotic eterocolitis, as well as E. coli and septicaemia. Parts of the tissue of his large intestine was dead, and it's wall was almost perforated. It is believed that Motty's immune system, weaked by his premature birth and hybrid identity, had not been strong enough to combat these conditions.[1]


After Motty's death and autopsy, his skin was mounted by a London taxidermist and, after some time in storage at Chester Zoo, was taken by zoo director Michael Brambell to London's Natural History Museum, where he hoped Motty would be placed on permanent display. However, as of 2019, he is still in storage.[1]

Sam Whitbread notes that there was little formal zoological interest in Motty:[1]

"...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."


As a hybrid, Motty had features of both Asian and African elephants. Karl Shuker writes that:[1]

"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."


Notes and references[]

  1. some sources say 23 July
  2. some sources say thirteen