Posts Tagged ‘elephant’

African Elephant Romance (or in scientific terms “Reproductive Strategy”)

by | February 16th, 2016

Colleen Kinzley, Founding Member Tembo Preserve & Director of Animal Care, Conservation and Research Oakland Zoo

Territorial and courtship displays occur in a wide array of species. In some species, individual males have been observed to selectively favor particular behaviors and/or vocalizations, making them unique to that individual male. Male chimpanzees, for example, are known to have particular components of aggressive or territorial displays that they favor and perform more often or even to the exclusion of other display behaviors. Some have even been documented creating their own display behaviors or incorporating some unique part of their surroundings. Many song bird males create unique variations on their songs differentiating them from neighbors of the same species.

African elephants live in matriarchal societies where young males leave their family group in their early to mid-teens. During their late teens and twenties, they spend their social time in loosely formed bachelor groups. Elephants continue growing throughout their lives; males in their teens and twenties are considerably smaller than bulls in their thirties and above, so these younger males typically have little opportunity to breed. Males over 25 years of age engage in periods of sexual activity and sexual inactivity. Periods of sexual activity are simply defined as time spent with females groups. During these periods, males may or may not be found in the company of other males but are consistently seen with female family groups.

African elephants spend much of their time on the move, sometimes walking many kilometers between resources such as food, water, and shade over the course of a day or two. They are also a migratory species, sometimes moving hundreds of kilometers seasonally to take advantage of rain or other resources. For sexually active males, estrous females represent a scarce and mobile resource. Musth is a unique strategy developed by male elephants to increase their reproductive success.

S. Elliott Samburu National Reserve

S. Elliott Samburu National Reserve

Musth and Male Elephants

A bull is considered to be in a state of sexual inactivity when he is not keeping company with females.  In this case, he may be solitary or in the company of other bulls. Alternatively, sexually active males may or may not be in a state of musth. During musth, some individual bulls display unique behavior or behavior patterns just as males of other species are found to exhibit unique behavioral displays.


Characteristics of Musth

Musth is a physiological and behavioral state resulting from highly elevated testosterone levels compared to non-musth sexually inactive bulls. Musth has two outward defining characteristics: urine dribbling and the secretion of glands located in the temporal region of the head. The rate of urine dribbling, characterized by constant seepage from the retracted penis, can be variable but any amount of urine dribbling indicates that a bull is in a state of musth . From a distance, bulls in heavy musth can most easily be identified by the shiny, dark appearance to the inside of their legs, caused by the constant urine spray on their legs,

The constant seepage of urine can result in a whitish to greenish film around the opening of the penis sheath. This urine build up on the legs and sheath results in a distinct pungent odor. Musth temporal gland secretions are thick, sticky, dark in color, and have a strong odor. A bull in heavy musth may have a wide, wet, stain running from the temporal gland down to the lower jaw. Older bulls may develop very swollen temporal glands filling in the normal indentation of the skull above the temporal gland and behind the eye. These swellings increase the size of the forehead making the bull look even larger.

Elephants mating in Amboseli National Park

Elephants mating in Amboseli National Park

Who Exhibits Musth?

The period of time in which males spend in musth lengthens as he ages and continues to grow in size age. Males may begin to show signs of musth in their mid-teens, but in these early years it may last only hours or days and the presence of a dominant male will likely inhibit musth in these younger bulls. The median age for the onset of musth is 29 years old. As males age they typically experience a longer musth period ranging from a median of 2 days for bulls 16-25years to 81 days for males 46-50 years old then declining to 54 days for males 51-60 years old. The consistency of musth periods also increases with age; for young males, their musth period is erratic, and opportunistic. They may be stimulated into musth by the presence of an estrous female then driven out of musth by the arrival of a musth male or other dominant males. As males mature, and depending on their ranking in the population, they will eventually establish a relatively predictable period of musth each year. The most dominant males in the population get the most optimal musth periods, typically during and immediately after the rainy seasons when the largest number of females come into estrous.

