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.