elephant introductions


Elephant Odyssey: The Herd

Elephants in the Zoo's Elephant Odyssey enjoy some icy enrichment.

As I write this update, I am amazed that we have been at the new Elephant Odyssey facility at the San Diego Zoo for six months already. Where has the time gone? The elephants have done amazingly well adjusting to the new Elephant Care Center. All seven come into the stalls daily for footwork, baths, and any needed medical procedures. The Elephant Care Center also has two static chutes and an elephant restraint chute. We use these areas just like the stalls, but they give us better access to certain parts of the elephant’s body. Most of the elephants have adjusted to moving in and out of these areas with ease.

We have successfully introduced Cha Cha, originally from the Wild Animal Park, with Devi and Sumithi from the Zoo’s herd (see Introducing Elephants). She spends the nights with them and the days out with her boyfriend, Ranchipur, while Tembo, also from the Zoo’s herd, gets time with Devi and Sumithi during the day. Tembo then spends the evening in an adjacent yard. Our next goal is to try and introduce Tembo with those three, which will free up a yard for our newest arrivals, Tina and Jewel (see Elephants Tina and Jewel: Adventures). However, Tina and Jewel have met all the other girls via fence-line access, and it went great, with just a bit of pushing and testing strength with each other, but that is to be expected. Tina seems to have a friendliness with Sumithi and Tembo that I hope translates over when we eventually put them together. This was a big step for Sumithi, as she had been very hesitant during previous introductions; this time she freely went up to Tina and greeted her.

We are also concentrating on Cookie. She is our oldest elephant at 54 and has had a sore leg for many years. The keepers are getting Cookie comfortable with having an x-ray taken of that leg. Remember: all the training we do with the elephants is voluntary on their part, and she has to stand still for the x-ray. We get her comfortable by breaking the finished product down into smaller steps. Step one: show her the equipment and allow her to smell and touch the equipment. Step two: keepers hold the x-ray plate closer and closer to her leg. Eventually you get the finished product with a calm, participating elephant. Cookie has always had an affinity for certain fruits and vegetables and works well when they are offered. As we get into winter, we always make sure that all the elephants have heat, especially Cookie.

What I enjoy most about the Elephant Care Center is that the public now can watch all the things we have always done. We even have a microphone to give public talks while we work. I hope you get a chance to come by and visit!

Victoria Zahn is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.


Introducing Elephants

Ranchipur and Cha Cha

Ranchipur and Cha Cha

It goes without saying that life at Elephant Odyssey is evolving at a rapid pace! With the addition of Tina and Jewel to our family (see post, New Elephants: Jewel and Tina), our staff is working ‘round the clock to make sure everyone gets the care they need. In the meantime, I know a lot of you are wondering about how the introductions between the four elephants that moved to the San Diego Zoo from the Wild Animal Park and the three that were already here at the Zoo are progressing (see Settling In at Elephant Odyssey), and I can tell you that they are, indeed, moving right along.

As of now, we have successfully introduced Sumithi, Devi, Cha Cha, and Cookie together, and they can be seen most days in yard one until about 10:30 a.m. or longer. Elephant intros can be tedious and do take awhile to accomplish. Cookie and Devi provide most of the activity. Devi is challenging Cookie for dominance, and Cookie, being the wise old girl that she is, isn’t taking the challenge lying down. There are lots of interactions between the two: some rough ones, some fast ones, with Cookie chasing Devi the length of the yard; and some quiet ones where they stand side by side.

Sumithi and Cha Cha have decided to be neutral and are getting along pretty well. Cha Cha really wants to be friends, but the verdict is still out with Sumithi, although she doesn’t mind that Cha Cha is standing near. Devi and Cha Cha are really fun to watch. So many little nuances: Devi standing quietly next to Cha Cha eating, dusting, touching, then Devi swats Cha Cha just for good measure. Cha Cha doesn’t mind, for it is all part of elephant behavior. Each day gets better and more fun to watch them all interact.

We have had Tembo in with the group, and it was pretty chaotic. Tembo was afraid of the others and charged and pushed them around, but did not carry it too far. We had Tembo and Cookie together by themselves today and it went okay. Tembo definitely was the aggressor, but Cookie did not give in, and after about 45 minutes, they were standing side by side.

This is just a brief overview of how the intros have been going. We try them almost every day with some combination of the girls. It will take quite awhile for everyone to get accustomed to each other, but we have all the time in the world and a top-notch facility to allow these wonderful elephants time to work things out on their timetable. For those who have visited and seen elephants separated into other exhibits, it is because Ranchipur is in musth and can be very aggressive toward the other elephants. Cha Cha is his favorite, and she keeps him company. Our goal is to have everyone together and have access to all of the exhibits and let them determine where they want to hang out and with whom. Choices…that’s what it’s all about, and soon, Tina and Jewel will be a part of those choices!

I have been given the task, along with several other keepers in our program, of introducing Tina and Jewel into our facility and our elephant family and they are responding great. Both are great girls and seem to like their new surroundings. Over the next several weeks, we will be working toward improving their health and getting them used to our methods of caring for elephants before we attempt to introduce them to the rest of our group. Stay tuned!

Ron Ringer is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.