Author Archive

96 a day, 96 await . . .

by | February 10th, 2014
African elephant distribution map. Numbers have declined 74% since 1979, leaving less than 400,000 elephants left.

African elephant distribution map. Numbers have declined 76% since 1979, leaving less than 400,000 elephants left.

This is the number of African elephants that are currently being killed every day for their tusks. In 1979 there were an estimated 1.3 million African elephants, by 1989 there remained only 600,000. In 1989, an international ban on selling ivory was created which decreased its value and stopped the demand . . . but only temporarily. Many of the countries in Africa have stockpiles of ivory from seizures and pre-1989, and some of those countries were given permission to have one-off sales of those stockpiles to primarily Asian countries, which in change created demand and increased value once again. In the last decade elephant numbers have begun to plummet and now there is an estimated 400,000 or fewer left. That’s a 76% decline in the overall elephant population, and over 3/4‘s of the forest elephants that live in Central Africa. If rates continue at this level elephants may be nearing extinction in ten years.

The tusks or ivory of an elephant is a very desirable material and the only way to obtain the tusks of an elephant is to kill them. Due to a growing middle class in China and the ivory being used as a symbol of “status quo”, the demand for ivory is at an all-time high. The estimated cost per 1 kg (2.2 lbs) is $1800.00 US dollars. If an average female elephant has about 10 kg of ivory, than

The cross section of a tusk. If you look closely, you can see the diamond shaped pattern, also known as the Lines of Retzius, one reason why ivory is so desired.

The cross section of a tusk. If you look closely, you can see the diamond shaped pattern, also known as the Lines of Retzius, one reason why ivory is so desired.

each elephant is worth $18,000.00 dollars, and that’s wholesale. The retail value of 10 kg can be sold for $60,000 dollars! The incentive is paramount. The money that is being generated by wildlife trafficking is a 7-10 billion dollar industry, which ranks fifth globally behind trafficking in drugs, humans, oil, and counterfeiting. Even worse, the trafficking is dominated by well-organized syndicates that operate as transnational criminal networks and often participate in other illegal activities, including trafficking in narcotics and weapons, and some have links with terrorist networks. Visit my blog for more information on the history of the trade (www.oaklandzoo.org/blog/2012/03/14/of-tusks-and-terror-the-truth-about-ivory/).

Stockpiles of ivory tusks and carvings. Photo copyright Julie Larsen Maher WCS.

Stockpiles of ivory tusks and carvings. Photo copyright Julie Larsen Maher WCS.

Shockingly, besides Asian markets, the United States is in the top ten nations to import ivory. Much of this trade is legal under a confusing set of U.S. regulations that perpetuates black market sales of illegal ivory. Simply put, pre-ban ivory or “legacy” ivory is still legal to sell, but once the illegal ivory gets into these countries, the ivory is almost impossible to differentiate. Although permits are required for proof of the ivory being legal, they are easy to manipulate and fake. New York is the number one market, and San Francisco the second biggest market in the U.S. So sad, and so close to home.

Ask yourself this: Can I live in a world with no elephants? Here are some reasons why elephants are so important to this world.

Oakland Zoo elephants demonstrating the social and emotional needs of elephants.

Oakland Zoo elephants demonstrating the social and emotional needs of elephants. Photo by author.

Elephants are a keystone species. Elephants play a very important role in their ecosystem, clearing away brush that therefore creates a clearing for other species, making available food sources for those species available. They also dig for water, creating pools for other animals to drink from. Without them, other species cannot survive.

  • Earth’s constant gardeners. Through their “digested leftovers” elephants are seed dispersers, helping to replenish their habitat, and regrow food sources for other species.
  • Complex beings. Elephants are extremely intelligent, emotional, and complex beings, living in a matriarchal society the females are bonded for life. The matriarch whom has had years of training and information handed down from her mom, plays a critical role in the herds survival. Often the matriarchs are being killed first for their larger tusks, creating broken herds, who are having a much harder time surviving without her. Elephants have self-awareness, and also mourn their dead.

How Oakland Zoo is helping.

