Park Elephant Update

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Have you been checking out the construction of our yard project, connecting the two large elephant yards at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park? Currently, our African elephant herd lives in one yard, and adult male Msholo lives in the other yard. It will, I hope, be completed very soon!

Our plan is to acclimate all the females and their calves to Msholo’s  “West Side” yard, keeping him separated by just a gate so they can physically and visually check each other out through the gate openings. We’ll keep the adult bulls separated. Physical introductions with Msholo will depend on what we observe and how comfortable the elephants are with the new yard or how they interact with Msholo through the gate. Msholo should know his original herd mates Umngani, Swazi, and Umoya, from their time in Swaziland, but back then the females didn’t have calves. We really don’t know what any of them are going to do, so plans will change. My best advice is to stay glued to Elephant Cam!

All the elephants are doing well. Babies are growing fast, and you can check their recent weights in the Meet the Elephants section. Macembe is still quite independent and still plops down anywhere to sleep. He hangs out with Mabu a lot. Emanti is playing more and more with Lutsandvo and Macembe and knows well enough to stay out of Swazi’s way. Musi and Lungile still do their “gate fighting” whenever possible, and Musi and Impunga still wrestle with each other. Khosi and Kami keep a watchful eye on their little brothers, and a fresh mud bog is always a big hit with everyone.

A day with Msholo is a physically exhausting day. Because he’s such a quick eater, we have to set in some form of difficult-to-get enrichment device with every flake of hay he gets so that it will keep him busy. Brian, one of our keepers, is a master at coming up with novel enrichment ideas and is constantly changing locations for Msholo’s food items. The amount of time and energy we put into enrichment for all of our elephants every day is truly amazing. I’ll go out on a limb and boast that as far as enrichment goes, we are the most dedicated group of elephant keepers on the planet!

We are expecting two more calves in 2011. Litsemba is due with calf #2 in January, and Umngani is due with Calf #3 in the fall. Mabu is well represented as a father, and three calves is more than enough with any one female, so we’d like to see if Msholo is viable as well. Way easier said than done!

Curtis Lehman is an animal care supervisor at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read his previous post, Park Elephant Answers.

Update: Watch the introduction, which took place December 16, 2010.