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Elephants

45

Elephant Qinisa Turns 2

Swazi encourages Qinisa to explore her birthday cake.

Swazi encourages Qinisa to explore her birthday cake.

There was a lot of anticipation before little Qinisa’s second birthday on August 28. The keepers had prepared a five-layer cake made of ice infused with an alfalfa pellet and soaked beet-pulp mixture. What a treat for an elephant girl on a hot day!

Oooh! It's nice and cool!

Oooh! It’s nice and cool!

The cake was set up in the San Diego Zoo Safari Park’s Tembo Stadium during the 1:30 Keeper Talk, so that Park guests could celebrate with her. Qinisa’s mother, Swazi, was brought into the arena with her. At first, they didn’t seem to notice the cake because they were concentrating on their keepers, who had them run through some husbandry behaviors. When Qinisa had finished her training session, everyone in the audience loudly sang “Happy Birthday.”

Ice cakes are tasty!

Ice cakes are tasty!

Qinisa then explored the arena and investigated her birthday cake. She wasn’t sure what to make of the cake, so she waited until her mom joined her and knocked it over. Satisfied that it was okay, Qinisa then took her time eating little bits of her cake.

The keepers eventually moved all of the elephants back into the main yard and shared the rest of Qinisa’s birthday cake with the herd. What a fun day for everyone!

Laura Price is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read her previous post, Elephants: Eat Your Vegetables!

99

World Elephant Day

Christine Browne-Nuñez admires elephants in Amboseli National Park, Kenya.

Christine Browne-Nunez admires elephants in Amboseli National Park, Kenya. Photo credit: Richard Nuñez

World Elephant Day, launched on August 12, 2012, is now an annual event intended to celebrate this beautiful and majestic mammal and to bring attention to the plight of Asian and African elephants and the numerous threats they face. Sadly, elephant tusks are one of the major reasons elephants are threatened. Elephant tusks are made into ivory carvings, jewelry, chopsticks, and other such trinkets. Some people in the world believe that elephant tusks fall out, like baby teeth in humans, and, to collect the ivory, all one needs to do is gather those fallen tusks off the ground. The truth, however, is that tusks are permanent and grow throughout an elephant’s lifetime. In order to get the ivory, the elephant is illegally killed. Because of the high demand for ivory, elephants are currently being killed at an alarming rate. According to the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, more than 35,000 elephants were poached in Africa last year.

My work with elephants began in 1995 as a manager of a volunteer conservation education program at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT) Elephant Orphanage in Nairobi, Kenya, where local and international visitors came to see baby elephants and learn about elephant ecology and conservation. It was at the Trust that I witnessed firsthand the devastation caused by poaching, as many of the traumatized orphaned elephants had lost their mothers to the ivory trade. The good news is, individuals, organizations, such as DSWT, and governments around the world are working hard to bring an end to poaching by educating people about the real costs of ivory and by enforcing national and international laws that make it illegal to collect, sell, or buy ivory.

Many values are associated with elephants, which is, in part, why conserving elephants is a complex task. From an ecological perspective, the elephant has important roles in the environment. It is sometimes called an ecosystem engineer, with complex effects on its habitat and species diversity. It modifies its environment through activities such as seed dispersal, tree felling, bark stripping, and the creation of waterholes. From a social perspective, the many elephant lovers around the world appreciate that elephants are intelligent, social animals that communicate with others near and far, maintain strong family bonds throughout their lives, and have life stages parallel to those of humans. Additionally, many elephant behaviors, such as those demonstrated in greeting ceremonies or when standing over and covering a dead body or bones, are interpreted as displays of emotion. Elephants also have economic value at the local and national level by attracting tourists for consumptive and non-consumptive use.

An elephant gives itself a dust bath in Amboseli. Photo credit: Richard Nunez.

An elephant gives itself a dust bath in Amboseli. Photo credit: Richard Nuñez

Whereas the elephant is admired by many people around the world, not all people view elephants positively. About 70 percent of the elephant’s range lies outside protected areas on lands often occupied by people, highlighting the importance of maintaining private lands as viable elephant habitat. Therefore, conservation efforts aimed at protecting the elephant and securing habitat for its long-term survival need to be based on both ecological and human-dimensions information.

