elephant Ranchipur


Elephant Ranchipur: Healing Nicely

Ranchipur enjoys a cleansing spray of water.

For those of you who have visited the San Diego Zoo lately and not seen our magnificent male Asian elephant, Ranchipur…well, he had to go into our Special Needs Facility for a surgical procedure on his left front shoulder. In February 2011, we noticed a lump there, which we began treating and monitoring. About two months later, when the lump opened up on its own, and we knew it was an abscess, we began doing hydrotherapy and flushing it daily with a diluted disinfectant solution. Many of you probably saw us treating his shoulder in the Elephant Care Center stall area, since we always did it right there in front of our guests. We were not sure what had initially caused the abscess; we just wanted it to heal, even though Ranchipur was always very compliant during the treatment. After our veterinarians brought in a specialist to look at it, the decision was made to open up the abscess, clean it out, and leave the incision open so it would heal from the inside out.

Our veterinary staff decided we would do a “standing sedation” on him in our Special Needs Facility. This meant that he would go into the chute, be given a sedative, but he would still remain standing so we could access the shoulder. This involved taking him off exhibit for about three weeks while several keepers trained him for the procedure. On September 18, 2012, we brought him into the chute area, gave him a sedative, and started the surgery. There were close to 30 people on hand to assist in the process.

Once Ranchipur was secure and sedated, his shoulder was injected with a local anesthetic, and the surgery began. Everyone on the team had their assignments: one group monitored his breathing and anesthesia, another did an ultrasound image of the shoulder area before it was opened, vet techs worked at getting blood samples while another vet did a full physical exam. Lastly, the surgeons worked on the shoulder. Once they removed what was an encapsulated abscess about the size of a tennis ball and the area was cleaned up, the wound was flushed and left open to heal.

We do this because an elephant’s skin does not take well to being stitched up, and in this particular area on his body there is a lot of movement, so it would be difficult to keep it closed with sutures. We did give him a few sutures inside the wound at the very top, but the major portion of the incision was left open. This gives us the opportunity to flush it out daily with a hose and antiseptic solution. The surgery went great, Ranchipur recovered nicely, and he is now back on exhibit in his yard next to the dromedary camels and pronghorn in Elephant Odyssey.

When you visit, you may see that his shoulder still has an open wound. It may take several months for the wound to totally heal. We will continue to treat and take care of his shoulder until the day it completely heals. If you have any questions, make sure you ask one of us keepers who work in Elephant Odyssey.

Ron Ringer is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read his previous post, Zoo Elephants: Ranchipur.


Elephants Cha Cha and Tembo

Asian elephant Cha Cha

With the new year, there is a whole lot going on around the San Diego Zoo’s Elephant Odyssey (see previous post, Elephants Tina and Jewel: Out and About). We are continuing to introduce the elephants from the Wild Animal Park to those at the Zoo.

After two months of allowing Cha Cha, an elephant from the Wild Animal Park, to bond with Sumithi and Devi, we have introduced Tembo into the group. (Tembo has lived with Sumithi and Devi at the Zoo for many years.) We wanted Sumithi and Cha Cha to bond, as Sumithi is the dominant female, and we wanted her to protect Cha Cha, if necessary. I use the word “protect,” because Tembo is much larger and faster than Cha Cha, and we had noticed that Cha Cha was a bit scared of Tembo during fence-line introductions. A fence-line introduction is when elephants are in adjacent yards but don’t share the same space. They can choose to step close enough to touch or not. I would also like to add that Tembo is a nice elephant with a mild personality; Cha Cha just needs to settle down and realize that Tembo means her no harm.

All four elephants have now been together for several hours every day for the last two weeks, and it is going really well. Whenever Cha Cha is uncomfortable with where Tembo is standing, she moves to Sumithi. If Cha Cha vocalizes a concern, Sumithi goes over to check on her, just as we had hoped. This will continue until Cha Cha completely settles in to the idea of having Tembo around. Eventually, and it could take weeks, we will keep them together overnight, with keepers observing them for the first few nights.

For those of you who read my last blog post, I told the story of Ranchipur getting scared by Tina and Jewel. Since then, he regressed in his training and refused to come in to the stalls or staging area. We keepers sat down and worked out a strategy to get him over his fear. The first thing we did was put Cha Cha, his girlfriend and longtime companion, in with him. This helped calm him and got him to enter the staging area, where he was reinforced with all his favorite foods. We then put Rachipur and Cha Cha in Yard Two for the night, adjacent to Tina and Jewel on one side and Tembo, Devi, and Sumithi on the other. While he is not completely cured of his fear, this seemed to do the trick. The keepers came in the next morning to find him cuddled up on the fence line with Tina and Jewel. This is very promising for future introductions. As I mentioned before, I was hopeful he would realize these ladies were cute and fun to hang out with!

Stay tuned for future exploits….

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