Elephants Are A Big Deal

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Feeding Time!

Feeding Time!

I’ve never been so up close and personal with an elephant before this day, when we met Sr. Elephant Keeper, Ron Ringer. He took us behind the scenes, but just out of reach of the elephant’s trunk, and introduced us to Tembo, Devi, and Sumithi, the three female elephants he looks after each day. Part of his job involves making sure these elephants get the exercise and enrichment they need and would normally have in the wild. He takes them on walks to keep them fit, and at feeding time, he’ll put hay in hanging buckets to serve as enrichment for the elephants as they tug at them with their massive trunks to get the hay out.

Tembo is an African elephant from Uganda. She actually starred in the movie “Born Free,” and afterwards came to the San Diego Zoo, since she outgrew the backyard she was living in, in the Los Angeles area. Her big ears, flat head, and visibly protruding tusks distinguish her from the other two females, which are Asian elephants from Sri Lanka. In the wild, African elephants like Tembo use their large tusks to dig underground in search for water. Whereas, the Asian elephants come from an environment where there is plenty of vegetation and water, so the females don’t need tusks as large to dig. Although, male Asian elephants do have big tusks in order to show dominance. The San Diego Zoo is soon taking in the whole herd of Asian elephants from the Wild Animal Park – one is male and the other six are female. None of them are pregnant, but a pending elephant birth will add to the herd of African elephants at the Park.

With 26 years of experience with elephants and 8 years in the national Elephant Managers Association, Ron Ringer knows a lot about the types of elephants he takes care of. He explained how both African and Asian elephant species are threatened in the wild; although Asian elephants are significantly more endangered due to poaching and habitat destruction as humans take over the land they roam on.

In Africa, there are close to a million elephants; however, in Asia, less than 20,000 elephants exist right now. This drastic difference in population is partially because of many successful conservation efforts set forth all over Africa in order to preserve the species. For example, Botswana is home to the conservation effort of Elephants Without Borders (EWB), a charitable organization dedicated to conserving wildlife and natural resources and striving to encourage mankind to live in harmony with wildlife and the natural world. They consider the African elephant an ambassador for conservation, and they have achieved their mission to preserve the African elephant through various efforts including the use of GPS collars and aerial surveys to monitor the seasonal movement patterns of elephants, promoting environmental education and awareness in schools and rural communities, and implementing sustainable measures that will help reduce human-elephant conflicts. This is one of the major conservation efforts that the San Diego Zoo is supporting this year and in years to come.

Caitlin, Conservation Team