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.