Elephants

Elephants

186

Training Elephant Qinisa

Here's Qinisa on the day of her birth. What a cutie!

Here’s Qinisa on the day of her birth. What a cutie!

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.

42

Elephants Mila and Mary Meet

The San Diego Zoo's newest elephant: Mila.

The San Diego Zoo’s newest elephant: Mila.

Our newest elephant, Mila, is rounding out her first three months with us here at the San Diego Zoo, and she is doing extremely well, exceeding all of our expectations. A few weeks ago she cleared her mandatory quarantine period after receiving a clean bill of health by our veterinarians. As discussed in her previous blog entry, we were awaiting the results from her tuberculosis tests. Mila’s results came back negative, and at her overall health exam, she was in good health.

We have been working very hard to make Mila’s transition to her new home as smooth as possible. One of the most important aspects is that we ask Mila to participate in all of her daily care. Although she has had the chance to meet each member of our elephant care team, we have designated a core group of four keepers to help adjust her to her new life and routine. We use operant conditioning as the focus of our training program, relying heavily on positive reinforcement to reward our elephants. Mila was already conditioned to an array of training before her arrival; however, it has been our goal to get her used to how we work with all of the other elephants at the San Diego Zoo.

We have been working with Mila on having all of her feet hosed and scrubbed with soap, along with presenting her feet for “pedicures.” Other behaviors we have focused on include having her open her mouth for optimal viewing of her teeth, presenting an ear for future blood draws and allowing us to touch every part of her body. This training not only allows us to take care of Mila every day, but it also helps build her trust and confidence with her keepers and her new routine. She continues to amaze us with her ability to learn quickly and adapt to new situations.

Mila explores one of the yards in the Zoo's Elephant Odyssey.

Mila explores one of the yards in the Zoo’s Elephant Odyssey.

As soon as we knew Mila was clear of quarantine, we immediately gave her the opportunity to explore outside of the special needs facility where she had spent all of her time so far at the Zoo. Every elephant who has moved to the Conrad Prebys Elephant Care Center has shown different reactions to moving throughout the facility. Mila, being the confident elephant that she is, had no problem walking through the large entryway and out into the main facility. She was accompanied by one of our keepers who has been working with her since her arrival to help make the exploration more comfortable for her. Mila had plenty of time to explore every inch of the stalls and scale area, becoming familiar with every new sight, smell, and sound.

Her normal care routine was soon transitioned from the special needs facility to the main stalls, which can be viewed by Zoo guests. Every day she was asked to participate in her daily foot care in one of the stalls, given a bath, and even asked to stand on the platform scale so we could record her weight. After a few days, we gave her access to one of the main exhibit yards. The yards are pre-set with plenty of tasty food items in puzzle feeders, along with several novel enrichment items to enhance her experience outside for the first time. Of course, we took every precaution to make sure Mila would be comfortable in the yard; however, she proved ready to explore with enthusiasm, and we couldn’t be happier with her progress into her new home.

Mila is now on exhibit at various times throughout the day for everyone to see and admire. She is not on a schedule, meaning every day is different for her. We try our best to give her as much time as possible out in one of the exhibit yards during the day to allow her to enjoy the sunshine and to get some exercise. She is also now staying in one of the exhibit yards overnight. During her first venture outside overnight, I and another keeper accompanied her to observe her behavior and make sure the experience went well. Her first night went without a hitch, and she continues to spend time in the exhibit overnight as we progress her through acclimating to life at the San Diego Zoo.

It is important to remember that prior to arriving here, Mila had spent the majority of her life without other elephants. It has been more than 30 years since she has interacted with another elephant, and giving her the ability to live in a social setting with other elephants was a key point in moving her here. Since her arrival, Mila has been able to communicate with the rest of the elephants as well as smell, hear, and even see them from a distance. Even though the rest of the female elephants have plenty of experience meeting new arrivals, we were unsure how Mila would react.

Mila flares her ears at Mary.

Mila flares her ears at Mary.