People and elephants have coexisted for millennia with varying levels and types of interaction, but negative interactions known as human-elephant conflict (HEC) are perceived to be on the rise in some places. Human-elephant conflict can come in many forms and result in property damage and injury and death of both people and elephants. Crop depredation, the most common form of HEC, is a critical issue in elephant conservation, especially as more land is converted to agriculture. In pastoral areas such as Maasailand, where I conducted research, coexistence is threatened as a result of the evolving socio-economic landscape.

The Maasai people living around Amboseli National Park, Kenya, located at the foot of the majestic Mt. Kilimanjaro, are traditionally semi-nomadic livestock herders. This livelihood practice facilitated their coexistence with wildlife, including elephants, in the Amboseli ecosystem for hundreds of years, but changes brought about by government policy, conservation policy, and immigration of peoples from other cultures has had a significant and on-going impact on their way of life. With more land under the plow and increasing competition for resources resulting from population growth, the level of conflict was on the rise.

A Maasai elder is interviewed. Photo credit: Richard Nuñez

A Maasai elder is interviewed. Photo credit: Richard Nuñez

My research found the Maasai were divided in their willingness to tolerate elephants on their lands. At the core of this division were perceptions about costs, resulting from HEC, versus benefits, namely tourist revenue. Conservationists working in this and other ecosystems are continually working to find solutions to HEC in order to secure long-term habitat for elephants. In Amboseli, such solutions include electric fencing around agricultural areas, compensation payments for loss of human life, consolation payments for livestock killed by elephants on private lands, and ecotourism schemes. My research found only a minority of local Maasai were aware of, or fully understood, these interventions, but of those, attitudes tended to be more positive. Conservation education and communication programs, such as those developed by our Conservation Education Division at San Diego Zoo Global, can increase awareness of these types of conservation activities and provide knowledge and skills to empower local people in managing and conserving wildlife.

It is evident that people have and will continue to determine the fate of the elephant. African savanna elephants will become extinct by 2020 if the threats to elephants are not adequately addressed. A vital component of conservation is understanding and influencing human actions. Ongoing ecological and social science research is needed in the varied settings in which people and elephants coexist in order to provide information for developing, monitoring, and adapting methods for protecting both species. Developing community-based conservation programs that include conservation education and communication is one of the many things we do here at the Conservation Education Division at San Diego Zoo Global.

Support the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy in its efforts to conserve elephants and elephant habitat. With your help, we can bring elephants back from the brink of extinction!

Christine Browne-Nuñez, Ph.D., is a conservation program manager for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research.

116

Pumpkin Fun for Elephants

Emanti prepares to dunk his pumpkin.

Emanti prepares to dunk his pumpkin.

As the days grow shorter, the nights grow longer, it is finally harvest time! Pumpkins are carved out and are available for elephant enrichment. The keepers decided to give the elephants a pumpkin party in the afternoon yesterday, October 30, 2013. Pumpkins were placed in the East Yard; some are empty but others are stuffed with alfalfa pellets. Also, there were frozen juice pops and alfalfa flakes hidden everywhere!

How about a pumpkin toss, Kami?

How about a pumpkin toss, Kami?

Umngani found her pumpkins right away with Inhlonipho following close behind her. Msholo loves pumpkins, so he smashed and ate his pretty quickly. A couple of them rolled into the pool, and he went right in to eat them in the water. Emanti kicked one around, but he was only interested in the pellets inside.

Little Qinisa was running around trying to keep track of everybody, but in the end, she ran down to join her mom, Swazi, in eating a pumpkin that had rolled down near the pool. The other members of the herd went off on their separate ways to find frozen pops and alfalfa. In the end, all had their fair share of fun, including us keepers!

Laura Price is a keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read her previous post, 7th Birthday for Khosi.

115

Update on Elephant Vusmusi

Vusmusi takes a stroll.

Vusmusi takes a stroll.

As I mentioned in my previous post, Elephant Msholo: Day & Night, our oldest calf, Vusmusi, loves to play fight through the cables/chains/gates/barriers. He’ll even antagonize Swazi as well as his own mother, Ndula, when there’s a single barrier between them.

Because nine-year-old “Moose” pesters Umngani and her clan whenever he has his mother in the same yard with him, we like to give Umngani and her kids a break from the both of them as much as possible. Whenever it’s just one of them (Moose or Ndlula), and we have Swazi and her clan in with Umngani, things remain rather peaceful along the social front. When Moose or Ndlula are separated from each other, and thus they can’t tag team Umngani, they don’t seem to be willing to be as aggressive.