An older musth bull will out compete not only non-musth bulls but also younger musth bulls. In most observed matings, the bulls were over the age of 35 years and in musth. Recent genetic paternity analysis of a well –studied population confirms these observations with 74% (88/119) of the calves sired by musth bulls.

Musth is an energetically expensive condition and even the most dominant males in a population typically can only maintain musth for a few months. Musth bulls spend less time feeding, more time on the move, and more time chasing, or fighting with other males resulting in a loss of condition.


Female Elephants Choose Mates

Females demonstrate choice through their participation or lack thereof with a potential mate. Courtship begins with urine and genital testing; an attractive female is first followed then chased by a male suitor. Smaller and faster than most males, the female is able to out run the male if she does not chose to stand for breeding.

For females, it is advantageous to consort with musth males and they demonstrate a preference for musth males. For example, during the period of consortship with a musth male, the female is not harassed by multiple, often young, males who are also perusing her. In addition, a musth bull represents a fit male, as only older, healthy males come into musth. The increased levels of testosterone that are characteristic of the musth condition also increase the bull’s fertility by increasing his sperm count, increasing the probability of successful fertilization of the females eggs.

So for both males and females the phenomenon of musth represents an effective reproductive strategy… even if it is not suitable materials for a Hallmark Valentine’s card!


Zena the ZooKeeper

by | June 26th, 2014

zena-the-zookeeperHey Kids! It’s time to celebrate Feast for the Beasts at Oakland Zoo!  For those of you who might not know about Feast for the Beasts, let me tell you all about it!

Taking place every spring and summer, this event is special because you, (yes, you!) get to bring fruits and vegetables to the Zoo for our elephants to eat. And let me tell you, they definitely enjoy their yummy treats. Feast for the Beasts1Our four African elephants eat around 300 lbs. of food a day- that’s 1,200 lbs. every single day! So we ZooKeepers definitely look forward to getting help with their feeding on these special days. On Feast for the Beasts days (when it’s not RAINING in the Spring, that is), Zoo visitors get to spread all the fruits and veggies they brought with them around the elephant exhibit.  After that’s done, the visitors leave the exhibit and the elephants are let in to gobble up all those delicious, nutritious veggie goodies. It’s way cool to watch!  BUT, when it rains the ground inside the elephant exhibit gets really muddy and – the elephants LOVE mud – but those muddy conditions prohibit us from letting Zoo guests come inside the elephant exhibit to spread around the goodies. Let’s hope it doesn’t rain on March 26th for the event!

What kinds of fruits and vegetables to bring for the elephants, you ask? Elephants just LOVE carrots, apples, ripe bananas, kiwi, watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew melon, whole cabbage heads, celery stalks, sweet potato, pineapple, pomegranate, and oranges. An elephant can eat an entire watermelon in one mouthful – just look at the picture here from a past years’ Feast for the Beasts event! Oh, and if you do bring something to eat for the elephants, you’ll get a free ride ticket. Nothing ends a great day at the Zoo better than some fun in Adventure Landing.

_DSC0179Aside from the awesome elephant experience, there will be animal feedings all over the Zoo. Want to see the tigers, lemurs, or even alligators get fed? Well, here’s your chance. Check out the schedule below and plan your day with us. Can’t wait for you to join us on March 26th for Feast for the Beasts at Oakland Zoo!

Zena the ZooKeeper

Have You Met our Beautiful African Elephants?

by | September 27th, 2013

zena-the-zookeeperDSC00426 [800x600]Did you know that Oakland Zoo is the only zoo in Northern California with African Elephants?  We have FOUR amazing African Elephants, three females and one male, and although they look similar, to us animal keepers their personalities are about as different as up and down.  As sweet and sour.  As football and bowling. As … well, you get the picture.

All of the girls come from Africa originally, but sadly, they became orphans and were sold to Zoos in the United States when their families were culled. Culling is the very controversial method of population management. They had sad and difficult beginnings in life, but now they all make one big happy family! We zookeepers do our very best to make sure of that each and every day – we love our elephants very much! All four have such unique and fun personalities, so what’s not to love?!