In late January, we gave Mila the first opportunity to meet another elephant with limited interaction. We decided that Mary was the best option, given she is a dominant elephant in the herd, is relatively calm, and has a good track record with meeting newcomers. The first interaction was done with each elephant in separate adjoining yards, using a mesh wall as the barrier between the two elephants. We were uncertain how Mila would react; being excited, nervous, scared, aggressive, or submissive were all possibilities we could have expected to observe. Mary was curious of the newbie, while Mila was surprised to find something as big as her on the other side of the wall! These initial meet-and-greets have the potential to go in many different directions; there is no textbook answer to say how new elephants will react to one another. We use observation and our knowledge of elephant behavior to gauge the success of the introductions.

On day two, we gave Mary and Mila the ability to have increased physical interactions using more exposed barriers between the two of them. Mila started off on the defensive, possibly unsure that Mary, too, is in fact an elephant. It was her initial reaction to let Mary know that Mila was just as big as Mary was. There was nudging and pushing at one another between the barrier, several trunk slaps, and even a temper tantrum or two on Mila’s end. Mila was even flaring her ears out to make herself look more impressive. For the most part, their encounters have been relatively calm and fascinating to watch as the two get to know each other more. It is our hope that Mary’s interactions will help shape Mila’s behavior when she meets other females within our herd. Mary is generally laid back but means business when she needs to.

Elephants are as individual in their personalities as humans are, so each new meeting will come with different behaviors. Only time will tell when we are ready for Mary and Mila to share the same space, but we are confident that their relationship will continue to grow stronger as they spend more time together. In the meantime, look for Mila the next time you visit the Zoo’s Elephant Odyssey—she just may be out on exhibit. The other elephants appreciate your visit to the Zoo as well.

Robbie Clark is a keeper at the San Diego Zoo.

75

Tracking Safari Park Elephants

Swazi receive a GPS anklet to wear during Charlotte's study.

Swazi receive a GPS anklet to wear during Charlotte’s study.

The San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research works closely with the elephants both at the Zoo and the Safari Park. We consider research an important part of advancing elephant care and welfare, as well as providing us with opportunities to apply what we can learn about elephants here to those in the wild. Our most current project looks at the effects of quality versus quantity of exhibit space on elephant behavior, walking rates, and stress-related hormones in an effort to improve the welfare of elephants in zoos. Elephants need a good amount of space to fulfill their physical and psychological needs. However, space may not be of any use to an elephant if it is predictable. An elephant may benefit more from a smaller, more dynamic space (quality) rather than a larger, less dynamic space (quantity).

The Safari Park’s African elephants have access to both the east and west yards via a hydraulic gate. This gate makes it easy to manipulate the space, or quantity, of the exhibit for this study. To manipulate the quality of the space, we present controlled food enrichment. Using five different manipulations of food enrichment and available space two times a week for three trial periods, we can assess the relationships between quality and quantity.

Each manipulation lasts 22 hours. I come in to do observations in two- and-a-half-hour shifts three times to assess the elephants’ activity patterns and behavioral diversity. (This is when you might see me on Elephant Cam!). Eight of the elephants are equipped with GPS tracking anklets. With the help of some innovative thinking, we have designed an anklet to house the GPS device as an alternative to the typical collar devices. The device records the coordinates of the elephant wearing it every five seconds. At the end of the 22 hours, the GPS data is downloaded and sorted, and walking rates along with distance can be calculated.

The Safari Park's elephants stroll through the morning's mud.

The Safari Park’s elephants stroll through the morning’s mud.

Lastly, in order to examine the stress levels of the elephants, we collect both fecal and saliva samples representative of the time period of interest. Using both techniques allows us not only to gain a more robust picture of the amount of stress hormones present but also gives our endocrinologist an opportunity to perfect and define the methodology of these hormones via saliva samples, a technique which has been understudied in elephants.

It takes a lot of people (and elephants!) to make a study successful. The Elephant Team plays a huge role in helping us design and achieve solid research that can help elephants in a variety of places and situations. So far for this project, we have already found some potentially interesting results in regard to our elephants’ walking rates. I am excited to carry forward with the trials of the project. Stay tuned for another blog update when the study is finished!

Charlotte Hacker is a research technician for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research.

39

Welcome, Elephant Mila

Mila attempts to get some treats from a food puzzle.

Mila attempts to get some treats from a food puzzle.

