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.


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.


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


African Elephants in Botswana

Elephants eat and relax along the Chobe River in the Chobe National Park, Botswana.

Elephants eat and drink along the Chobe River in the Chobe National Park, Botswana.

I just returned home after spending two weeks in Botswana with Mike Chase, the Henderson Endowed Research Fellow within the Behavioral Biology Division of the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Mike and Kelly Landen, program manager for Elephants Without Borders, were very gracious hosts, and I am excited to announce that at the end of the year, when Mike’s postdoc with the Institute is over, we will be continuing our collaboration assisting Elephants Without Borders to ensure the conservation of elephants along with many other species.

The first week of my visit was spent in Kasane and the Chobe National Park. Within this area of Botswana is one of the densest elephant populations in the world and one of the last remaining strongholds for elephants on this planet. This is an extremely important population, considering the onslaught of elephant poaching in the northwest and central Africa. Recent estimates suggest that tens of thousands of elephants are poached each year, the highest numbers since the late 1980s.

Elephants Without Borders field staff tracks an elephant using radio telemetry.

Elephants Without Borders field staff tracks an elephant using radio telemetry.

During one of our drives down the Chobe River, we observed approximately 1,000 elephants ranging in herds from 10 to 100. We also visited an artificial waterhole late in the afternoon one day, where we found approximately 80 elephants taking turns drinking. Within 30 minutes, I had observed every general category of behavior that elephants engage in, including play, social affiliation, aggression, feeding, and self maintenance (dust bathing), just to name a few. We were even lucky enough to see multiple young calves nursing; one of them looked to be less than a week old. It was truly amazing and exactly what we strive for with our elephants at the San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park, ensuring they have the opportunities to engage in a diversity of behaviors similar to their wild counterparts.

My second week in Botswana was spent in the Okavango Delta. Although in a different area of the delta, the smell of wild sage reminded me of my first trip there. Wild sage can be found quite frequently and has such a wonderful odor. In the Delta, elephant populations are not as dense as those in Chobe National Park, but you have one of the largest continuous ecosystems virtually untouched by man, with the exception of some small safari lodges. Efforts there are underway to explore relationships between habitat type and large herbivore population abundance. This is important work for determining things like carrying capacity and habitat necessary for different species of wildlife.

A female elephant wears a tracking collar in the Okavango Delta, Botswana.

A female elephant wears a tracking collar in the Okavango Delta, Botswana.

While in the Delta, we tracked some collared elephants using radio telemetry and collected fecal samples as part of an ongoing study looking at stress in elephants living in different areas. With the continued expansion of human populations, understanding how elephants and people can continue to live together will be vital for the future. Over the next couple of months, we will be looking for funding to start a new project examining the effects of ecotourism on key species such as elephants to ensure future generations have the ability to view these amazing animals.

Lance Miller is a scientist in the Behavioral Biology Division of the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Read his previous post, What is Animal Welfare?

Watch our own African elephant herd daily on Elephant Cam!


Elephants Mabu and Family

Here's Mabu enjoying some beet pulp.

Here’s Mabu enjoying some beet pulp at his home in Tucson.

I just got back from spending four days in Tucson with the Reid Park Zoo staff and our five African elephants who moved there from the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in 2012: Mabu, Lungile, Samba, Punga, and Tsundzu (see Elephant Moves). The elephants looked great and seemed to be well adjusted to Tucson’s weather. It was around 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius)—a dry heat—all four days, and the elephants enjoyed quite a bit of pool time and mudding up at the mud bogs.

Mabu thinks about going in the pool while Lungile dusts off.

Mabu thinks about going in the pool while Lungile dusts off.

Mabu’s weight is right at 11,000 pounds (4,990 kilograms), and I enjoyed spending my moments with him while I was out there (he’s my favorite). Mabu also plays very nicely with the two boys when they decide to go in for a dip. Lungile, on the other hand, usually has to wait for an opportune time to play in the pool with the boys, such as when Samba and Mabu are preoccupied with something else, and Samba is far away.

