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13

Tusk Tales

Shaba recently had her tusks trimmed after she broke one.

Shaba, who lives at the Zoo’s Elephant Odyssey, recently had her tusks trimmed after she broke one.

We get a lot of questions about tusks here in the Conrad Prebys Elephant Care Center at the San Diego Zoo. Since we have both African and Asian elephants in our exhibit we care for quite a few individuals with tusks—five of our seven elephants have them. Caring for elephant tusks is pretty straightforward, but every once in a while they require additional maintenance. Many of you may have noticed that some of the elephants’ tusks have changed in size and shape over the last few years. Here’s why, but first a little background information—a kind of Tusk 101.

What are tusks? They are modified incisor teeth that grow separately from the molars inside of an elephant’s mouth. Tusks differ by not having the protective enamel coating that covers chewing teeth. And if they grow at all, an elephant only gets one set of tusks. In African elephants, both males and females can grow tusks. Among Asian elephants, only the males have tusks that grow externally and beyond the sulcus cavity (the lip area where the tusk is visibly seen). Female Asian elephants can grow small tusks called ‘tushes’, but they are rarely ever visible unless the mouth is open. Because tusks are teeth, there is a living pulp or root that sits in a hollow cavity at the base of the tusk.

Tusks are used for stripping bark off trees, fighting and playing with one another, and even for digging for water during times of drought. Not all elephants use their tusks the same way and some elephants use one tusk more than the other. Depending on available nutrition and the amount of wear and tear put on them, tusks can grow several inches a year.

A trusting relationship with keepers—and a few treats—results in the ability to take radiographs of Shaba's tusks.

A trusting relationship with keepers—and a few treats—results in the ability to radiograph Shaba’s tusks.

Basic tusk care includes cleaning the surface regularly and flushing out the sulcus cavity with water. To monitor the overall integrity of the tusks, we train each of the elephants to allow for radiograph imaging. The elephants are asked to hold a steady position and allow an x-ray plate to sit between the tusk and trunk so our veterinary staff can gather an image. These pictures give us the idea of where the pulp cavity lies inside the tooth. This is very important information; if an elephant injures or breaks its tusk near or at the pulp, the tusk is compromised. We have treated quite a few tusks over the years for various reasons, and this usually includes trimming them.

There are a few options we can utilize when a tusk needs to be trimmed. In the same way we train the elephants for radiographs, we also train them to allow us to trim their tusks. We generally use strong, thin steel wire to saw through the tusk, a relatively simple and safe way to remove part of the tooth in a scenario where the elephants allow us to do so. A normal trim can take anywhere between 15 and 30 minutes. All the while, the elephant receives food rewards as part of our positive reinforcement training program.

Tusk trimming takes teamwork.

Tusk trimming takes teamwork.

Late last year Shaba, one of our resident female African elephants, broke about 18 inches off of her left tusk. We were unaware of how she broke it, but immediately radiographed the remaining portion and trimmed it without compromising the pulp cavity. Both of her tusks have been trimmed recently and are relatively short. This was the best option for Shaba to be able to keep her tusks—and they will continue to grow. In fact, several of our elephants have had successful tusk trims over the last few years. We use the removed tusk portions in educational programs at the Zoo.

If during your next visit you notice shortened tusks or tusks that are blunt at the end, you will now understand why. Trimming is all part of normal tusk care and is always done in the best interest of our elephants.

Robbie Clark is a keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read his previous blog, Happy Birthday, Zoo Elephants!

50

A Tusk Task

Vus'Musi, seen here in 2012, had some tusk work done recently.

Vus’Musi, seen here in 2012, recently had some tusk work done.

Vus’Musi is our oldest calf and quite an active boy. He’s 11 years old and likes to spar with our older bull, Msholo, quite a bit. Elephants like to use their tusks to break up browse, dig up things, or displace other elephants by using them as offensive and defensive weapons. If an elephant’s tusk were to break off at the end, and not expose the pulp cavity, it basically keeps growing outward. Occasionally, a tusk breaks either too far back or breaks off near the sulcus, exposing the pulp inside, which allows bacteria to get in and possibly cause an infection.