Oakland Zoo has always been on the forefront of supporting elephant conservation awareness as well as advocacy for elephants in captivity, promoting natural history and behaviors through proper management. Amboseli Trust for Elephants (www.elephanttrust.org), led by world-renowned researcher Cynthia Moss, have been one of our partners for eighteen years and through our annual Celebrating Elephants Day and Evening Lecture we have been able to raise over 250,000 dollars over the years. This money goes straight to the project, helping support their research as well as protect the elephants in the park.

We are proud to announce a new partnership with the Wildlife Conservation Society through their campaign called 96 Elephants. The “96” campaign is on board

Welcome Oakland Zoo's new partnership with the Wildlife Conservation Society's 96 Elephants Campaign to raise awareness.

Welcome Oakland Zoo’s new partnership with the Wildlife Conservation Society’s 96 Elephants Campaign to raise awareness.

with the Clinton Global Initiative, CGI, who announced their commitment in September of 2013 with a plan, “Partnership to Save Africa’s Elephants” which includes other NGO partners and nation leaders. Along with over 111 partners, many of which are AZA Accredited institutions, “96” plans to stop the killing, stop the trafficking, and stop the demand. Collectively zoos play a powerful role in conservation efforts.  With so many resources at our fingertips as well as a very large audience of visitors it is our job to do what we can to help support organizations that are fighting for the survival of hundreds of threatened species. Through collaborative efforts with world citizens, partners, and change makers, this campaign will focus on: securing effective United States moratorium laws; bolstering elephant protection with additional funding; and educating the public about the link between ivory consumption and the elephant poaching crisis. We are excited to be joining this campaign and look forward to collaborating with such a hard working group of people.

Oakland Zoo will help the 96 Elephants campaign through the following ways:

  • Financial support: Stopping the killing of elephants is critical but cannot be done without more financial support to the rangers that are there to protect them. Boosting this support will help increase numbers of guards, provide them with high tech tools such as drones and live cameras to track poachers,
    Specially trained sniffer dogs accompany rangers to help stop ivory trafficking. Photo copyright Ruth Starkey/WCS.

    Specially trained sniffer dogs accompany rangers to help stop ivory trafficking. Photo copyright Ruth Starkey/WCS.

    and hire specially trained sniffer dogs to find smuggled ivory in ports and trading hubs.

  • Awareness: Educating the public is critical in creating the connection between ivory consumption and elephant poaching. In tabling at the zoo, I have personally found that many people thought that an elephant shed their tusks just like teeth! Media promotion through live news, blogs, Facebook, and Twitter to promote the campaign is crucial in spreading the word about the crisis.
  • Legislation: Oakland Zoo will make every effort to support and promote online petitions and letter writing campaigns. We will also help support working on legislation for moratorium or ban on selling ivory right here in California!

How you can help.

  • Don’t buy ivory!
  • Go online to www.96elephants.org to read more detail about the campaign and elephants.
  • Donate to the campaign.
  • Sign the petition, and participate in letter writing campaigns. So far, over 113,000 constituents have taken advocacy action and sent a combined 196,000 emails to Congress, President Obama, and Secretary of the Interior Jewell.
  • Promote the campaign through your blog and social media channels
  • Talk to your friends and spread the word about what’s going on.

Please do what you can to help elephants, nothing you can contribute is too small! Remember, another day . . . another 96 await.

Go online and sign the petition to help save elephants!

Go online and sign the petition to help save elephants!

 

Please join Oakland Zoo for our 18th Annual Celebrating Elephants (www.oaklandzoo.org/Calendar_Item.php?i=800). Saturday May 17th at 6pm in the Zimmer Auditorium, Dr. Vicki Fishlock, Research Associate of Amboseli Trust for Elephants will be our inspirational guest speaker. Dr. Fishlock will present her experience working with African elephants as part of the Amboseli Elephant Research Project in Kenya. Silent auction items to bid on and refreshments to dine on. Saturday, May 24th from 10am to 4pm will be our day long zoo event, which includes barn tours with an opportunity to see Oakland Zoo’s cutting edge management, create treats for the elephants, and watch Circus Finelli, an animal free circus. All proceeds go to ATE.