You can watch the herd from the Reid Park Zoo’s Elephant Cam until 1:30 p.m. Then they usually have access to the barns, and they enjoy beating the heat by hanging out inside where it feels like it’s air conditioned compared to the temperatures outside. The calves looked much bigger since I last saw them, and Lungile still looks the same size. Punga has replaced Musi as Lungile’s sparring partner, and Samba still hasn’t figured out how to cross the stream that feeds the pool without getting her feet wet.

We send our staff to visit with the Reid Park Zoo staff and the elephants about every three months. It’s a nice opportunity to say hello and to see how our pachyderm friends are doing.

Mabu and Punga find a great way to cool off.

Mabu and Punga find a great way to cool off.

Would you believe I wrote this blog almost two months ago? That will give you an idea of how busy the Safari Park’s Elephant Team has been! We’ve been doing our best trying to run a day around all of the construction going on for the Park’s newest habitat, Tiger Trails.
Perhaps it would be best to give our readers some “mini” updates instead of trying to catch up on all 13 of our herd members all at once. We’ll give it a shot!

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


Elephant Calves Update

A mud hole can be fun, too!

A mud hole can be fun, too!

Our youngest elephant, Qinisa, is 10 months old and already weighs 694 pounds (315 kilograms). She is very playful and often instigates play with the other calves at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, especially Inhlonipho  (Neepo). She is becoming brave enough to come into the pool with her mom, Swazi, and join in the fun with all the other calves. Khosi and Kami still enjoy babysitting, and they step in to help when the other calves play too rough with little Qinisa.

In May, Khosi broke her left tusk and exposed the pulp inside of it. Our vet staff, exotic animal dentist, and elephant keepers all worked together to help Khosi by repairing her tusk with a pulpotomy. She is on the road to recovery and is playing with the other members of the herd. Also, Emanti had an infected tusk removed a few months ago, and he is healing nicely and plays a lot with Ingadze and Inhlonipho.

It is getting warmer now, and our elephants are in the water more often. Check out our Elephant Cam and see if it is playtime for our elephants!

Laura Price is keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.


Early Mornings at Elephants



After doing 24-hour watches for each calf born to our African elephant herd at the Safari Park, we keepers have had the opportunity to watch a lot of early morning behavior from all the elephants. We have noticed that during this time the elephants tend to be very playful. You may see things such as walking forward or backward, head bobbing, sitting, lying down, tusking the ground, kicking logs or other toys in the yard, chasing each other, trunk wrestling with each other, making a dog pile (mostly with the youngsters), swimming, trumpeting, ear flaring, mock charging items in their environment… the list is endless. One thing is for sure, they are fun to watch any time of day!

Mindy Albright is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read her previous post, Elephant Treat Time.


Elephant Shaba Meets the Girls

The elephants of Elephant Odyssey

The elephants of Elephant Odyssey

It has been almost a year since Shaba made her trip from Reid Park Zoo in Tucson, Arizona (see post Elephant Moves) to her new home in the San Diego Zoo’s Elephant Odyssey. Shaba is a 33-year-old African female who had lived at Reid Park her entire life with her best friend, Connie, an Asian elephant, who passed away from cancer about 5 months after their arrival here (see post Elephant ICU Loses a Member). Since then, we have been working hard to get Shaba acclimated to Elephant Odyssey and to the other four females who live here. They are Mary, a 49-year-old Asian elephant who is the herd’s matriarch, Sumithi, a 46-year-old Asian elephant, Tembo, a 42-year-old African elephant, and Devi, a 36-year-old Asian elephant.

Shaba is a very sweet elephant and works well with her keepers, but she had never been around any other elephants except Connie. We knew it was important for her to get to know everyone quickly, because she needed the socialization that all female elephants require. Our plan was to start her out with an introduction to Mary and then slowly introduce her to Sumithi, Devi, and lastly, Tembo. The initial introduction to Mary went very well—Mary told her who was boss and Shaba accepted that right away! Then it was just a matter of the two getting to know each other. Mary was really good about defining Shaba’s place in Mary’s yard—“all the food is mine, and I will let you have some of it.”

