Connie and Shaba Out and About

Connie, left, and Shaba check to see what goodies an enrichment item may hold.

When are elephants Connie and Shaba are going to be out in the San Diego Zoo’s Elephant Odyssey habitat (see post Welcome, Elephants Connie and Shaba). Actually, they have been out nearly every morning for the past month. When you will be able to see them? That is not an easy answer. Our focus has been to get them accustomed to the new yards, gates, sounds, smells, buses, and people at a pace that is comfortable for them. We can’t promise that you will see them at any particular time or in any particular place, but we are certainly making progress and meeting new goals every day.

We started with moving them out of the quarantine area to one of the larger areas at our Elephant Care Center. Up until that point, they could hear and smell the other elephants but had not seen them. Once they moved out, they could see the others but not have fence-line contact yet. The next step was to give them time in the big yard with the pool. We placed food throughout and allowed them to explore on their own. This is the part I think some of our guests were hoping to see: Connie and Shaba bursting out of their quarantine area into this huge yard to run and play. With older elephants that are unsure of their new surroundings, that scenario didn’t happen. Connie and Shaba have both been cautious when going into new areas, and they both react when there are loud noises or crowds around, so we don’t want to spring everything on them at once.

The first day out in the big yard, Shaba explored a little more than Connie, but not very much. They seemed pretty content to eat the closest food and then wait at the gate to go back into the facility. Every day they get a little braver and explore a little more. They come when called, and we walk them toward the pool. Shaba will go all the way down the yard, but Connie would rather not right now. That’s fine. We aren’t going to push her to go anywhere she doesn’t want to go. If you do come early in the morning and happen to see them out in the yard, you may see Shaba picking food out of the utility trees and Connie hanging out by the gate, waiting to go back inside.

Connie is in her mid-forties and doesn’t necessarily want to run around and play. We will give her every opportunity to do so, but so far she seems to like to pick one place to stand and wait for her keepers to give her more attention. She will be easy for you to spot as she has a head-bobbing habit that is pretty distinct from the typical gentle sway of older elephants. Connie has been doing it her whole life and is not likely to stop just because she is in a new place, so if you knew her in Tucson, you’ll recognize her here!

We have extended their time in the yard a little bit every day. At this point, they are usually out there when guests start to arrive and bus tours begin to go by. They are getting used to all the sights and sounds. We have also been able to bring them into the care center stalls and do their daily care routine in front of our guests almost every morning. We are watching their behavior closely and going at the pace they seem most comfortable with. We are excited to be able to show them off and to tell everyone all about them, and they seem to be doing very well with all the attention.
The most recent development is that Connie and Shaba have begun to have brief fence-line contact with Asian elephant Sumithi. We keep it brief so we can make detailed observations of the interactions and get a good idea of what future introductions will be like. We want to keep everything on a good note as much as we can. All three elephants were very interested in touching and smelling each other, which is very encouraging!

Connie and Shaba have been so much fun to get to know, and we are so pleased with the progress they have made! We will continue to try new things and extend the time they spend in different places and in contact with the other elephants. This means you may get a chance to see them very soon if you haven’t already, but where and when will always be determined by their level of comfort and the next step in getting them introduced to the rest of our herd.

Thank you for loving our elephants as much as we do and welcoming Connie and Shaba to their new home here at the San Diego Zoo!

Nora Kigin is a keeper at the San Diego Zoo.

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