A baby elephant at Melbourne Zoo has passed away after a condition she was born with prevented her from feeding from her mother.

Asian Elephant calf Willow needed intensive care after she was born with a congenital flexion in both of her wrist joints which prevented her from standing and feeding from her mother Num-Oi.

The six-week-old calf passed away on Monday evening after she developed a blood infection which proved to be very difficult to control, causing lasting damage to chest and limb bones.

"Our team could not have done more for Willow to keep her comfortable while making every possible effort to pull her through," said Zoo Director Kevin Tanner.


Melbourne Zoo staff gave baby Willow bottles made up of an artificial Asian Elephant milk formula mixed 80/20 with her mother's milk.

She was also dependent on intravenous drips for both fluid and nutrition.

Willow's carpal flexion was resolved over four weeks and it was hoped the baby elephant could return to her mother.

However, the calf then developed a "difficult to control" blood infection almost two weeks ago.

"While she showed a good response to antibiotic therapy in her general demeanour, the infection unfortunately localised in her chest and limb bones," the Zoo's Head Veterinarian, Dr. Michael Lynch said in a statement.

"It became evident that the infection in her bones had progressed to a point where lasting damage had occurred."

Zoo Director Kevin Tanner says the loss is being felt most of all by Willow's keepers, veterinarians, and vet nurses who have been caring for her in the Elephant Barn 24/7 since she was born.

Mr Tanner says that the Zoo's vet team have greatly appreciated the assistance from colleagues in the wider veterinary community who generously offered their expertise in the massive effort to get the calf up on her feet, back with her mother, and part of the herd.

Willow's mother Num-Oi has been given the chance to grieve her calf.

Num-Oi's only other calf, Sanook, died before his first birthday after a freak accident in 2013 with a favourite toy.

In a statement, Animal welfare group PETA said that attempting to breed elephants in captivity ends in tragedy more often than not.

"Given the lack of stimulation and exercise and the inbreeding inherent at zoos, the infant-mortality rate for elephants is almost triple the rate in the wild, yet Melbourne Zoo continues to breed these intelligent animals in an effort to churn out more 'cash cows'."

"This is the second of Num-Oi's babies she has now watched die. Zoos around the world have closed their elephant exhibits or announced plans to phase them out citing their own inability to meet the significant needs of these animals. It's time for Melbourne Zoo to do the same."