Educating Everyone about Elephants

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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!

emily_week5_picMany organizations and zoos around the world are making an effort to a save elephants by doing things you wouldn’t really expect- like turning an elephant pedicure session at the San Diego Zoo into an educational experience in elephant conservation. The San Diego Zoo’s main objectives are helping animals in the wild and educating as many people as possible about wildlife and threats to their survival. Two of the Zoo’s elephant keepers, Ron Ringer and Steve Herbert, explained the ways the Zoo cares for their elephants, and why it’s so important for both elephants and us, too.

Elephant Odyssey at the Zoo is one of the most unique elephant exhibits in the world. This is partly because of the constant warm weather of Southern California, which allows the elephants to roam in giant yards during the day and night instead of spending lots of time inside a barn. The amazing exhibit, which includes a keeper interaction area where you can an up-close look at the elephants, permits guests at the Zoo too see how keepers care for them, such as doing minor veterinary procedures on an elephant, drawing its blood, or giving them a pedicure. Millions of guests come every year to see these gentle giants, and this gives keepers an opportunity to tell guests about elephants.

When people are watching the elephants, they are also listening to keepers like Mr. Ringer, who has been working with the Zoo’s elephants for over 20 years. Mr. Ringer can tell guests stories and snippets about the seven elephants in the Zoo and explain how the Zoo’s partnerships help elephants in the wild. He talks to visitors about the lives of the elephants in the Zoo, what they do for fun, and how they live in the wild. For instance, he explained that each elephant at the Zoo eats an average of 125 pounds of food a day and that elephants in the wild can travel up to 50 miles in search of food. Mr. Ringer told us that elephants are important in their environment because other animals depend on them. Elephants can clear brush pretty easily when looking for food, which makes room for smaller animals to build their homes within that habitat. As off-putting as it sounds, an elephant’s poop is another thing animals rely on for food. Poop piles are breeding grounds for tiny insects like flies and beetles. All in all, elephants are big, gentle beasts that are as important as food, land and even nurseries for the different species that live alongside them.

Elephants are so important to protect because they are the largest land mammal on earth. If we lost elephants, we would also lose our integrity as humans, according to Mr. Ringer. Our society already has a difficult time protecting the environment and all the animals in it. Right now, animals are endangered and going extinct because we do things like poaching. Elephants are still poached today for their tusks of ivory that are used for jewelry, art, or traditional medicine. However, if Mr. Ringer can connect the guests to the elephants and their story, then perhaps the conservation of the species is possible. If more and more people are aware of a bad situation, it becomes more and more likely that more and more people will help.

Emily, Conservation Team
Week Five, Winter Session 2014