The Majestic Elephants at Oakland Zoo…

by | January 21st, 2014

Often, we at the Zoo are asked about the history of our majestic and beautiful African elephants. In her blog below, Gina Kinzley, Oakland Zoo Elephant Keeper, shares a little of the history and personalities of Donna, M’Dunda, Osh and Lisa. Now that you know them a bit more intimately, come to the Zoo and say hi! You can also see how Gina ‘trains’ our elephants to for situations involving medical procedures, foot-maintenance, and mental stimulation exercises in this video, filmed recently.

The African Elephants of Oakland Zoo:

All of the girls come from Africa originally, but their families were killed in a culling. Culling is the very controversial method of population management. At that time, the young orphans were caught and sold for profit, which is how they ended up in the United States. I won’t name the previous facilities that they were all at, but all of them have a history of abuse in ‘free contact’ management. At Oakland Zoo, we practice ‘protected contact’, as we explain is for the safety of the both our elephants and their keepers, in the HBO documentary “Apology to Elephants”.

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Donna, 34, came to OZ in 1989. She very quickly became the the dominant female because she had the biggest attitude. She is the most playful out of the girls and loves to have big play bouts at nighttime with large tractor tires and will charge into the pool for a cool down! Personality-wise Donna is impatient, loves to participate in training, and is closely bonded with Lisa, whom she sleeps with every night.elephantpedi

M’Dunda, 44, came to OZ in 1991. She has a bad history of abuse at her previous facility which is amazing because she is an extremely gentle soul and wouldn’t hurt a fly. She loves to solicit play from Osh, and is often spotted at night over the fenceline trunk twirling with him. She can be a little insecure, and scared of new situations. When she first came here she wouldn’t eat her treat boxes! She also has long beautiful tusks.

Lisa, 36, has been at OZ since she has been two years old. She came from Kruger National Park in South Africa and went briefly to a “training” facility for several months then came to the zoo. Lisa is an elephant’s elephant, she likes all of her pachyderm friends, and wants to make everyone happy. She loves her pool, we call her our water baby, and will take daily dips if the weather is right! She is sneaky, agile, and can be very stubborn!

Osh, 19, has been at OZ since 2004. He came from Howletts Wild Animal Park, where he was born and with his family group. Young males in the wild get kicked out of their herd from ages 8-12, and that is what Osh’s mom and aunts started to act toward him, so we gave him a home here. Osh is extremely active, exploratory, and curious. He’s got a very lively and chipper walk, loves to play, browse and graze.

At Oakland Zoo we care deeply about the well-being of elephants in captivity, as well as their conservation in the wild. Currently 96 elephants a day in Africa are being killed for their tusks, or ivory. Now that you’ve learned about how intelligent, unique, and beautiful our elephants are here at the zoo, please visit www.96elephants.org for more information on how you can help elephants in the wild. This issue is very important to us, and increasing public awareness is a priority. Stay tuned over the coming months for more information about the fight against the illegal ivory trade and the work of www.96elephants.org.

Food favorites: Pumpkins, Melons, and Pineapples. Want to feed our elephants? Come to our next Feast for the Beasts event on March 29th!

 

 

Marching for Elephants . . . Join Us!

by | September 27th, 2013
M'Dundamella, 45 years old, with long beautiful tusks. Will her wild-counterparts survive if they keep being poached for their tusks?

M’Dundamella, 45 years old, with long beautiful tusks. Will her wild-counterparts survive if they keep being poached for their tusks?

If you haven’t seen a flyer around town, or a kind face at a table in front of the elephant exhibit at Oakland Zoo to spread the word, I am here to tell you about a very important event that is coming soon. The International Elephant March, created by the iWorry campaign at the Daphne Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, is going to be held on October 4th worldwide! The Daphne Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, or DSWT, is a non-profit who takes in all of the orphaned elephants that lose their mothers and families to the devastating poaching that is currently taking place. There are over one dozen official DSWT sponsored cities that are taking place in the march, and because there are so many people that care, there are now an additional twenty cities worldwide that are hosting a march as well, including San Francisco. Ivory poaching is nothing new, in fact in 1979 there were still 1.3 million African Elephants living, but by 1989 well over half of that population was wiped out due to a demand for their ivory, or tusks, which left a remaining 600,000. In that same year, a ban on selling ivory in Africa was created, which significantly helped to halt the trade. Elephants were left to be in peace . . . mostly. What remained were stockpiles of tusks in many countries in Africa, and with the unfortunate decision to allow a few countries to conduct a one-off sale of these stockpiles, opened up the floodgates.