For those who think that it’s unfair to Umngani that Moose has to be such a brat, you forget that for eight years, Moose had to be subdominant to Umngani. Now the tables are turning, although it’s mostly when Moose has his mom with him in the same yard.

There are, of course, lots of times when these same elephants eat calmly side by side or play in the pool here at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, or they’ll simply ignore each other and not have to “flex” their dominance. Often, there is more tranquility in the herd when they know we’ve left for the day, because then there isn’t competition for training sessions or other reinforcement opportunities. Watch the action daily on Elephant Cam!

Curtis Lehman is an animal care manager at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

43

Keeping Cool, Elephant Style

An elephant calf dabs mud on its side.

Update: Macembe enjoys the mud bog.

The San Diego Zoo Safari Park’s African elephants are very creative in the summer as they beat the heat. There are pools in both yards that the elephants swim in often. Swazi usually has a small parade of calves following her wherever she goes, usually Macembe, Qinisa, Kami or Khosi, and Emanti. It is fun to watch little Qinisa try to keep up with the bigger calves.

One day, Swazi and the calves were in the pool having fun and Qinisa was on the edge of the pool with Kami. Qinisa called out, and Swazi turned around and accompanied Qinisa into the pool to play with the other calves—it seemed that she wanted her mom to take her into the pool, too!

This calf seems to be waiting for the pool party to begin!

Update: Neepo seems to be waiting for the pool party to begin!

The mud bogs are a favorite with our elephants, as they provide a natural sunscreen and help cool them down on warm days. Sometimes, the elephants take turns using the mud bogs, but a lot of the time there is a big pile of calves on top of each other playing King of the Mountain in the mud. It seems that a muddy elephant is a happy one. We have lots of muddy elephants at the Safari Park!

Watch the fun daily on Elephant Cam,.

Laura Price is keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read her previous post,
Elephant Calves Update
.

118

Elephants Mabu and Family

Here's Mabu enjoying some beet pulp.

Here’s Mabu enjoying some beet pulp at his home in Tucson.

I just got back from spending four days in Tucson with the Reid Park Zoo staff and our five African elephants who moved there from the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in 2012: Mabu, Lungile, Samba, Punga, and Tsundzu (see Elephant Moves). The elephants looked great and seemed to be well adjusted to Tucson’s weather. It was around 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius)—a dry heat—all four days, and the elephants enjoyed quite a bit of pool time and mudding up at the mud bogs.

Mabu thinks about going in the pool while Lungile dusts off.

Mabu thinks about going in the pool while Lungile dusts off.

Mabu’s weight is right at 11,000 pounds (4,990 kilograms), and I enjoyed spending my moments with him while I was out there (he’s my favorite). Mabu also plays very nicely with the two boys when they decide to go in for a dip. Lungile, on the other hand, usually has to wait for an opportune time to play in the pool with the boys, such as when Samba and Mabu are preoccupied with something else, and Samba is far away.

You can watch the herd from the Reid Park Zoo’s Elephant Cam until 1:30 p.m. Then they usually have access to the barns, and they enjoy beating the heat by hanging out inside where it feels like it’s air conditioned compared to the temperatures outside. The calves looked much bigger since I last saw them, and Lungile still looks the same size. Punga has replaced Musi as Lungile’s sparring partner, and Samba still hasn’t figured out how to cross the stream that feeds the pool without getting her feet wet.

We send our staff to visit with the Reid Park Zoo staff and the elephants about every three months. It’s a nice opportunity to say hello and to see how our pachyderm friends are doing.

Mabu and Punga find a great way to cool off.

Mabu and Punga find a great way to cool off.

Would you believe I wrote this blog almost two months ago? That will give you an idea of how busy the Safari Park’s Elephant Team has been! We’ve been doing our best trying to run a day around all of the construction going on for the Park’s newest habitat, Tiger Trails.
Perhaps it would be best to give our readers some “mini” updates instead of trying to catch up on all 13 of our herd members all at once. We’ll give it a shot!

Curtis Lehman is an animal care manager at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read his previous post, Elephant Names.

79

Elephant Treat Time

An elephant play session.

An elephant play session.

