MoMo, the Hardest-Working Elephant in Show Biz, Turns 65

By Lwin Mar Htun 22 October 2018

YANGON—Yangon Zoo threw a birthday party for its oldest elephant, MoMo, on Oct. 21. Thousands of her human admirers gathered at the Yangon Zoological Garden to wish the beloved pachyderm a happy 65th.

MoMo was dressed in a bright, sparkly red outfit for the occasion, which reached its climax as she blew out the candles on her jumbo-sized birthday cake. She and five of her junior elephants from the zoo were also treated to a fruit buffet, musical performances by local idols, animal dances, games and even a comedy show.

Yangon Zoo has celebrated MoMo’s birthday every year since 2010; the party has become something of an event and always draws a crowd.

MoMo has long been Yangon’s favorite elephant; for nearly 55 years she charmed the city’s residents with her special talents such as dancing with a football, playing the harmonica and shaking her hips to the beat. She finally retired as a performer at age 60, said Ko Aung Win Thaung, the elephant keeper at Yangon Zoo.

Kids have fun at MoMo’s 65th birthday bash.

Every Sunday for decades, Yangon Zoo was packed with families flocking in to see MoMo’s show. She is now an institution among city-dwellers.

“I’ve been working with MoMo for nearly 10 years. She’s a clever one. Currently, she is the matriarch of a group of six elephants at Yangon Zoo,” Ko Aung Win Thaung said.

“She’s getting on a bit now and would like to enjoy a quiet life, but the younger elephants are playful and she gets cross with them. At the same time, she’s teaching them life lessons, and not to make trouble,” he said.

MoMo was born in 1953 in Loikaw, Kayah State. Her owner, U Khoon Sandah, donated her to the zoo in 1961.

“The average life span for an elephant [in captivity] is about 70 to 75. Mostly, elephants live to about 60 in the wild, though many die before that age. MoMo has had a long life because she’s been cared for by the Yangon Zoo,” Ko Aung Win Thaung said.

MoMo has occasional age-related health issues like dental problems and seasonal flu. Basically, though, she’s amazingly healthy for her age, he said, adding that the zoo monitors her health regularly.

According to Ko Aung Win Thaung, MoMo is quite fastidious about keeping clean. She won’t touch the water from the elephants’ pond, and only drinks from a water pipe.

MoMo poses for a snapshot with a well-wisher at her 65th birthday party.

Something else that sets MoMo apart is that she’s never been married, and will likely remain a spinster for the rest of her life. “She is very shy. Normally, Yangon Zoo has mainly female elephants and a few males. She doesn’t seem to like any of them, though, so she’ll probably stay single,” Ko Aung Win Thaung said.

MoMo has lived almost her entire life at the zoo and has seen many of her old friends pass away in recent years. Nowadays, MoMo is the zoo’s oldest elephant, serving as a mother figure to Myo Myo, Ma Chaw Lay, Ma Hla Chaw, May Thae Phyu and Mo Thaw Pyae.

“MoMo is known around the country, and to generations of Myanmar people. People will long remember her, even after she passes away. They may name other elephants after her, but we will always remember the original MoMo,” he said.