Vus’Musi recently broke off his right tusk near the sulcus, leaving the red pulp inside exposed. It appeared that he may have snapped off his tusk while attempting to tusk at or move a large tree stump in one of our main yards, but we’re not really sure because nobody witnessed it and we noticed the break when we came in one morning. Fortunately, his keepers have a great relationship with him, so they were able to clean and temporarily cover the end of the broken tusk with Technovit®.

We scheduled Vus’Musi to have a partial pulpotomy and for a filling (a plug) to be put in the tusk to protect it as it heals and grows out. The date was set for February 11 and the elephant keepers worked very hard preparing Vus’Musi for the procedure using operant conditioning with positive reinforcement. On the day of the procedure, all of the hard work between Vus’Musi and his keepers paid off. The vet department, exotic animal dentist, elephant keepers and all of their support staff worked together to make sure that Musi’s procedure was a success.

If you observe Vus’musi on the elephant cam, you can barely see his remaining right tusk protruding just past his sulcus. It will continue to grow out and we’ll continue to take radiographs (think x-rays), to see if it’s healing properly from the inside, because amazingly enough, we’ve found that the tusk can still continue to grow despite infections still festering inside of them. If you’re wondering whether Vus’musi felt any pain either when he broke of his tusk or while there could be ongoing infection, the answer is believed to be no. The pulp cavity is a blood supply only and doesn’t contain nerve endings.

Anyway, he’s back to his mischievous behavior of pestering Umngani and sparring with Msholo, albeit hanging closer to his mom than usual. He’s still a bit of a momma’s boy, but younger brother Lutsandvo took over the title and has surpassed ‘Musi’s world record for nursing.

Laura Price is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read her previous post, Taking Care of Tusks. Curtis Lehman is the Park’s elephant supervisor.

2

14 Notable Safari Park Births of 2014

This year, the Safari Park baby boom provided over 650 tiny new additions to our animal family, some of which were released into the wild. From cute chicks to courageous calves and cubs, here are some of the noteworthy births we saw in 2014:

1. Leroy, the resilient giraffe calf.

14 Notable Safari Park Births of 2014: Leroy

The birth of our first Uganda giraffe calf on January 8 was a marvelous way to kick off the New Year. However, shortly after Shani’s calf arrived, keepers noticed the youngster was exhibiting signs of weakness and not eating well. At two weeks old, Leroy was sent to the Safari Park’s Harter Veterinary Medical Center, where he spent 39 days in treatment for a severe bacterial infection. Nursing was impossible, so his human keepers filled in as surrogate parents, bottle-feeding the young calf three to five times a day. After extensive care, Leroy made a full recovery and was welcomed back into his herd with kisses and nose rubs in April.

2. Tanu’s spirited stripes.

14 Notable Safari Park Births of 2014: Tanu

The endangered Grevy’s zebra population saw a tiny black-and-white boost when Bakavu gave birth to her fifth foal, Tanu, on January 3. Tanu was able to tell his mother apart from other zebras in the herd and knew to stay close to her by memorizing Bakavu’s unique stripe pattern.

3. Parvesh, the lord of celebration.

14 Notable Safari Park Births of 2014: Parvesh

Parvesh, which means lord of celebration in Hindi, was born on February 25 to mother Alta and father Bophu. When he was nine weeks old, the greater one-horned rhino calf moved into the Asian Plains habitat and started making his own rules. Parvesh’s charming personality demands the attention of our guests.

4. One little gorilla named Joanne.

14 Notable Safari Park Births of 2014: Joanne

When Imani had her first baby on March 12, the 18-year-old mother had to be sedated and whisked to the Harter Veterinary Medical Center for an emergency C-section. The fragile infant, named Joanne, stayed at the veterinary hospital for round-the-clock care. Due to the long labor, Joanne was having trouble breathing, and it turned out that she had a collapsed lung and pneumonia. Twelve days later, the baby was laid down in a nest of soft hay in the gorilla bedroom, and Imani was let in. The moment Joanne was reunited with her mother will forever live in our hearts. This gorilla’s story was (and still is) incredible.