One of our Elephant Cam viewers, Erin, mentioned that one of the best times to watch is when we keepers walk along the edge of the main yard with our buckets full of tasty pellets—elephant chow, as it were. Erin wondered if the elephants rumble or trumpet during this time?

This is a very exciting time for the elephants and for their keepers, and it is a true example of the relationship we have with them and just how well they work with their keepers. It’s a lot of work to move 13 elephants around more than 6 acres, 4 barns, 4 holding yards, and 2 big yards, so it’s a good thing they like us!

For the most part, the elephants are usually pretty quiet during moves. However, there is some noise if the youngsters get separated from their mothers; Mom usually stays with the keeper and just rumbles back to her calf to let him or her know where she is. There may be some trumpets or rumbles if a dominant elephant comes up behind a subdominant one and startles them.

I’m glad you all enjoy watching the excitement on Elephant Cam!

Mindy Albright is a lead keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read her previous post, Elephant Calf Learns the Ropes.

97

Elephant Vus’Musi

Here’s Musi as a two year old.

While we here at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park wait for Swazi’s second calf to arrive, let’s focus on Vus’musi (Musi). He is 8½ years old now and is a growing subadult, weighing around 5,600 pounds (2,540 kilograms). With his #1 play pal, Lungile, now over at the Reid Park Zoo in Arizona, Musi spends most of his playtime with adult male Msholo. Lately, Musi’s been trying to usurp adult female Umngani’s ranking over him, and when he’s with his mom, Ndlula, he pretty much has the upper hand. When his mom is separated out, he cautiously tests his hierarchy status without her. Remember, these are wild animals with normal, wild-animal behavior.

For more than eight years, Umngani has been able to displace Musi at will when he’s been away from his mom; but Musi isn’t little anymore, and he’s just going to get bigger and bigger. Umngani has a history of always backing down when push comes to shove (with Mabu, Ndlula, Msholo, and now Musi somewhat). We know she’s the main protector of her clan (children Khosi, Ingadze, and Neepo), as well as of youngsters Kami and Emanti, so we’d like to see her not lose her rank to Musi, but the inevitability of it all is unfolding before everyone’s eyes.

Managing an ever-changing herd of African elephants is a tough and educating challenge. There are not many institutions that have this many elephants—calves, adult females, and an adult bull—hanging out together every day. We use our ability to separate them into whatever social set up we want to lessen aggression toward each other while still trying to allow our entire herd being together most of the time. We’ve separated Ndlula and her younger son, Luty, out overnight once so far, and it got us the desired effect: Musi wasn’t assertive toward Umngani for a couple of days. These animal-management decisions are well thought out, mostly dependent on what we observe daily with their behavior. It’s still only delaying the inevitable of Musi outranking Umngani someday.

There’s a lot more involved with what we do socially with the elephants, too much to write down here. Just know we also don’t want anything to go as far as an injury, but we are talking elephants here. We pretty much let them work out their own hierarchy, their own breeding, and their own raising of their families. We could always place them in the safest scenarios to have the least chance of any elephant being aggressed upon, but that would mean having every elephant separated in a different yard with just a mom and her youngest calf together. Not much of a herd, right?

Musi’s not at breeding age, but he’s right at the age where he may have been kicked out of the herd if our elephants were in the wild under a true matriarchal society, so I’d like to think he’s at an awkward age where he’s testing everything socially. Think teenager. Eventually, we might have to place him with Msholo to start our first bachelor herd, which will be something new for us as well. Just think what fun we’ll have in six years when all the boys will be around Musi’s age now!

Curtis Lehman is an animal care manager at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read his previous post, Elephant Swazi Update: Baby Due?

16

Zoo Elephants: Ranchipur

Ranchipur: Boys will be boys!

The San Diego Zoo’s male Asian elephant, Ranchipur, is a striking individual with a really good temperament. He cooperates with his keepers and allows us to take care of him on a daily basis. Many zoos across the country have males that are much more aggressive and difficult to work with because…they are male elephants!

It is not unusual for male Asian elephants to be in a period of heightened hormonal activity called musth. This is a time in a male’s life where he has lots of testosterone coursing through his body, and it really affects his mood and personality. This period can last from 2 to 12 months.