In China, a sign of wealth is to own ivory, and due to a growing middle class, there is a high demand.

A photo of an ivory and rhino horn confiscation in Hong Kong in August 2013. Ivory is now worth 1,000 dollars per pound.

A photo of an ivory and rhino horn confiscation in Hong Kong in August 2013. Ivory is now worth 1,000 dollars per pound.

With gangs of poachers who are getting more and more sophisticated with their artillery, corrupt African governments, and the high demand from China,  elephants don’t stand a chance . . . unless we come together and make a change. Slowly, the issue is receiving more press and getting attention from politicians and movie stars. Prince William, David Beckham, Yao Ming, and Leonardo DiCaprio are just a few. The Clinton Foundation are strong supporters of the issue, and President Obama recently has put aside a task force, along with a ten million dollar fund to help stop wildlife trafficking. These are steps, but we need MORE! The more awareness we can create the better, especially amongst youth. When tabling at the zoo, I found that there are a lot of people who think that elephant tusks are just cut off without any harm and that they grow back or that they just fall out like our teeth. This is a huge misconception and according to a study by the International Animal Welfare Foundation that was conducted in China, 70% of Chinese people did not realize that ivory comes from dead elephants. If we can create awareness through social media and campaigning we may have a chance at turning things around for elephants. If we stop the demand, we stop elephants lives from being taken. Currently there are an estimated 400,000 African Elephants left, and conservationists are predicting if we continue at 30,000 plus being killed every year then the species will be extinct in another ten years.

A group of very dedicated and passionate local citizens have joined together to create the San Francisco Elephant March. These people have worked day in and day out, campaigning, writing letters, signing petitions, educating, posting flyers, tabling, and some right here at the zoo! I would like to invite you to join us at the March For Elephants in San Francisco on October 4th at 11am. We will be gathering in Portsmouth Square, marching a peaceful protest, and ending in Union Square to listen to keynote speakers Patrick Freeman, Elephant Field Biologist, Patricia Simms, creator of World Elephant Day, and our neighbor and friend Mr. Ed Stewart, co-founder of Performing Animal Welfare Society. Please visit www.marchforelephantsSF.org for more detailed information. You can register for the march, purchase a t-shirt, and check out the map of the march. Please, I encourage everyone to attend this special event and spread the word about what’s going on with elephants.

Please Join us for the March in San Francisco!

Please Join us for the March in San Francisco!

Ask yourself this, can you imagine a world with no elephants?

Supporting Elephants . . . Worldwide!

by | August 9th, 2013

WEDLOGODid you know that this Monday, August 12th is the second annual World Elephant Day? Here at Oakland Zoo we have been officially celebrating elephants for seventeen years with our annual ‘Celebrating Elephants Day’. This event gives the zoo the opportunity to increase awareness about elephant issues both in captivity and the wild, as well as raise money for the Amboseli Trust for Elephants. On a larger scale, increasing elephant issue awareness is exactly what World Elephant Day is intended to do, and elephants need your help more than ever. World Elephant Day is supported by the Elephant Reintroduction Foundation, located in Bangkok, Thailand. The day’s mission is “ to help conserve and protect elephants from the numerous threats they face; poaching, habitat loss, human-elephant conflict, and mistreatment in captivity.” The Foundation asks us to “experience elephants in non-exploitive and sustainable environments where elephants can thrive under care and protection.”

African Elephants are under increasing threat of extinction in ten years if we don’t act now and stop the ivory trade. In 1979 there were 1.3 million African elephants, now less than 400,000 remain, due to increasing greed of Asian markets. 35,000 were killed last year alone! The endangered Asian Elephant has been suffering from severe habitat loss and fragmented migration routes due to highways and industrial mono-crops (like palm oil). Less than 40,000 remain today.