5. Cheetah and puppy best friends.

14 Notable Safari Park Births of 2014: Ruuxa and Raina

Ruuxa and Raina became an overnight sensation. The six-week-old cheetah cub and seven-week-old Rhodesian ridgeback were the youngest animal ambassador pairing since the program began. Shortly after their introduction, Ruuxa underwent surgery to repair a growth abnormality in his limbs. Raina, whose name means guardian, stayed by the cheetah cub’s side throughout the procedure and continues to be an attentive and loyal friend.

6. Jackson, the curious okapi calf.

14 Notable Safari Park Births of 2014: Jackson

Gestation for okapis can last from 14 to 16 months, so the birth of Jackson in July was a highly anticipated event. The curious calf stayed close to his mother but kicked his way into our hearts as well.

7. A rare crane chick.

14 Notable Safari Park Births of 2014: Wattled crane chick

Our very first wattled crane chick shuffled its way into our hearts this summer. Wattled cranes are the rarest crane species found in Africa, so this chick was (and still is) a treasure.

8. Our first Masai giraffe calves.

14 Notable Safari Park Births of 2014: Gowon

We have a total of 134 Ugandan giraffes and 23 reticulated giraffes, but the births of Gowon and Kamau in July marked the first time Masai giraffes have been born at the Safari Park. While Masai giraffes are the most populous of the subspecies, all wild populations have decreased significantly since the late 1990s, due to habitat loss and competition with livestock for resources. Both are aptly named in the Masai language: Gowon (pronounced Go-wan) means maker of rain and Kamau (pronounced Kam-mao) means little warrior.

9. Four reasons to roar at Lion Camp.

14 Notable Safari Park Births of 2014: 4 African lion cubs

Four little rascals debuted at Lion Camp this fall and almost doubled the size of our pride. Cubs Ernest, Evelyn, Marion, and Miss Ellen were born on June 22 but spent several months bonding with their mother, Oshana, behind the scenes. The cubs now spend their days pouncing, climbing, and testing the patience of their big cat parents.

10. Our spotted cheetah sisters.

14 Notable Safari Park Births of 2014: Cheetah sisters

Ayanna and Bahati received around-the-clock care at our Animal Care Center for the past few months. The cubs were born at the Safari Park’s Cheetah Breeding Center to Allie, but animal care staff decided to hand-rear the females because their mother has been unsuccessful with previous litters. Now, the female cubs have advanced in their training and have moved to different areas of the Park, awaiting their puppy companions.

11. Luke, a leucistic waterbuck calf.

14 Notable Safari Park Births of 2014: Luke

Luke has been turning heads since his arrival in September. For decades, we’ve successfully bred over 20,000 rare and endangered animals, including 278 ellipsen waterbuck, but Luke is the first-ever animal born at the Park with a condition that causes him to have reduced pigmentation. He’s a stand-out guy and receives a lot of attention from guests taking a ride on the Africa Tram.

12. Petunia, the petite rhino.

14 Notable Safari Park Births of 2014: Petunia

Our 67th greater one-horned rhino, named Petunia, debuted in the Asian Plains exhibit after one month of close care. The calf weighed only 128 pounds (58 kilograms) at birth, which is small for her species, so animal care staff kept a 24-hour watch on the newborn until she was ready to leave her protected yard in September. Petunia and her mother, Tanaya, have been blooming and exploring their 40-acre (16 hectares) home since.

13. Satellite elephant calf Nandi.

14 Notable Safari Park Births of 2014: Nandi

Did you hear? Our satellite herd at the Reid Park Zoo in Tuscon, Arizona, got an adorable little boost with big ears this year. The African elephant calf named Nandi is doing well and enjoying time with her herd at the Click Family Elephant Care Center.

14. Four purr-fect cheetah cubs.

14 Notable Safari Park Births of 2014: 4 cheetah cubs

photo: Ershun Lee

Four adorable cheetah cubs were born to first-time mother Addison in July at our off-site breeding center. Wgasa, Reu, Pumzika, Mahala, and their mother moved into the Okvango Outpost (and our hearts) last month. It’s certainly wonderful to see so many spots and to watch a cheetah mother raising her cubs.

