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Zoo Journal

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Elephants: They’re Here

On Saturday, April 25, the elephant staff at the San Diego Zoo received four large gifts for Elephant Odyssey from the elephant staff at the Wild Animal Park. The four Asian elephants, Ranchipur, Cookie, Mary, and Cha Cha, arrived at their new home around 3:30 in the afternoon. By 6 p.m. they were all unloaded and checking out their new home.

Everyone, including the elephants, did an outstanding job of loading, transporting, and unloading. All four elephants made the trip with no problems, except maybe being a bit tired from the day’s activities. With an escort of about 25 California Highway Patrol officers, keepers, vet staff, and support staff, the trip from Escondido was flawless.

When the elephants arrived at the Zoo, we had a crane, forklifts, and staff ready to unload the elephants as quickly as possible. It was decided that Cha Cha would be first. After unloading her crate from the truck and putting it into position, the door was opened. Her keepers from the Wild Animal Park were there to encourage her to come out. It took awhile for her to build up the confidence to leave her crate, which she did several times only to go back in when she got a bit uncertain. What finally did the trick was when her keeper, Brian, dropped his hat into the chute area and she picked it up to hand it back. This behavior was one that the two of them had been doing for awhile. Cha Cha came right out and handed the hat back to Brian, and our first elephant was welcomed to her new exhibit!

Next was Ranchipur. He was unloaded the same way as Cha Cha. He, too, was a bit nervous, but his keepers kept him calm with their reassurances. Then it was decided to let him see his girlfriend, Cha Cha, and he came right out. Guess he figured if it was good enough for her…. So we were two down and two to go!

Cookie was the next elephant to be unloaded. Like the other two, her crate was placed in position, door opened, and she came right out when her keepers called. The fun thing with her was that she had to follow a different path into the Elephant Care Center. There were several doors and transfer areas to pass through, which she did without hesitation and went right to her keepers. Just one more to go!

As we did with the others, Mary’s crate was position and secured, the door opened and basically before we could react, Mary was in the stall with Cookie. There were some chirps from Cookie and spontaneous applause from everyone who was there to witness this monumental event.

I was lucky enough to be chosen, along with my fellow elephant keeper Scott, to be there until midnight to make sure everyone was settling in to their new environment. The elephants’ keepers set all four of them up for the night and said their good byes. It had been a long day for everyone, and it could not have gone better. Five of the keepers from the Wild Animal Park are going to stay and work at Elephant Odyssey, which will make the transition all the more easier. I can say it was a pleasure to see elephants roaming the new facility at night, and all of them were comfortable. I could tell, because all were pigging out on the fresh browse and hay that had been given to them!

Now it is our turn to duplicate the wonderful job that the Park’s elephant keepers have done. Hopefully in the next couple of weeks we will be following the same path and getting the Zoo’s elephants loaded up and moved to Elephant Odyssey. The trip will just not be as far, and we won’t need the Highway Patrol as escorts!

Ron Ringer is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.

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Packing and Unpacking Pachyderms

We’ve all been waiting for it: the elephants have been in training; keepers and trainers have been working long-long hours; construction workers have been, well, constructing. And as of Saturday, it was done!

That’s right, on Saturday I was able to watch as the historic event of four magnificent Asian elephants (Ranchipur, Cha Cha, Mary, and Cookie) moved from the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park to the Zoo’s new Elephant Odyssey exhibit. Once they were all in, the trumpeting and rumbling began as everyone (humans included) celebrated the first group of animals to call Elephant Odyssey home.

Thanks to a dedicated team that includes (but far from limited to) trainers, keepers, veterinary staff, curators, operations staff, security, an amazing team of crane operators, and truck drivers and an escort provided by our local law enforcement, the move went very smoothly.

First thing in the morning the elephants went through their morning training sessions at the Wild Animal Park, which include walking into the elephant-sized crates like they do every morning. This time was a little different, of course, because they were asked to stay in the crates and then loaded onto the flatbed trucks that were going to take them 35 miles south to the San Diego Zoo. Everyone did quite well, and thanks to a very dedicated and experienced staff, every detail was well thought out well before the day even started.

Upon arrival to the San Diego Zoo’s Elephant Odyssey, the crew went to work immediately to unload the crates and let the elephants get acquainted with their new home. Cha Cha and Ranchipur were first, followed by Mary and Cookie. The elephants occasionally trumpeted and rumbled their approval as they enjoyed their dinner of hay, tree branches, yams, apples, and carrots. The staff, though not able to break for dinner yet, congratulated each other as they watched the very first residents of Elephant Odyssey settle in.

It wasn’t until the sun was setting that the first wave of us started to make our way home. (Of course, the overnight staff had already been there a while and was just getting started with their shift.) As I walked through the Zoo, empty of guests due to the late hour, it dawned on me the historic significance of the day: First, the largest exhibit in the San Diego Zoo’s history is one (large) step closer to opening. Second, we have also witnessed what can be accomplished with the dedication and planning of an amazing staff and the support of our members and community.

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