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Our Osh, taking a bath in his pool

Captivity paints a much different picture. Asian elephants have been captured for centuries, being forced by their handlers to beg in the streets, give ride after ride to tourists, and be used as laborers to help haul logs to clear forests. Don’t let anyone fool you; Asian elephants are not domesticated animals! You’ll also see lots of Asian elephants in circuses, as well as some African elephants, being forced to perform painful tricks, and wear silly, degrading costumes for entertainment. An elephant wearing a tutu is not cute, nor does it create a connection with the general public. It is insulting to this majestic, magnificent, and intelligent species.  By the way, the circus is in town, so please, if you respect elephants as well as other species, do NOT attend the circus.

Hopefully by now, you’re asking what you can do to help!!

There are ways everyone can help, so please help TAKE ACTION! Here are just a few things to get you started:

Study elephants in their “keystone” role in the environment and inter-relationships with plants and animals from which it originates.

Support organizations that are working to protect elephants both in the wild and captivity . . . Amboseli Trust for Elephants, Save the Elephants, Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee . . . are just a few.

Do not support organizations that exploit or abuse elephants for entertainment and profit, such as the circus and the movie industry.

Do not ride an elephant . . . whether at the circus, at a park, or in another country. Elephants are not domesticated and were not meant to be ridden, they are wild animals. Saving these species, does not mean riding them. Watching them in their natural habitat participating in natural behaviors in the wild, such as a nice zoo, or PAWS, is being able to truly respect and appreciate them.

Sign online petitions that you come across that will help support elephant causes.

Be an elephant-aware consumer. Do not buy ivory products. Do not buy coffee that is not shade-grown or fair-trade, or products which contain palm oil.

Talk to a neighbor . . . all it takes is one conversation to possibly change someone’s mind if they are unaware of what is going on regarding the plight elephants.

Spread the word by blogging, and sharing links on Facebook and twitter.

Oakland Zoo is proud to be a part of this documentary that showcases the plight of elephants.

Oakland Zoo is proud to be a part of this documentary that showcases the plight of elephants.

Pick one of these actions above and help us TAKE ACTION on World Elephant Day. Try choosing a new action item each week and partake in the battle for

elephants worldwide!

Please join the March for Elephants taking place in San Francisco, on October 4, 2013 from 11am to 2pm beginning in Portsmouth Square. 25 cities worldwide will be participating in this march, all on October 4, to help take a stand for elephants and say NO to ivory. Please visit www.marchforelephantssf.org for more information on the upcoming march, how to be involved, and how you can help.

Help Us Celebrate Elephants!

by | May 14th, 2013
Jeff Kinzley, Elephant Manager, educating families on what it takes to manage elephants.

Jeff Kinzley, Elephant Manager, educating families on what it takes to manage elephants.

The hustle and bustle of the holidays come and go, New Years resolutions are made (and accomplished of course!), roses and romance are in the air, and then by the time March comes all I can think about is Celebrating Elephants is almost here!!! You thought I was going to say the Easter Bunny didn’t you? For the past seventeen years, Oakland Zoo has put on this wonderful fundraiser to support African Elephant conservation, part of our duty as a zoological institution. All of the proceeds go to the Amboseli Trust for Elephants in Kenya, led by world-renowned researcher Cynthia Moss. Almost everything we know about African Elephants today is through her ongoing work. Cynthia has led a research team at Amboseli National Park for the past forty years, studying every aspect of these elephants lives; generations of births and deaths, droughts and rains, and unfortunately witnessing the ongoing devastation of the ivory trade. One of the most important aspects of the researchers being a part of the everyday lives of these elephants is that their presence in the park provides the elephants with some protection from ivory poachers. The researchers are able to work with the local villages as well as the rangers to help keep the elephants as safe as possible. Unfortunately with the uprising interest and value of ivory, along with corrupt government, an estimated 40,000 elephants are being poached every year throughout the continent. Therefore, we need to do everything we can to help stop elephants from going extinct, and that includes your support!!

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A glimpse of some of the beautiful auction items that are donated to support Amboseli Trust for Elephants.

Celebrating Elephants is held in two parts, the first is a family fun and adventure packed day which will be on Saturday, May 25th. This will include opportunities for families to visit an elephant up close, create treat box enrichment for the elephants to eat, do behavioral observations of the elephants on exhibit, as well as eat cotton candy and get their faces painted! This is our opportunity to increase awareness of the ongoing and increasing destruction of the ivory trade, as well as the cruelty of the circus. Kids will have the chance to see how we safely and humanely care for our elephants.