 

Jenn Beening is the social media specialist for San Diego Zoo Global. Read her previous post, 10 Festive Reindeer Facts.

24

7 Animal Facts You Didn’t Learn In School

You don’t have to be an animal expert to appreciate the natural world. In fact, simple short cuts like the fun facts listed below, can be very conducive to gaining a better understanding of the Animal Kingdom. Enjoy!

Monkeys have tails and apes don't.

1. Monkeys have tails and apes don’t.
Since we have more in common with our great ape cousins than we do with monkeys, a good way to remember this fact is to simply look at your rear end.

There’s no such thing as a poisonous snake.

2. There’s no such thing as a poisonous snake.
Contrary to pop culture and older versions of Encyclopedia Britannica, snakes are venomous, not poisonous. If they were poisonous, touching or licking a serpent would be the more appropriate fear than death by snakebite. And that’s even debatable, since statistics show that out of 7,000 to 8,000 snakebites per year in the U.S., only 5 or 6 are fatal. Call it semantics, but the truth is only 10 percent of the 3,000 species of snake are venomous, meaning they inject toxins into their prey (biting or stinging). The difference is skin deep.

100

World Elephant Day

Christine Browne-Nuñez admires elephants in Amboseli National Park, Kenya.

Christine Browne-Nunez admires elephants in Amboseli National Park, Kenya. Photo credit: Richard Nuñez

World Elephant Day, launched on August 12, 2012, is now an annual event intended to celebrate this beautiful and majestic mammal and to bring attention to the plight of Asian and African elephants and the numerous threats they face. Sadly, elephant tusks are one of the major reasons elephants are threatened. Elephant tusks are made into ivory carvings, jewelry, chopsticks, and other such trinkets. Some people in the world believe that elephant tusks fall out, like baby teeth in humans, and, to collect the ivory, all one needs to do is gather those fallen tusks off the ground. The truth, however, is that tusks are permanent and grow throughout an elephant’s lifetime. In order to get the ivory, the elephant is illegally killed. Because of the high demand for ivory, elephants are currently being killed at an alarming rate. According to the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, more than 35,000 elephants were poached in Africa last year.

My work with elephants began in 1995 as a manager of a volunteer conservation education program at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT) Elephant Orphanage in Nairobi, Kenya, where local and international visitors came to see baby elephants and learn about elephant ecology and conservation. It was at the Trust that I witnessed firsthand the devastation caused by poaching, as many of the traumatized orphaned elephants had lost their mothers to the ivory trade. The good news is, individuals, organizations, such as DSWT, and governments around the world are working hard to bring an end to poaching by educating people about the real costs of ivory and by enforcing national and international laws that make it illegal to collect, sell, or buy ivory.

Many values are associated with elephants, which is, in part, why conserving elephants is a complex task. From an ecological perspective, the elephant has important roles in the environment. It is sometimes called an ecosystem engineer, with complex effects on its habitat and species diversity. It modifies its environment through activities such as seed dispersal, tree felling, bark stripping, and the creation of waterholes. From a social perspective, the many elephant lovers around the world appreciate that elephants are intelligent, social animals that communicate with others near and far, maintain strong family bonds throughout their lives, and have life stages parallel to those of humans. Additionally, many elephant behaviors, such as those demonstrated in greeting ceremonies or when standing over and covering a dead body or bones, are interpreted as displays of emotion. Elephants also have economic value at the local and national level by attracting tourists for consumptive and non-consumptive use.

An elephant gives itself a dust bath in Amboseli. Photo credit: Richard Nunez.

An elephant gives itself a dust bath in Amboseli. Photo credit: Richard Nuñez

Whereas the elephant is admired by many people around the world, not all people view elephants positively. About 70 percent of the elephant’s range lies outside protected areas on lands often occupied by people, highlighting the importance of maintaining private lands as viable elephant habitat. Therefore, conservation efforts aimed at protecting the elephant and securing habitat for its long-term survival need to be based on both ecological and human-dimensions information.