Ranchipur usually comes into musth around the end of July to the beginning of August. He first arrived at the Zoo’s Elephant Odyssey from our Safari Park in April 2009. He was quick to explore all of our yards and pools. Ranchipur showed signs of his first musth here at the end of July that year, and it lasted for about two months, but he continued to cooperate with the keepers, and we were able to care for him as we do for all of our elephants.

In 2010, for some reason, he did not come into musth. This was too bad, because we were hoping for the weight loss that usually accompanies musth. At one point he actually tipped the scale at almost 12,980 pounds (5,900 kilograms). That is too much to weigh for a 45-year-old elephant who has some hip problems. After his previous musth, he had lost almost 1,500 pounds (680 kilograms).

Since he didn’t come into musth, we had to try something else to get the weight off. He usually spent the nights with one of the females, but he also ate all of her food! We decided to start separating them at night to make sure each ate his or her own diet. Over the next several months Ranchipur did start to lose weight but was still pretty heavy. On July 28, 2011, he started to give off that familiar smell that is associated with musth. Then the tell-tale signs occurred: he started dribbling urine and secreting a foul-smelling substance from the temporal glands on each side of his head. At this point it was all we could do to transfer him between his exhibit and the one next door for cleaning. His appetite decreased to nothing, and he basically stared at the girls all day.

One day we decided to put our African elephant, Tembo, next to him to see his reaction. Usually he is scared of her and runs away. On this day he did turn and run, but then he dashed back. The two of them sparred for awhile, and then Tembo left. Ranchi was no longer afraid of her; in fact, he was quite interested in her. Off and on for the next three months we would put Tembo next to him, and he was right there to see her, but she ignored him. On October 21, we noticed that he was no longer dribbling urine or secreting from his temporal glands. Could his musth be over? To make sure, we put Tembo next to him, and, as before, he turned and ran from her. What happens during musth must stay in musth, because he doesn’t remember a thing!

Ranchipur is slowly coming back into his normal routine, and we were able to get a weight on him. He had lost 490 kilograms from his last weight in June. That is almost 1,000 pounds! He now weighs just a bit over 11,000 pounds (500 kilograms), which is a nice weight for him.

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

240

Elephant Moves

Elephants Connie (in front) and Shaba at their new home at the San Diego Zoo.

Many people have been asking why we conducted such a large-scale, multi-zoo, multi-elephant transfer. It is an appropriate question. This operation has been in planning for several years. It begins with the original rescue of the elephant herd from a scheduled cull in Swaziland back in 2003. Our plan was to prevent the elephants from being killed, to protect the land and help other species by removing the elephants, and to improve the reproductive potential of African elephants in North American zoos. We succeeded in all three.

When the African elephant breeding program at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park started becoming successful, we began to consider how to best manage a growing population. We wanted to maintain female calves with their mothers for life and male calves until adolescence; this is natural in the wild, but not the norm in zoo populations. Typically in the wild, if a herd becomes too numerous it will split down matrilineal lines, and new bulls will sire future offspring. To do the same, we needed to identify a zoo that could be the recipient of roughly half of our herd’s females, their offspring, and the most appropriate bull. This facility needed to have a state-of-the-art facility, well-trained staff, appropriate climate, management program that mirrored the one our elephants were already used to, and be relatively close to San Diego. The Reid Park Zoo in Tucson, Arizona, worked very hard over several years to meet those criteria.

We chose to send to Reid Park a breeding group of elephants to their brand-new elephant facility and receive from them their two elephants, Connie and Shaba, into our Elephant Odyssey facility at the San Diego Zoo, where we specialize in caring for older elephants.
The selection of the best animals to send to the Reid Park Zoo was very difficult, and not just because of the close relationship we have developed with all of them. The decision had to balance various factors: who created the best social group in Tucson and in San Diego, what demographic and genetic factors were most important, and who are the best trained elephants in the herd. In the end, the decision was made to send Mabu, Lungile, Litsemba and her two calves, five-year-old Impunga and one-year-old Tsandzikle (Sundzu). This move was made in the best interest of the individual elephants and for the species as a whole.

Now that the transfer is complete, we hope that more African elephant calves will be born at both facilities combined than would have been born at just the San Diego Zoo Safari Park if the move hadn’t occurred. All of this effort is, of course, simply to ensure the survival of this amazing species.

Jeff Andrews is an associate curator of mammals for San Diego Zoo Global. Read his previous post, How Far Do Elephants Walk in One Day?