A Trip through Elephant Odyssey

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Zoo InternQuest is a seven-week career exploration program for San Diego County high school juniors and seniors. Students have the unique opportunity to meet professionals working for the San Diego Zoo, Safari Park, and Institute for Conservation Research, learn about their jobs, and then blog about their experience online. Follow their adventures here on the Zoo’s website!

The Elephant Care Center in the San Diego Zoo is a place where elephants come to get fed, be inspected, and even get a pedicure. Senior keepers Ron Ringer and Steve Hebert took us for a tour around the center and showed us what it was like to be a senior keeper at the Zoo.

The Elephant Care Center is located in Elephant Odyssey, an exhibit in the Zoo where visitors can see the modern-day counterparts of animals that used to live here over 12,000 years ago.

Ron Ringer is a senior keeper and spends most of his time with these magnificent creatures. Tembo, the African elephant here, is trying to sneak a snack while Mr. Ringer informs us about the elephants in his care.

This exhibit is filled with enrichment for the elephants. Keepers continuously insert items such as back scratchers, puzzle feeders, treats, and, as of yesterday, logs. The elephants have already enjoyed moving them around the exhibit.

Krissy Boeche, another keeper, is doing a training session with the elephants. Training helps make the lives of the elephants and keepers run smoothly. It allows the keepers to clean the exhibit, put food out for the elephants, and daily examine the elephants to keep them healthy. Positive reinforcement is the method of operant conditioning that the keepers use.

Guess what this is! If you guessed poop, well, you’re right! Since each elephant produces about 300 pounds of waste each day, enclosures are cleaned on a regular basis.

Steve Hebert, senior keeper, showed the group how an elephant’s trunk is like an arm and a hand. Elephants use their trunk for eating, exploring, and bathing. He also informed us that elephants are covered in thick hairs that feel as hard and coarse as plastic!

Once the keepers are done with their day’s work, they input information into a computer database. This database is a means of record keeping of what each animal received during the day. The recorded items are medications taken, diet consumed, concerns, and notices about a particular animal.

Back in the enclosure, the elephants were enjoying themselves after being served dinner. This was a lovely way to end the tour of the Elephant Care Center.

Teghan, Photo Journalist Team (Week 3)