People and elephants have coexisted for millennia with varying levels and types of interaction, but negative interactions known as human-elephant conflict (HEC) are perceived to be on the rise in some places. Human-elephant conflict can come in many forms and result in property damage and injury and death of both people and elephants. Crop depredation, the most common form of HEC, is a critical issue in elephant conservation, especially as more land is converted to agriculture. In pastoral areas such as Maasailand, where I conducted research, coexistence is threatened as a result of the evolving socio-economic landscape.

The Maasai people living around Amboseli National Park, Kenya, located at the foot of the majestic Mt. Kilimanjaro, are traditionally semi-nomadic livestock herders. This livelihood practice facilitated their coexistence with wildlife, including elephants, in the Amboseli ecosystem for hundreds of years, but changes brought about by government policy, conservation policy, and immigration of peoples from other cultures has had a significant and on-going impact on their way of life. With more land under the plow and increasing competition for resources resulting from population growth, the level of conflict was on the rise.

A Maasai elder is interviewed. Photo credit: Richard Nuñez

A Maasai elder is interviewed. Photo credit: Richard Nuñez

My research found the Maasai were divided in their willingness to tolerate elephants on their lands. At the core of this division were perceptions about costs, resulting from HEC, versus benefits, namely tourist revenue. Conservationists working in this and other ecosystems are continually working to find solutions to HEC in order to secure long-term habitat for elephants. In Amboseli, such solutions include electric fencing around agricultural areas, compensation payments for loss of human life, consolation payments for livestock killed by elephants on private lands, and ecotourism schemes. My research found only a minority of local Maasai were aware of, or fully understood, these interventions, but of those, attitudes tended to be more positive. Conservation education and communication programs, such as those developed by our Conservation Education Division at San Diego Zoo Global, can increase awareness of these types of conservation activities and provide knowledge and skills to empower local people in managing and conserving wildlife.

It is evident that people have and will continue to determine the fate of the elephant. African savanna elephants will become extinct by 2020 if the threats to elephants are not adequately addressed. A vital component of conservation is understanding and influencing human actions. Ongoing ecological and social science research is needed in the varied settings in which people and elephants coexist in order to provide information for developing, monitoring, and adapting methods for protecting both species. Developing community-based conservation programs that include conservation education and communication is one of the many things we do here at the Conservation Education Division at San Diego Zoo Global.

Support the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy in its efforts to conserve elephants and elephant habitat. With your help, we can bring elephants back from the brink of extinction!

Christine Browne-Nuñez, Ph.D., is a conservation program manager for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research.

32

Elephant Mila Applies Her Social Skills

Mila, right, and Mary share a snack of acacia browse.

Mila, right, and Mary share a snack of acacia browse.

Some of you may be wondering how our newest elephant, Mila, is fitting into the family here at the San Diego Zoo’s Elephant Odyssey. Mila had not seen another elephant in approximately 35 years before she came to the Zoo in November 2013 (see post Welcome, Elephant Mila). We were excited to let her meet our herd of five female elephants but knew that we needed to take it slow in order to give Mila the best chance of fitting in. So, after her quarantine period ended in January 2014, we began the introduction process.

We started by letting Mila meet Mary, a 50-year-old Asian elephant and our most dominant female (see post Elephants Mila and Mary Meet). After a little pushing and shoving, which is how elephants establish dominance, Mila and Mary became fast friends and are often seen spending time together in the yard.

Our next step was adding Shaba, a 34-year-old African elephant, to the mix. When Mila met Shaba, she had a nervous few days trying to figure out this elephant who looked like her but had longer tusks! She used all the social skills she had learned from meeting Mary, and they now get along. We then gave Mila some time to bond with Mary and Shaba before introducing her to more of the girls.

Once Mary, Mila, and Shaba were able to be together 24 hours a day, we let Mila meet Sumithi, a 47-year-old Asian elephant, and then Devi, a 37-year-old Asian elephant. Once again, our smart girl Mila applied her new social skills and ability to navigate the exhibit and be “under the radar,” and the introductions went great—Mila had now met four of our five female elephants!

