Introducing Elephants

Ranchipur and Cha Cha

Ranchipur and Cha Cha

It goes without saying that life at Elephant Odyssey is evolving at a rapid pace! With the addition of Tina and Jewel to our family (see post, New Elephants: Jewel and Tina), our staff is working ‘round the clock to make sure everyone gets the care they need. In the meantime, I know a lot of you are wondering about how the introductions between the four elephants that moved to the San Diego Zoo from the Wild Animal Park and the three that were already here at the Zoo are progressing (see Settling In at Elephant Odyssey), and I can tell you that they are, indeed, moving right along.

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.


Looking for Elephant Odyssey Fun?

Can’t wait until May 23 for the grand opening? Want some Elephant Odyssey fun in your own home or office?

Hard to believe, but the Web team at the San Diego Zoo has outdone themselves yet again. Elephant Odyssey.com has an interactive map, videos, and information on the animals of the Pleistocene and the animals of today! Heck, there’s even a page where you can read up on the individual elephants that will live there.

Still not enough for you? Well, now there’s a fun computer game, too: Elephant Odyssey: The Game! It just launched this week and is already causing people to lose track of time (due to playing it and having fun) as they wander back in time through the Pleistocene epoch.

I have to admit, when I first started playing it I thought it looked rather basic in design. But then nearly an hour later (honestly, it only felt like 10 minutes), I couldn’t wait to see the next challenge and the next level.

I don’t want to give away too much, but I will offer you some things to remember while you play (these are things I found out the hard way). First, remember that your elephant needs to eat! At first I was too interested in the next animal encounter to pay attention to my “energy.” Bad idea, you have to eat to keep playing! Next hint: be careful of things that might fall on you or things that might fall away from under your feet. Also, saber-toothed cats are predators; they don’t use their mouth to talk to you like the other creatures, if you know what I mean. I could go on, but don’t want to give it all away.

Most important, this game falls into the age group “kids of all ages,” like most things at the Zoo. That means adults, too! There’s no doubt I’ll be playing this at home with the family. Might even have a little Elephant Odyssey: The Game throw-down-challenge to see who will reign supreme champion at the Elephant Odyssey Ambassador’s residence!

Rick Schwartz is the San Diego Zoo’s Elephant Odyssey Ambassador.


Seriously, This Is What I Do

As I was heading home from work the other day, it occurred to me that my average day is anything but average. Maybe that’s why I love this job so much! (Read Rick’s previous blog, Where’s that Elephant Odyssey Ambassador?)

During a meeting today at the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park, I walked in elephant footprints as I traversed the Asian elephant exhibit. Navigating the terrain, mud and grass weren’t the only natural obstacles, if you know what I mean. There is a certain primordial feel one gets when walking in the footsteps of such magnificent animals.

I have watched the elephants many times from the public observation areas before. However, I really got a better appreciation for how massive these animals are once I was on their level. Not only are the impressions in the soft soil something to admire, but I was also able to get a better idea for just how big their enrichment and log toys really are. Everything is on such a grand scale with elephants; you start to feel a little minuscule and almost insignificant in comparison.

My next meeting for the day was scheduled in Albert’s Restaurant at the San Diego Zoo. How many people can say they walk by flamingos on their way to a meeting? Better yet, how many people get to walk through a beautiful rain forest and past two young gorillas playing tag? For those of you not familiar with Albert’s, it is just past the Gorilla Tropics habitat, nestled in a very green and lush landscaped area. It is truly a perfect little get away of a restaurant that just so happens to be in the middle of the San Diego Zoo! (When you go there, be sure to read how Albert’s got its name.)

As I finished my day, I stopped by the Zoo’s elephant exhibit (pictured above) to watch Devi, Tembo, and Sumithi play with their enrichment items. I consider it another meeting with coworkers! Honestly, I can say this is an important part of my job, checking up on how the animals and keepers are doing. I also took a moment to stop by the anteater exhibit to see if I could catch a glimpse of the baby riding around on mom’s back. If you haven’t seen this, you really ought to head over there to check it out.

All in all, it was a very productive day as I set up future talks and presentations about Elephant Odyssey and stopped to look in on some of the animals. I think the next presentation will be Saturday evening for the Spring Member Appreciation Dinner (at Albert’s, of course!), so if you are there, please be sure you say “Hello.”

Rick Schwartz is the San Diego Zoo’s Elephant Odyssey Ambassador.


What Is an Elephant Odyssey Ambassador?

Good question, and pretty easy for me to answer because that’s me, Rick Schwartz! I have been a keeper at the San Diego Zoo for over eight years, working with a wide variety of animals and people. Recently I was given the opportunity to shift my focus from keeper work to ambassador work for the Zoo. As Elephant Odyssey’s ambassador, I get to travel around San Diego and the country as a representative of the Zoo. My job is to share with everyone anything and everything that is Elephant Odyssey.

That said, I need to tell you that this year the San Diego Zoo is going to open the largest exhibit area in its history: Elephant Odyssey. No pun intended, but this area is huge, and the animal care sections are going to be like nothing else out there! Of course, the Zoo is known for the exceptional care it provides to all of its animals, and Elephant Odyssey will set the bar even higher. As for guests visiting Elephant Odyssey, you will be immersed in a bioclimatic zone that will bring you into the environment AND take you back in time, too. Okay, okay, maybe I’m getting ahead of myself here. It’s all so exciting and there’s so much to share, I just can’t wait to tell everyone!

You’re probably thinking, “Do we need an ambassador? Everyone already knows about the San Diego Zoo.” As true as that may be, there are a lot of interesting facts that people may not know. For instance, did you know that elephants under our care range in age from 1 to 54 years old? Our youngest African elephant at the Wild Animal Park, Kamile, is a vibrant 1 year old and our oldest Asian elephant, Cookie, is a mature 54 years old. Did you know that the Zoo’s conservation efforts span the globe? We are conducting habitat studies in Africa, releasing California condors to the wild in North America, studying koalas in Australia, and so much more! Check out our Web’s new conservation section.

There is so much information to share with everyone about the Zoo, Wild Animal Park, and San Diego Zoo Conservation Research! Honestly, my enthusiasm for getting out there and talking to people tends to get the better of me.

Let’s face it: I’ve got a big job to do, one of elephantine proportions! The Zoo has a lot going on all the time, and this year will be more eventful than ever. Between the opening of Elephant Odyssey and the many conservation projects we’ll be highlighting, I am going to be a very busy ambassador, working hard to get the word out to everyone.

For now, as I trade out my zookeeper tools for a laptop computer, I ask that you keep checking our Web site. You’ll find new blogs popping up here and there and new videos coming online; a whole page dedicated to Elephant Odyssey should be debuting this spring.

Rick Schwartz is Elephant Odyssey ambassador for the San Diego Zoo.