As time went by, the two started spending nights together, and we could see that Shaba was very happy to be around Mary; in turn, Mary was very tolerant of the newbie. After several weeks, we included Sumithi into the group. It also went well as long as Shaba did not get too close to Sumithi’s food. Sumithi would remind Shaba of this by chasing her around the yard. This was pretty funny, because Shaba could really run, and at best, Sumithi could work up a slow saunter. Sumithi got her point across, though, and the three became a workable group pretty quickly. They, too, started spending nights together and all went well.

Then it was Devi’s turn. It was going to be interesting, because Devi had, in the past, gone after the new elephants with a reckless abandon. This never worked out for her, but she tried. When she was put into the group of Mary, Sumithi, and Shaba, Devi was immediately on the defensive. She ran right away from Shaba, who wasn’t sure how to react. No elephant had ever run from her before! Shaba slowly worked her way over to Devi and touched her, and Devi submitted right away. Shaba then spent the next several weeks getting to know Devi, standing next to her, eating from the same spot, and if one of the other elephants started to chase Shaba, she would seek Devi out and use her as a comfort zone.

This went on for several weeks, and then it was time to introduce Tembo. This was a big deal because Tembo likes to charge now, ask questions later. We were prepared for any problems; it was all hands on deck for the elephant staff. We let Tembo into the yard with the other four girls, and she immediately went to the food and started to eat. She basically paid no attention to Shaba, although Shaba was keeping a close eye on her. It went very well for a while, and then Shaba approached Tembo, and Tembo chased her all over the yard. Luckily, Shaba is a lot faster than Tembo and ran away from her. Tembo ran out of steam pretty quickly, and all settled down. These days, the new group is still establishing itself, but Shaba has learned to move out of the way when Tembo comes near. You can see all of our female elephants together in the morning and afternoon. We still have not kept them all together overnight, but that is the next goal of ours.

Shaba has settled in very well. She looks to Mary now as her protector and companion. She gets along pretty well with all the other elephants, but when one decides to get a little pushy, which happens in elephant herds, she immediately runs to Mary. At night, we keep Mary and Shaba together, and we have even witnessed both of them lying side by side at night to sleep. This is GOOD! We will continue to monitor the females as we head into the future, and the future looks really bright for our female herd at Elephant Odyssey.

Ron Ringer is a lead keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read his previous post, Elephant Ranchipur: Healing Nicely.


Elephant Treat Time

An elephant play session.

An elephant play session.

One of our Elephant Cam viewers, Erin, mentioned that one of the best times to watch is when we keepers walk along the edge of the main yard with our buckets full of tasty pellets—elephant chow, as it were. Erin wondered if the elephants rumble or trumpet during this time?

This is a very exciting time for the elephants and for their keepers, and it is a true example of the relationship we have with them and just how well they work with their keepers. It’s a lot of work to move 13 elephants around more than 6 acres, 4 barns, 4 holding yards, and 2 big yards, so it’s a good thing they like us!

For the most part, the elephants are usually pretty quiet during moves. However, there is some noise if the youngsters get separated from their mothers; Mom usually stays with the keeper and just rumbles back to her calf to let him or her know where she is. There may be some trumpets or rumbles if a dominant elephant comes up behind a subdominant one and startles them.

I’m glad you all enjoy watching the excitement on Elephant Cam!

Mindy Albright is a lead keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read her previous post, Elephant Calf Learns the Ropes.


Elephant Names

Qinisa at one day old.

One of our Elephant Cam viewers asked if our newest elephant calf, Qinisa, knows her name yet. Name recognition depends on the individual animal and the frequency of reinforcement opportunities associated with that name being called and the corresponding correct response. We would then need something to be reinforcing for that animal.

In the case of a baby elephant, we keepers don’t have a lot to offer outside of tactile and visual stimuli. An elephant calf wouldn’t know his or her name until we started associating the name with a reinforcer that we know has established itself as such. So, when a calf starts showing interest in a certain food item, we’ll start calling the calf by name and reinforcing the correct response with that item. It’s usually a nickname that sounds different from that of any other elephant in our herd and one that everyone here can pronounce.

For Qinisa, her nickname is still up for grabs, and we call her a bunch of different names and sounds at the present. Personally, I like “bad baby #12″. ;-)

Curtis Lehman is an animal care manager at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read his previous post, Quick Qinisa Update.