Tembo, a 42-year-old African elephant, was the last girl Mila needed to be introduced to; however, we wanted to give Mila some time to bond and adjust to her new herd before she met Tembo, who is usually a little more animated and intimidating than the other elephants. After a few weeks of spending her days with Mary, Shaba, Sumithi, and Devi, and her nights with Mary and Shaba, we decided it was time for Mila to meet Tembo. On July 8, we put all six of the girls together for the first time, and, much to our relief, Tembo and Mila did great together! There has been a little pushing and chasing from Tembo as she asserts her dominance, but overall, they are getting along well.

Another step we have taken in the last few days is having Mila spend the night with not only Shaba and Mary but Devi and Sumithi as well. They have access to three of our four yards and have the ability to spread out to eat or interact as they chose. So far, they are all doing well together, which is exciting because it puts us one step closer to having all six of our female elephants living together in a group the majority of the time.

It’s been a slow process, but it’s worth the time and the effort knowing that after 35 years of being alone, Mila will finally have a herd she can call her own. The next time you visit the Zoo, make sure to stop by Elephant Odyssey so you’ll have the chance to see all six of our female elephants out in the yard together.

Lori Speis is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.

35

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.

90

Elephant Swazi Update: Baby Due?

African elephant Swazi’s due-date range, according to all our calf data, was to fall between July 25 and August 24. We can see that the baby is situated mostly on her right side and is still up high, so physically we don’t see any changes yet. We get and send in her daily urine samples to our lab here at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, with a turnaround time for results about two days later. Her progesterone levels haven’t dipped down below a number consistently with what we’d consider pre-labor (2 to 4 days away) levels. Regardless, baby will come when baby will come!

It looks like it won’t be this week at least. Schedules, staff, and volunteers are all on standby; we just don’t want to start too early and get burned out like we did with Umngani’s first (way back in the day). If we don’t see anything happening soon, I might start night watches anyway, because I’m getting antsy myself!

We did miss Luty and Tsundzu’s births (Emanti’s didn’t count because we were busy with Mac’s night watch), so births can come on rather quickly, and I’d like to try and film the birth for research purposes if we get lucky enough and there’s some light to see it. We may get lucky and see her drop her mucus plug or actually see the water break, but that’s been very rare for us, since most births have been under darkness.

Swazi is still nursing Macembe, so he’s in for a rude awakening soon. Since she is the dominant female, this being her second calf, and we’ve had three born out in the main east yard, we’re not overly concerned if Swazi were to give birth out in the main east yard. Having her give birth in the holding yard allows for filming, better observations, safety, and simpler separations away from others if we feel they might hinder her bonding time or if we have to intervene. I think Macembe will be the only one in with her this time. I’m sure they wouldn’t want to be in close quarters with her anyway—she’s pretty bossy!

Gotta go. Busy, busy busy.

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

Watch our elephants daily on Elephant Cam.

15

Aerial Survey of Mammoth Importance

The San Diego Zoo collaborates on elephant conservation in Africa with the nonprofit organization Elephants Without Borders, based in Botswana. Read Kelli’s previous post, Wild Elephant Rainbow Spirit.

Elephants are plentiful along the Chobe River.

We are very pleased to share with everyone what has kept Elephants Without Borders (EWB) busy the last few months in the field. With the support of Botswana’s Department of Wildlife & National Parks and the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, we finally completed flying a mammoth aerial survey, counting elephants and wildlife species throughout northern Botswana. Piloted by Mike Holding, our 4-member survey team flew the  last 3 months, approximately. 250 hours, in a small, single-engine plane to complete the survey. The distance we covered was about 43,000 kilometers (26, 720 miles), flying along straight transect lines over Botswana’s varied terrain. That amount of flying is longer than the circumference of the Earth at the equator!

The study area essentially encompassed the entire elephant range in northern Botswana of approximately 115,800 square kilometers (44,710 square miles). Over high density wildlife areas, such the Okavango Delta, the sampling coverage was about 22 percent, the highest survey coverage ever flown over a vast area of northern Botswana, making this Botswana’s first aerial survey conducted with such a high sampling intensity. This is important, because the higher the sampling coverage, the more precise the population estimates. (Learn more about aerial surveys.)

An aerial view of zebras in Makgadikgadi.