Happy New Year, everyone! It has been some time since you have heard from us at the Elephant Care Center at the San Diego Zoo’s Elephant Odyssey, and it is for good reason. As always, we have been very busy caring for our herd of elephants; we hope many of you have had the opportunity to stop by recently and witness that care first hand. Our elephant team at the Zoo specializes in the care of aging elephants, and since the opening of our exhibit in 2009, we have had the privilege of extending that care to 11 individuals. Most recently, Elephant Odyssey has been home to six African and Asian elephants, with the opportunity to open our doors and provide sanctuary for other older elephants. We are very proud to say that on November 14, 2013, our herd grew a little bigger (by about 8,000 pounds or over 3,600 kilograms!) as we welcomed Mila, a 41-year-old female African elephant, into the family.

Mila’s story happens to be quite interesting. She traveled all the way from New Zealand, where she lived for more than 30 years. For the last four years, Mila lived at the Franklin Zoo and Wildlife Sanctuary just south of Auckland, where a team of dedicated keepers and supporters worked hard to find her a new home. Unfortunately, it was never an option to keep Mila in New Zealand as there happens to be only one other elephant in the entire country, and the two of them had never met. It was the goal of the Franklin Zoo Charitable Trust to send her to a home that could provide Mila the opportunity to be social with other elephants. The San Diego Zoo happened to be the best option for Mila to live out the rest of her life. After a year of planning and preparations, Mila traveled inside a custom-made 15,000-pound (6,800 kilograms) steel crate by cargo plane more than 6,500 miles (10,400 kilometers) from Auckland to Los Angeles. She was then transported in a flatbed semi-truck with a police escort to the San Diego Zoo, where she unloaded into our Care Center with ease. More than 20 people, including Franklin Zoo and San Diego Zoo staff, accompanied Mila on her monumental journey half-way across the world.

For now, Mila is in the middle of her mandatory quarantine period, a six- to nine-week stay inside the Special Needs Facility of the Conrad Preby’s Elephant Care Center. Quarantine is a routine procedure where all new animal residents to the Zoo and Safari Park are cared for separately from the rest of the animal collection to make sure there is no present sickness, disease, or vector they can transmit to the existing animal population. Mila’s quarantine period is especially important because she must also be tested for tuberculosis, an infectious respiratory disease that can infect both humans and elephants.

Testing elephants for this disease is mandatory every year as regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the process is noninvasive. We simply train the elephants for what we call a trunk wash. The training is done through simple desensitization, having the elephants accept a saline solution poured into the nostrils of the trunk. The elephant is cued to raise its trunk up in the air for a minimum of 15 seconds before dropping it lower to blow the saline into a sterilized bag. Because this disease generally affects the lungs, and elephants breathe mostly through their trunk, the trunk wash ensures that if any bacteria is present, it should wash out with the saline. Mila was tested in New Zealand prior to her departure and was again tested three times over a three-day period immediately after she arrived. It usually takes a minimum of six weeks for the results to return to the Zoo, as the samples must be allowed to grow inside a sterile lab environment.

While we wait for the results, I am happy to report that Mila’s transition to her new home with us has gone incredibly well, and she has exceeded all of our expectations. Since Day One, Elephant Team members Ann, Scott, and I have been taking care of Mila. We have been working on creating an important trust-based relationships with her so we can prepare Mila for her shift into the rest of the Elephant Care Center and exhibit before she meets the other female elephants. Mila has proven to be very smart and adaptable, which only reinforces our decision to bring her here to the San Diego Zoo and give her the chance to meet other elephants. After living the last 35 years of her life without the company of other elephants, only time will tell how easy it will be for her to integrate into our existing herd.

For the remainder of her quarantine period, we will continue to acclimate her to our daily care routine, training, and staff. Mila will remain off public view for a few more weeks, but we are hopeful that you will give her a warm welcome when she makes her public debut in the future. In the meantime, make sure you stop by to see the other six elephants we have at the Zoo. They are always happy to see you!

Robbie Clark is a keeper at the San Diego Zoo.

83

Elephants: A Playful Bunch

Macembe had a pulpotomy to repair and fill his chipped tusk.

Macembe had a pulpotomy to repair and fill his chipped tusk.

