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Elephant Introductions Continue

Tina and Jewel

Today we took a step closer to acclimating elephants Tina and Jewel into the Elephant Odyssey family at the San Diego Zoo: Jewel was introduced into Yard 3 of Elephant Odyssey with Sumithi and Cha Cha (see post Elephants Cha Cha and Tembo).

The Zoo’s elephant care staff discussed over time what we felt would be the easiest and best way to introduce all of our elephants (we currently have nine). We first started off introducing Sumithi and Devi (original Zoo residents) with Cha Cha and Cookie (elephants that formerly lived at the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park). Then we progressed to adding Tembo (Zoo) into the mix. There were some exciting times with lots of interactions and some pushing and shoving, but we learned a lot. For the last several weeks we have continued the introductions with Sumithi, Devi, and Cha Cha actually spending the nights together and doing very well. During the days we include Tembo; as time has gone by, this new grouping has gotten better. Cha Cha is very concerned about Tembo, but luckily she feels safe when she is with Sumithi. There have been some altercations, but nothing that would cause us to alter our plans.

All of those meet and greets have brought us to the next phase, which is to introduce Tina and Jewel (elephants brought to us by the U.S.D.A.) to the group (see Elephants Tina and Jewel: Out and About). It was decided that Jewel would be the next to have a play date. Because of her demeanor and how we have seen her interact with the others through the fences, it was decided she should meet Sumithi and Cha Cha first. I am happy to say that it went very well!

Sumithi and Cha Cha went into the yard first, and then Jewel was given access to the same yard. Right away, Jewel approached Sumithi, walked right next to her, and joined her in eating out of the hay mangers in the “utilitrees” (artificial structures where keepers place food). Cha Cha was a bit more cautious, but did finally come over to say hello. The three elephants spent most of the morning eating and moving around the yard, and several of those travels put all three in the same area. We saw no touching, but they were all very calm, which is exactly what we wanted. We will continue these introductions for another day or two, and then we will let Tina into the mix, followed soon by Devi and, hopefully, Tembo.

Elephant introductions are not an exact science; in fact, there have been very few zoos that have had the opportunity to do what we are attempting. By observing the elephants’ interactions with each other, we have been able to put a plan into place with the goal of getting all of the elephants at the Zoo together at some point. But when it comes to dealing with highly intelligent animals like elephants, we sometimes have to make changes on a daily basis. So stay tuned and visit often for the latest updates!
Here’s a video of the girls together.
Ron Ringer is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read Ron’s previous post, Introducing Elephants.