Wildlife species we counted included large and small herbivores; predators were also noted when seen. Other observations included types of elephant herds (bull or family groups), elephant carcasses, elephant bones, and, if possible, whether tusks were intact or missing. We also recorded observations of selected large birds and nesting sites. Due to the growing concern on what possible impacts elephants are having on large trees in Botswana, and considering baobabs are an iconic tree in the country, we also counted baobab trees and took note of their size and possible damage they may have sustained. We made additional notes on environmental conditions, such as the extent of bush fires and the structural integrity of Botswana’s veterinary fence lines and whether livestock or wildlife had crossed them.

The information on elephant and wildlife numbers, distribution, movements, and demographic characteristics from this study will be incorporated into population models to better understand a variety of research and management questions relating to wildlife ecology and conservation management in Botswana.

This map shows the transects flown for EWB's survey. Click on all images to view in larger format.

We plan to publicize the results of this important aerial survey at an official launch of the report in early January. In addition, we plan to give several presentations on the project results to key stakeholders. The primary objectives of these presentations and meetings will be to share information obtained from this study and from the on-going research activities of EWB, identify priority areas for wildlife corridors, and develop strategies for promoting wildlife conservation in the region. We hope that the results of this collaborative survey with the Department of Wildlife & National Parks will have fundamental conservation management implications for land-use planning and conservation efforts in Botswana.

Kelly Landen is the director/program manager for Elephants Without Borders.

Watch the San Diego Zoo Safari Park’s African elephant herd daily on Elephant Cam.

91

Elephant Encounters of the Cute Kind

Our newest elephant greets the world.

I expected Monday, December 27, to be a relatively slow day, a day to catch up on some work items. But all that changed quickly when a note was passed to me saying “Call the Park. A baby elephant was born.” I hopped in a van with our videographer, Shea Johnson, and off we went to see the calf, a boy and the fourth African elephant born at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park this year.

When we arrived at the elephant exhibit, there was already a crowd of people surrounding the upper yard were Mom Litsemba, baby, and older brother Impunga were. The baby’s ears were flapping, his trunk was moving up and down and all around, and Mom was always right there with him. His feet weren’t moving in perfect harmony yet, but he was pretty stable. I was impressed, seeing as he was walking just hours after birth.

Mother Litsemba keeps Baby close.

Baby elephants, in my experience, are well-proportioned creatures. Unlike puppies or kittens, they don’t seem to have the tell-tale signs of overly large feet or ears that give you a clue as to how big they’re going to become. They’re just a true miniature version of their parents. This baby managed the slope of the yard just fine. He even found a small, shallow puddle to check out, but when Mom saw that, she quickly moved him away from the water with her trunk and began sucking up and blowing out the water in what seemed like an attempt at drying the puddle.

As we stood there taking video and photos, the baby started to fall asleep standing up. Then, the drowsy boy started to slump down—front legs first, then his back end—and he eventually just flopped on his side and continued to rest. But he wasn’t down for long—a couple of minutes—before all the motion from his mother and brother had him back up and following their lead.

Time for a rest! (Click on images to view in larger format.)

Keepers are tracking the times and duration of his nursing; he doesn’t nurse for very long—usually less than a minute—but nurses frequently. You can tell when he’s nursing when one of his front legs leaves the ground. They nurse on three legs; I’m not sure why, but I do know that it is darn cute.

The baby stumbled a bit, but other than going down for a quick nap, he was up and around for the hour I was visiting. He won’t have a name for a while, so keepers will just call him “Baby” or “Semba’s baby.” This is the fourth elephant baby we’ve had born this year, a record for us. The other calves born in 2010 are Lutsandvo, on February 14, Macembe, April 12, and Emanti, May 12. There are now a total of 17 African elephants at the Park: 8 adults and 9 calves.

You can expect to see Baby out with the herd in the main yard, unless there is rain, when he and his mother will be in the upper yard with quick access to the warm, dry barn. They will also be in the upper yard at night for observations for the next five weeks.

Jenny Mehlow is a public relations representative for the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Pandas and Their Toys.

Watch the Park’s elephants daily on Elephant Cam.