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Elephants

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
.

117

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.

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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?

2

Elephants: The Ebb and Flow of Thirsty Giants

One of my favorite places in Botswana is the Savuti Channel, located in the heart of Chobe National Park, not only because of its unpredictable water flow, but because it is an intermittent elephant refuge. I first visited the Savuti when I was eight years old, while on safari with my parents. Back then, the river sparkled, teeming with catfish, huge crocodiles, and pods of territorial hippos. The river provided cool relief for the wildlife, while the Savuti Marsh provided fields of life-giving grasses for ungulates. I was most impressed by the large herds of elephants, buffalo, zebras, and wildebeest blithely making their way through another day, while predators waited patiently, hiding among the thick shrubs along the marsh. We were camping in a safari paradise.

While at boarding school, I read that in 1982 the Savuti Channel was dry! I did not understand then that for the past 170 years, the Savuti River had an erratic, unpredictable flow. Today, the reasons that result from this unpredictable ebb and flow still remain unclear, and scientists have suggested that tectonic rather than hydrological factors may be at the root of this phenomenon. Where would the elephants go during these dry spells? Much of the wildlife moved on to “greener pastures,” and soon the area became a paradise lost. The stark pictures in magazine articles of the secretive works of nature convinced me that I needed to investigate this ancient mystery. I returned in 2001, this time for the meaningful purpose of pursuing my doctorate in elephant ecology.

Family groups of elephants were gone, only visiting the Savuti on their 100-mile treks to the Kwando River on the Namibian border. However, large elephant bulls had made the Savuti their safe haven, seeking refuge at the artificial waterholes the Botswana government had sunk into the parched landscape to provide water for wildlife. The intense smell of fresh, deep water brought up from deep below the Kalahari sand proved to be too tempting for the thirsty giants, which wandered into unsafe territories surrounding Chobe. Savuti became world renowned for its massive, old bulls, which became tolerant of pachyderm fans seeking to see these lords of the African savanna in close proximity.

Finally, in 2008, water unexpectedly began to appear in the Savuti Channel. The following year, there was much excitement and anticipation on how far the water would flow. Many people, including myself, made journeys specifically to see just how far the water would flow. By 2010, the Savuti River was a flowing river, spilling its waters onto the Savuti Marsh after a 28-year dry spell!

Mike attaches a radio collar to track an African elephant's movements.

Fortunately for me, the timing of this flood was perfect, as I had recently secured funds and permission to conduct an aerial survey to count elephants and other large herbivores throughout northern Botswana. I was amazed to see that the Savuti had been rejuvenated. Massive numbers of elephants amassed on the marsh. Buffalo had returned after many years of absence. I realized then that my understanding of elephant ecology had to span longer than my brief five-year doctorate study. Nearly 30 years after my first camping trip in Savuti, I deployed two satellite collars on adult elephant cows and one on a bull to better reveal the movements of elephants in this dynamic environment. I might have to wait another few decades to see where they move to when the Savuti decides to dry up again. But then, at least, one of the secrets of the Savuti’s inhabitants will be revealed.

Michael Chase is the Henderson Endowed Postdoctoral Fellow for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research and the director of Elephants Without Borders.

191

Elephant Aunts Care for Calves

Kami, left, and Emanti

Four-year-old Kami and her 18-month-old brother, Emanti, are interacting with the rest of the African elephant herd at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. The siblings continue to be cared for by the other females, or “aunts,” in the herd following the death of their mother, Umoya, on November 17 (see post Loss to Elephant Family). Keepers report that the two youngsters seem to be fine. Click on the link below to view Kami and Emanti with the herd.

Elephant Calves Update video

Kami has a close relationship with the other female calf in the herd, Khosi, and the two girls like to “babysit” the other elephant calves. It is very common to see Kami and Khosi together or with Umngani, who is Khosi’s mother. Umngani can often be seen surrounded by her own three calves as well as having Kami and Emanti in tow.

The siblings are continuing to grow and gain weight, and Emanti appears to have hit a growth spurt: he has gained 88 pounds in the last four days! Kami and Emanti’s diet consists of three types of hay (Bermuda, Sudan, and alfalfa) and the alfalfa-based “herbivore supplement” pellets with added minerals and vitamins that are fed to the elephants during training sessions. They are also given leafy branches of acacia and ficus to munch on each day.

Emanti and Kami’s growth and close interactions with the herd have demonstrated that, as expected, the herd is taking care of these calves as one of their own.