Osh, our only boy, is 19 and has been with us since 2004. He came from Howletts Wild Animal Park, where he was born 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 do to him, so we gave him a home here at Oakland Zoo. Osh is extremely active, exploratory, and curious. He’s got a very lively and chipper walk, and he loves to play, browse and graze.

Donna is 34 years old and came to Oakland Zoo in 1989. She very quickly became the dominant female because she had the biggest attitude. She is the most playful out of the girls.  At nighttime you will find her having fun playing with the large tractor tires in her enclosure and charging 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. See how and why we train our elephants here!

Lisa is 36 years old and has been with us since she was 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, because she will take daily dips if the weather is right! Want to see Lisa taking a bath? She is sneaky, agile, and can be very stubborn!

M’Dunda is 44 years old and came to us 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 play with Osh, and is often spotted at night leaning over the fence into Osh’s area, 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 sure does now, though! She also has long beautiful tusks.

All four of these wonderful beasts just love pumpkins, melons and pineapples. Come to our next “Feast For the Beast” event in the Spring and you can bring some produce and place them around the elephant habitat yourself!

Until next time, see you at the Zoo!

The Conservation Expedition Returns

by | August 29th, 2011

After three weeks in Uganda and Rwanda, our fifteen Oakland Zoo expeditioners safely returned. We had an epic adventure! This blog is a general overview – with detailed blogs to come.

Eco-travel with the Oakland Zoo Conservation team is a bit different than most safaris. We do go on safari, of course, but we give each safari, each activity, and each day a dose of authenticity – a genuine experience of African culture and conservation. Our participants join us because they are passionate about conserving wildlife, and our partnerships in these countries allow them to jump in and do just that.

We started at the Ugandan Wildlife Education Centre  in Entebbe with a hug and tour from Henry Opio, an animal keeper who spent time at the Oakland Zoo earlier in the year. We brought Henry and his crew a much needed  primate net that could be used for emergency capturing (apparently one monkey was quite the escape artist).

Onward, we spend some time with the Budongo Snare Removal Project . We walked through the gorgeous forest with the snare removal team, visited a school to exchange a few songs and dances, and listened to poetry written by their conservation club. We participated in an eye-opening meeting of ex-hunters who have renounced poaching to instead raise goats. A day I will never forget was when we set up a goat clinic for the participating villages. Under the leadership of Dr. Goodnight of the  Oakland Zoo and Dr. Carol of the Budongo project, we de-wormed over 300 goats!

The beautiful Semliki Valley Wildlife Reserve and lodge were next, with cushy couches to take in views of the expansive savannah. Game drives were in an old-school open truck and delicious meals were served by lantern light at a giant dining room table.

The Kibale forest was our next adventure – and our crew enjoyed chimp treks and bird walks in the lush forests. Our special treat there was a visit to the Kibale Fuel Wood Project. It was inspiring to see how this innovative project protects forests. Highlights were attending their outdoor movie night, visiting their science center, dancing along with their talented dancers and learning how to make their colorful paper beads.

At Queen Elizabeth Park we lost count of the number of elephants, hippopotamus and birds we saw. Spending time with Dr. Ludwig Seifert, lion conservation expert, gave us insight into issues facing predators that live near pastoral communities. Seeing a pride of lions out in the bush and up in a tree was breathtaking.

We then crossed the border into Rwanda where our focus was the endangered Mountain Gorilla. Trekking to see these majestic great apes is a once in a life time experience – and spending time with the International Gorilla Conservation Project, the Mountain Gorilla Vet Project and the Virunga Artisans offered us the big picture once again.

We returned with more than great art and wildlife photos, but with great connections, insight and wisdom that can only be gained when you jump in!

The Launch of a Zoo Evolution: Quarters for Conservation!

by | August 18th, 2011

Visiting the Oakland Zoo may bring you a number of positive feelings. The feeling of connection when you spend time with family and friends, the feeling of awe when you learn about animals and their amazing adaptations, or the feeling of wonder when you gaze at a gorgeous elephant or tiger, but starting on August 19th, a new feeling should come over all our visitors: pride.

