Elephants

Elephants

40

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.

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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.

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First Birthday for Qinisa

Qinisa explores her birthday treats with her wonderful trunk.

Qinisa explores her birthday treats with her wonderful trunk.

On August 28, 2013, as African elephant Swazi and her family came over from the west yard through the channel, they saw something different in the east yard near the pool at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park: a large letter Q made of ficus browse and alfalfa with a beet pulp and bran cake covered with flowers in the middle of it. It was Qinisa’s first birthday!

Little Qinisa approached it, ate a few flower petals, and then stood under her mom to eat alfalfa and ficus together. Macembe took advantage of the situation and started eating his little sister’s birthday cake; Qinisa’s half-siblings Kami and Emanti enjoyed the pool by splashing water on themselves. Shortly after that, Swazi and Qinisa helped Macembe finish off the cake. It was a good ending to a great birthday!

Our next elephant birthday is Khosi’s. She turns seven on September 11 and is our oldest female calf.

Laura Price is a keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read her previous post, Keeping Cool, Elephant Style.

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Elephant Khosi and Her Tusk

Two of our elephants spend a relaxing afternoon at the Safari Park.

Neepo and big sister Khosi spend a relaxing afternoon at the Safari Park after her procedure.

Today, August 29, 2013, Khosi, a 6-year-old African elephant at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, had a procedure to remove the distinctive metal cap that was protecting the tip of her right tusk. After radiographs were taken of her tusk at the beginning of August to determine the growth of the dentine bridge, our veterinarians concluded that it had filled in enough to safely remove the cap.

Keepers have been training Khosi for the procedure for the last three weeks, and today it was removed without any problems. She is now a little more difficult to identify without the metal cap! Khosi is now back out with the herd and enjoying all the treats that were set out for them today.

Mindy Albright is a lead keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

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Keeping Cool, Elephant Style

An elephant calf dabs mud on its side.

Update: Macembe enjoys the mud bog.

The San Diego Zoo Safari Park’s African elephants are very creative in the summer as they beat the heat. There are pools in both yards that the elephants swim in often. Swazi usually has a small parade of calves following her wherever she goes, usually Macembe, Qinisa, Kami or Khosi, and Emanti. It is fun to watch little Qinisa try to keep up with the bigger calves.

One day, Swazi and the calves were in the pool having fun and Qinisa was on the edge of the pool with Kami. Qinisa called out, and Swazi turned around and accompanied Qinisa into the pool to play with the other calves—it seemed that she wanted her mom to take her into the pool, too!

This calf seems to be waiting for the pool party to begin!

Update: Neepo seems to be waiting for the pool party to begin!

The mud bogs are a favorite with our elephants, as they provide a natural sunscreen and help cool them down on warm days. Sometimes, the elephants take turns using the mud bogs, but a lot of the time there is a big pile of calves on top of each other playing King of the Mountain in the mud. It seems that a muddy elephant is a happy one. We have lots of muddy elephants at the Safari Park!

Watch the fun daily on Elephant Cam,.

Laura Price is keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read her previous post,
Elephant Calves Update
.