Elephants Cha Cha and Tembo

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Asian elephant Cha Cha

With the new year, there is a whole lot going on around the San Diego Zoo’s Elephant Odyssey (see previous post, Elephants Tina and Jewel: Out and About). We are continuing to introduce the elephants from the Wild Animal Park to those at the Zoo.

After two months of allowing Cha Cha, an elephant from the Wild Animal Park, to bond with Sumithi and Devi, we have introduced Tembo into the group. (Tembo has lived with Sumithi and Devi at the Zoo for many years.) We wanted Sumithi and Cha Cha to bond, as Sumithi is the dominant female, and we wanted her to protect Cha Cha, if necessary. I use the word “protect,” because Tembo is much larger and faster than Cha Cha, and we had noticed that Cha Cha was a bit scared of Tembo during fence-line introductions. A fence-line introduction is when elephants are in adjacent yards but don’t share the same space. They can choose to step close enough to touch or not. I would also like to add that Tembo is a nice elephant with a mild personality; Cha Cha just needs to settle down and realize that Tembo means her no harm.

All four elephants have now been together for several hours every day for the last two weeks, and it is going really well. Whenever Cha Cha is uncomfortable with where Tembo is standing, she moves to Sumithi. If Cha Cha vocalizes a concern, Sumithi goes over to check on her, just as we had hoped. This will continue until Cha Cha completely settles in to the idea of having Tembo around. Eventually, and it could take weeks, we will keep them together overnight, with keepers observing them for the first few nights.

For those of you who read my last blog post, I told the story of Ranchipur getting scared by Tina and Jewel. Since then, he regressed in his training and refused to come in to the stalls or staging area. We keepers sat down and worked out a strategy to get him over his fear. The first thing we did was put Cha Cha, his girlfriend and longtime companion, in with him. This helped calm him and got him to enter the staging area, where he was reinforced with all his favorite foods. We then put Rachipur and Cha Cha in Yard Two for the night, adjacent to Tina and Jewel on one side and Tembo, Devi, and Sumithi on the other. While he is not completely cured of his fear, this seemed to do the trick. The keepers came in the next morning to find him cuddled up on the fence line with Tina and Jewel. This is very promising for future introductions. As I mentioned before, I was hopeful he would realize these ladies were cute and fun to hang out with!

Stay tuned for future exploits….

Victoria Zahn is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.