That is because of our new initiative, Quarters for Conservation. Each time a guest now visits the zoo, a twenty five cent conservation donation will be contributed in support of several Oakland Zoo conservation projects. With thousands of visitors each year, these quarters add up to a significant increase in the zoos capacity to support animals and habitats in the wild. Our slogan, “Saving Wildlife with Each Visit” about sums it up.

Guests will even determine where the funding goes. When you enter the zoo, you will be given a token. This token can be taken to the conservation voting station in Flamingo Plaza and used to “vote for” a conservation project that inspires you. Quarters are also accepted.

This year, you can vote to:

Help protect chimpanzees in Uganda through the Budongo Snare Removal Project. This project provides a solution to poaching by sponsoring forest guards, snare removers and educators, and by offering nanny goats to ex- poachers as an alternative source of food and income.

Help conserve African elephants in Kenya, through the Amboseli Trust for Elephants. This renowned program is aimed at increasing our knowledge of African elephants and ensuring their long-term conservation. Through their efforts, every elephant in Amboseli National Park has been identified, named, and studied.

Help keep the California condor alive and in the wild through the Ventana Wildlife Society Condor Project. This innovative project collects thin-shelled eggs laid by ill condors, and replaces them with viable captive-bred eggs, treats lead-poisoned birds, and monitors the safety and health of each condor through radio telemetry.

These projects will be featured until summer 2012, when three new projects will be chosen

As a community, we have a great power to not only enjoy the zoo and learn from the animals, but to genuinely help their plight in the wild. Quarters for Conservation represents a true shift in the ways zoos see themselves, and the way the public is beginning to view zoos; as true institutions for conservation action. Engaging you, the zoo visitor, in this evolution is very exciting.

Ready to change the world?

Elephants Love Trees, Pumpkins, & Produce

by | February 25th, 2011

Finally, the holidays are over and the Christmas trees (and pumpkins !) are coming to an end. This year we had two companies that generously donated and dropped off over four-hundred trees combined. This operation is a win-win

Donna chews on a Fraser Fir, her favorite! Photo by author.

situation for all as it saves the tree companies from having to deal with the leftovers and provides the zoo with lots of fun enrichment for the animals. After the animals are done with the trees they are hauled off in our green waste dumpster and re-used for wood chips.  We were able to be a little pickier this year as to what type of trees we accepted as the main animals that use the trees

M'Dunda savors the moment. Photo by author.

are the elephants and they have grown to be quite picky with their menu. We took about two-hundred small pine trees from Brent’s Christmas Trees, and over two-hundred Noble Firs from Simonous Quality Christmas Trees. The elephants prefer the Noble and Fraser Firs to the Douglas Fir. Maybe they like the strong fragrance of the previous two better? I don’t know for sure, I didn’t try them myself. They enjoy eating the bark off of the trunk and then stripping the needles off the branches. The keepers started off giving each elephant at least five trees a day, but if your mom gave you a peanut butter and jelly sandwich everyday wouldn’t you get tired of it too? So they don’t go after the trees with the same vigor they did in the beginning but there are only fifty or so left to feed out, thank goodness. Sometimes a little honey or jelly smeared on the branches helps! You’ll see the trees hanging as food or a scratching post in the elephant and giraffe exhibits, as a home for a bird in one of our aviaries, or as a treat hiding place for many of the other animals in the zoo, but only for a couple more weeks. So hurry and come visit us, especially while the sun is still shining!

Donna wraps her trunk around Osh. Photo by author.

Come and join us for our Feast for the Beasts daytime event on Saturday, March 26. The public is invited to donate produce to the animals. The first 250 people through the door get to place their produce inside the elephant exhibit before the hungry herd arrives. Come see how an elephant munches an entire watermelon. It’s definitely something kids love to see. Feast for the Beasts begins at 9:00am.