The second portion of the event will be an evening of h’ordeurves and spirits, accompanied by a silent auction and guest speaker on Friday May 17th. This year we have the great pleasure of welcoming friend and mentor, Ed Stewart, co-founder of the Performing Animal Welfare Society; a leader in animal welfare and rescue. Since 1984, PAWS has been at the forefront of efforts to rescue and provide appropriate, humane sanctuary for animals who have been the victims of the exotic and performing animal trades. Ed will share the interesting and heartwarming stories of the lives of the elephants living in the sanctuary of ARK 2000 in the San Andreas hills of California.

Over the past sixteen years we have raised over 200,000 dollars for the Trust. With support from zoo guests, volunteers, and staff we all work together to put on and have fun at an amazing event. We also could not be as successful without help from the zoo supporters, local businesses, and artists who make donations for our silent auction. This 17th year is dedicated to and in memory of Pat Derby, co-founder of Performing Animal Welfare Society, a dear friend and endless fighter for animal welfare and rescue. Please come join us for one or both events, and help us celebrate elephants with the respect, compassion, and awareness they deserve!  Visit the zoo website for more detailed information. http://www.oaklandzoo.org/Calendar_Item.php?i=402

Pachyderm Podiatry

by | April 13th, 2013

I recently attended the 2013 Elephant Care Workshop at the Phoenix Zoo. The Workshop is put on by the zoo’s highly

Indu, one of the three beautiful Asian female elephants of the Phoenix Zoo.

Indu, one of the three beautiful Asian female elephants of the Phoenix Zoo.

dedicated and compassionate elephant staff, as well as their partner Alan Roocroft who operates Elephant Business, a small elephant management consulting company. There were several keynote speakers, besides Alan, who covered topics from tusk and oral care to elephant diseases and radiographs. The focus of the workshop was foot care, which involves several issues, such as disease and abscesses, tool care and use, foot anatomy, habitat complexity and interaction, and exercise. When talking elephants, there are a multitude of things that are important when it comes to their health and well-being, but the care of their feet is at the top of the list. Foot disease and related issues are the number one reason for death in captive elephants. As Alan says, “foot care should be a culture at your facility”. I took away several important key facts from this workshop and I’d like to share them.

To provide elephants in captivity with everything they need is providing them with health and well-being physiologically, physically, and psychologically. If one of those three is off than the others don’t work as well, or at all. What I learned during our

Jessica, one of the five dedicated Elephant Keepers, giving the daily pedicure at the Oakland Zoo.

Jessica, one of the five dedicated Elephant Keepers, giving the daily pedicure at the Oakland Zoo.

lectures and discussions in the workshop is that a healthy mind equals healthy feet and vice versa. But what does it take to create a healthy mind and in turn healthy feet? Three basic things: firstly, the philosophy of the institution. We are fortunate that our management prioritizes elephant care and understands that foot care is a priority during the daily routine. Each day the keepers spend up to four hours working with the elephants on daily husbandry and training. If there is not trained competent staff as well as elephants along with sufficient time, then the elephant’s needs cannot be met.

Secondly, a basic understanding of an elephant’s natural history and biological needs is required. This seems so simple when thinking about it . . . spacious facilities, dirt, mud, browse, grass, varied terrain, social groups . . . the list goes on and on.  We need to create complex environments and interactive habitats or else the elephants mind is not stimulated. If the mind is not stimulated then we end up with inactive, overweight, and arthritic elephants. Our goal should be to get the elephants moving, which means exercise is key. Elephants need space to move, but they also need a reason. Encouraging movement through spreading food ten times a day, hanging browse far and wide, providing acres of grass to graze from, are a few of the reasons our elephants at Oakland Zoo get their exercise. Besides exercise, we need to provide them with stimulation through reaching, digging, mudding, climbing different terrains, stepping over mounds of sand, stripping bark off of logs, etc. These are all ways they use their feet and stimulate healthy blood flow.

M'Dundamella atop the hillside grazing.

M’Dundamella atop the hillside grazing.