It has been awhile since you’ve heard from us about our elephants. There have been a few things happening with our herd, and I am sure you all know by now that there is never a dull moment with our herd!

We have a playful bunch of elephants. Msholo and Musi wrestle a lot together; Emanti and Inhlonipho (Neepo) are regular playmates, and sometimes, they have even teamed up against Luti, who is bigger and stronger. Little Qinisa has gotten so much more confident; she wrestles enthusiastically with Neepo and looks very pleased with herself if she wins. Kami and Khosi are best friends and often eat hay together. They still help Swazi take care of Qinisa.

You can often see Ingadze or Qinisa trumpeting while chasing after our native mule deer. Sometimes, they even get surprised by the normal things in our elephant yards. For example, a stump rolled down the hill in the east yard by the pool and wedged itself by another log. Inhlonipho got really excited and charged it while flaring his ears and trumpeting to try to scare it away.

Sometimes in all of the excitement, a tusk will get chipped. Macembe chipped the end of his tusk and exposed the pulp inside. He needed to get a pulpotomy to repair and fill his tusk. The vet staff and the keepers put forth a team effort, and the procedure went well. Macembe is back out with his family and playing with Emanti or Ingadze.

Now, with all of this activity going on, our little ones need to take naps. Yesterday afternoon, Qinisa was taking a nap near the mud bog with Khosi watching over her. Nearby, Umgani was watching over Ingadze and Inhlonipho sleeping together in a big pile. The scene was very tranquil.
Don’t you love watching them on our new Elephant Cam?

Happy holidays, everyone!

Laura Price is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read her previous post, Pumpkin Fun for Elephants.

116

Pumpkin Fun for Elephants

Emanti prepares to dunk his pumpkin.

Emanti prepares to dunk his pumpkin.

As the days grow shorter, the nights grow longer, it is finally harvest time! Pumpkins are carved out and are available for elephant enrichment. The keepers decided to give the elephants a pumpkin party in the afternoon yesterday, October 30, 2013. Pumpkins were placed in the East Yard; some are empty but others are stuffed with alfalfa pellets. Also, there were frozen juice pops and alfalfa flakes hidden everywhere!

How about a pumpkin toss, Kami?

How about a pumpkin toss, Kami?

Umngani found her pumpkins right away with Inhlonipho following close behind her. Msholo loves pumpkins, so he smashed and ate his pretty quickly. A couple of them rolled into the pool, and he went right in to eat them in the water. Emanti kicked one around, but he was only interested in the pellets inside.

Little Qinisa was running around trying to keep track of everybody, but in the end, she ran down to join her mom, Swazi, in eating a pumpkin that had rolled down near the pool. The other members of the herd went off on their separate ways to find frozen pops and alfalfa. In the end, all had their fair share of fun, including us keepers!

Laura Price is a keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read her previous post, 7th Birthday for Khosi.

115

Update on Elephant Vusmusi

Vusmusi takes a stroll.

Vusmusi takes a stroll.

As I mentioned in my previous post, Elephant Msholo: Day & Night, our oldest calf, Vusmusi, loves to play fight through the cables/chains/gates/barriers. He’ll even antagonize Swazi as well as his own mother, Ndula, when there’s a single barrier between them.

Because nine-year-old “Moose” pesters Umngani and her clan whenever he has his mother in the same yard with him, we like to give Umngani and her kids a break from the both of them as much as possible. Whenever it’s just one of them (Moose or Ndlula), and we have Swazi and her clan in with Umngani, things remain rather peaceful along the social front. When Moose or Ndlula are separated from each other, and thus they can’t tag team Umngani, they don’t seem to be willing to be as aggressive.

For those who think that it’s unfair to Umngani that Moose has to be such a brat, you forget that for eight years, Moose had to be subdominant to Umngani. Now the tables are turning, although it’s mostly when Moose has his mom with him in the same yard.

There are, of course, lots of times when these same elephants eat calmly side by side or play in the pool here at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, or they’ll simply ignore each other and not have to “flex” their dominance. Often, there is more tranquility in the herd when they know we’ve left for the day, because then there isn’t competition for training sessions or other reinforcement opportunities. Watch the action daily on Elephant Cam!

