Zoo Elephants: Queen Mary

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Mary is in charge!

It has been awhile since we have written about the elephants at the San Diego Zoo’s Elephant Odyssey, so let us update you on the goings-on.

We have been continuing our introductions to try to get as many of the female elephants together as possible. There was a great breakthrough a couple of months ago when we introduced Mary to Sumithi, Devi, and Tembo. We had hopes that one of them would step up to take the reins as a matriarch within this grouping, and we weren’t disappointed! Mary made sure everyone knew right away that she was in charge.

Mary and Sumithi had been spending time with each other and seemed to be co-existing well. We just were not sure how Tembo and Devi would fit in. Mary erased all doubts the first day that we did an introduction; she came right out and exerted her dominance over the other three. Tembo put up a bit of a challenge, but it was short lived, and she quickly submitted to Mary in elephant terms, which means she turned her rear end to Mary and urinated. Mary made sure Tembo had her full attention, so she chased Tembo around the yard several times. Tembo was much too fast for the larger Mary, but Mary continued the chase for awhile.

And then Mary set her sights on Devi. Devi didn’t put up any opposition to Mary, she just ran! Mary would corner her in the pool and would use her trunk to touch, smell, and push Devi to establish her rein as queen. This went on for several weeks during the day while keepers kept close watch and videotaped the interactions. As time went by, there were less and less chasing episodes, but Mary would always take an opportunity to remind everyone who was in charge.

We are now at a point where we keep these four elephants together from about 2 p.m. to 7 a.m. almost every day. We tried introducing our oldest elephant, Cookie, who is 56 years old, to the group with hopes that Mary would keep an eye for her and protect her from the others. Unfortunately, that didn’t work out. Cookie seemed uncomfortable with the group situation, and we didn’t want to cause any undo stress on her, so we removed her from the group and will try other groupings.

As it stands now, we have different groupings that are working out pretty well. During the day you will find Ranchipur and Cha Cha together in Yard 4; this is the yard closest to the corral area. Cookie and Mary are together in Yard 3, and Tembo, Devi, and Sumithi are in Yard 1. In the afternoon we move the elephants around for various reasons: in Yard 1 you will find the foursome of Mary, Tembo, Devi, and Sumithi. In Yards 2 and 3 we have Cha Cha and Cookie. That leaves Ranchipur in Yard 4 for the night. Ranchipur is by himself because he is on a diet. As of this writing, he weights in at 12,100 pounds (5,488 kilograms). We would like him somewhere around 11,000 pounds (4,990 kilograms). In order to achieve this goal, he has to be separate at night or else he eats everyone’s food. Since doing this, he has lost about 600 pounds (272 kilograms).

Now Cha Cha and Cookie need to maintain or gain weight, so they are together and doing well. Both seem to eat pretty well at night while sharing exhibit space; this allows Cookie to get all the food she needs, because Mary is now in with the others, and she had a tendency to eat all of Cookie’s food.

Are you following all of this? Yes, it can seem like a soap opera, so stay tuned for further updates!

Ron Ringer is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read his previous post, Tina and Jewel Update.