Lastly, imagination is the third factor that ties everything together. If a facility has the right philosophy and vision then they can create facility design that meets the elephant’s needs through the right imagination. When Oakland Zoo expanded the elephant exhibit in 2004, we did it with little funding because that’s all it took. We expanded the space by four acres, three of which were irrigated and seeded creating the opportunity for grazing, again a basic biological need of an elephant. Besides having the proper facility design, the keepers work on daily enrichment such a cutting fresh grass and weeds, but also on weekly enrichment such as hanging puzzle feeders on a pulley system, or stacking large tires and planting thirty foot logs for pushing over. As their caretakers, we need to provide them with the basics and more, and also provide them with the opportunity to create behavior chains. A behavior chain is a series of behaviors that occur simultaneously and instinctively. Time after time, I have observed Lisa elephant go for a swim, get out of the pool and dust with a dirt pile to dry and protect her skin, and then scratch on a large planted log (typically after elephants get wet and muddy, they get itchy, so they prefer to scratch). This would be an example of a behavior chain, but would not be possible if Lisa was not provided with any of these things. Enriching elephants is a huge challenge and I’ve always thought, how define enrichment for elephants when so many of these things are basic needs.  Browse and dirt and grass shouldn’t be enrichment, it should be standard.

Donna dusting to keep her skin protected.

Donna dusting to keep her skin protected.

Unfortunately many facilities, particularly circuses, cannot meet the physical and psychological demands of elephants. Being confined to small spaces, inactive and stagnant for hours standing on concrete equals inactive feet. Inactive feet means devascularization of important tissue that would normally be flowing with circulation. When tissue dies it becomes necrotic and infected, which causes an abscess in the foot. If infection reaches the bones in the feet, which are very close to the toenails, and causes osteitis, then the chances of survival are slim. Besides abscesses, arthritis is also another highly common ailment in elephants. Arthritis has many causes such as inactivity, stereotypic behavior such as swaying, obesity, and injury. Inactivity caused by sterile environments, can in turn cause abscesses and arthritis which can therefore cause altered body conformation which is very important in elephants. Elephants have pillars for legs which they need to support their weight. These legs stand almost directly underneath them, and their body weight is distributed by the midline sixty percent in the front, and forty percent in the back. If one thing is wrong, this whole system may be compromised. Depending on which leg or foot is injured, the whole weight distribution will be shifted to compensate for the issue, which in turn will have long term consequences and further health issues.

One of the most important lessons I have learned from my mentors in being an elephant keeper is to know what your elephants are doing and know what they’re going to do. We need to continually expand our knowledge about the elephants that are in our care and we can do that through learning and witnessing their natural behavior in the wild, as well as observing their behavior in captivity. As an elephant keeper, our responsibility does not turn off when we go

Osh browsing.

Osh browsing.

home. The elephants’ behaviors don’t just come to a halt when we leave them for the day. Therefore, we should know what they do during the entire twenty-four hours of the day. At Oakland Zoo, our elephants are observed during the day by a team of ten volunteer observers; they are recorded at night during the winter time in the barn, and are watched for two full nights a month when they sleep outside during summer months. Through these observations we have been able to alter our management to best suit their needs. We also have collected hundreds of hours of data to help us define the elephants’ behavioral activity budget as well as how far they travel in a day, which is very valuable information that determines important decisions about their care.

I was fortunate to attend this workshop and have the opportunity to absorb as much knowledge as I could; moreover, I came home and share that knowledge with my fellow keepers. I was also fortunate to meet a group of fantastic elephant keepers from around the country, and even the world! Thanks to the Phoenix Elephant Crew for putting on such a wonderful workshop.

Come join us for our 17th annual Celebrating Elephants Day in memory of Pat Derby, co-founder of the Performing Animal Welfare Society. On May 17, you can listen to a lecture by keynote speaker, Ed Stewart, co-founder of Performing Welfare Society. While dining on wine and h’orderves, you will have the opportunity to bid on lovely auction items to help support the Amboseli Trust for Elephants in Kenya; a forty year research project led by world-renowned elephant researcher Cynthia Moss. For the family event, come out to Oakland Zoo for daytime fun on May 25, to see the elephants get their daily pedicure, watch Circus Finelli an animal free circus, get your face painted, and create special enrichment just for the elephants. For more details please visit our Celebrating Elephants page on www.oaklandzoo.org.