A common question we get when an elephant calf is born is “When do you start training them?” In short, we do it as soon as possible. In the case of the now 18-month-old Qinisa, her mother, Swazi, let us near her rather soon. We started building a relationship with Qinisa by playing with her to let her get used to us and have her realize that we’re fun to be around!
Qinisa quickly learned that her keepers can scratch her behind the ears much better than any of her elephant friends could! We also weighed her regularly by getting Swazi on the scale with Qinisa close behind. Then we would lead Swazi off the scale but distract Qinisa with a piece of browse or some other object or scheme to get her to stay long enough to read the weight.
At five or six months old, Qinisa started to eat the alfalfa pellets that are used in training our elephants. Once this occurred, we started doing short training sessions throughout the day to accommodate her short attention span. We made these sessions fun, so that she would want to participate. As she got used to these short sessions, we started training simple husbandry behaviors that allow us to check her body every day to make sure she’s healthy. Besides mental stimulation, training sessions are mostly geared toward these types of behaviors.
Qinisa continues to be an enthusiastic elephant who loves to learn new things. We all enjoy having her as our newest member of the herd. Watch Qinisa and the herd daily on Elephant Cam!
Laura Price is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read her previous post, Elephants: A Playful Bunch.