Curtis Lehman is an animal care manager at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

98

Elephant Msholo: Day & Night

The mighty and majestic Msholo is a wonderful part of the Safari Park's African elephant herd.

The mighty and majestic Msholo is a wonderful part of the Safari Park’s African elephant herd.

Successfully managing a large herd of African elephants is an ever-changing and challenging task for us here at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Our decisions on which animals go where and with whom and at what time and for how long is just part of our daily planning, and it changes in some form or another on a daily basis. Let’s take a look at our adult bull Msholo’s activities.

Msholo is out with the entire herd almost every day but is always separated from the rest of the herd at night. Why? He is a large, adult bull and is capable of basically doing whatever he wants to do when he’s with any member of the herd. When he’s out with the herd during the day, we consider this a “supervised” social arrangement, in that we can intervene if we feel we absolutely have to. We haven’t had to, because he’s such a wonderful bull. His tractability and willingness to separate whenever we need him to is probably the result of our relationship, training, and management of him.

Where Msholo spends his evenings is decided by space availability, weather conditions, previous nighttime arrangements, which elephants would be adjacent to his yard, etc. He’s always separated from nine-year-old Vus’musi by at least two barriers. Why? “Moose” loves to play fight through the cables/chains/gates/barriers; this goes back to his days when he would do this whenever he could. His play reminds me of that hand-slap game we used to play as kids!

Because Moose seems to possess that magic touch of pushing the right buttons to antagonize whichever elephant is on the other side, we feel that if he is right next to Msholo, somebody is going to get injured, or break their tusks, or destroy the barrier. So, we make sure the two guys are separated by at least two barriers at night.

We obviously want to give Msholo as much space as possible whenever we can, but the larger yards are made available to the larger groupings. Things can change, and they always do with a very dynamic social group.
As the calves get bigger, perhaps we’ll have to establish a bachelor herd of boys, and Msholo can have company in that scenario, or maybe he’ll get to spend some evenings with the entire herd like he does during the day. We do our best to safely make the best herd management decisions based on many factors.

Curtis Lehman is an animal care manager at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read his previous post, Elephant Mabu and Family.

36

7th Birthday for Khosi

Khosi makes short work of her iced treat!

Khosi makes short work of her iced treat!

There was a flurry of activity as the Safari Park elephant keepers were setting up for our daily Keeper Talk on September 11. Branches of ficus were put around Tembo Stadium. A bran cake was set up in the middle of the arena with flowers next to it spelling out “Khosi 7.” It was Khosi’s seventh birthday!

Khosi’s trainer led her into the presentation area. The birthday girl was concentrating so hard on her trainer that she walked right by the cake without noticing it! She was asked to back up and finally noticed her goodies. Khosi seemed to really enjoy her cake, and she walked around eating her browse. What a treat!

Laura Price is a keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read her previous post, First Birthday for Qinisa.

24

Khosi is Queen for the Day

We celebrate Khosi's 7th birthday!

We celebrate Khosi’s 7th birthday!

Khosi the elephant’s name is short for “heart of a queen,” and yesterday, September 11, 2013, her keepers put together a celebration truly fit for royalty. In honor of Khosi’s seventh birthday, the daily Elephant Keeper Talk at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park was dedicated to celebrating this special gal, and she had quite the setup waiting for her as she entered Tembo Stadium. Silk floss flowers lined the path to Khosi’s cake, which was made from her favorite treats: frozen bran, beet pulp, hay pellets, and mango juice Popsicles.

khosi5

Khosi didn’t have to share her treats on this day.

Khosi’s relaxed personality certainly shone through the day. She first went for the greenery the keepers had put around the stage area and then made her way to the cake, gripping her mango Popsicles with her incredibly cute little trunk. She then stomped the frozen bran to make it into more manageable pieces and lastly went after the pellets, which are like M&M’s for elephants and tend to be Khosi’s favorite treat.

Khosi sure deserved a nice day to herself; after all, she is incredibly nurturing and often takes on the role of babysitting her younger siblings, but this day she got the day off and had the spotlight all to herself. After watching Khosi’s celebration, one this is sure: the birthday girl wore her crown with true grace.

Cielo Villaseñor is a public relations representative for San Diego Zoo Global. Read her previous post, Birthday Bonanza for Bai Yun.