Posts Tagged ‘Elephants’

Yummy, Yummy, in the Elephants Tummy

by | April 5th, 2010

Donna feasting while visitors watch, photo by author

Feast for the Beasts was a big success yet again, with four hungry elephants, and what looked like four hundred eager visitors ready to work. While the elephants watched from afar, two large groups of zoo visitors, one at a time, trickled into the enclosure. They were then explained the guidelines, and had fifteen minutes to scatter and hide the produce they provided around the elephants habitat far and wide. It was amazing to watch everybody split off into different areas of the yard. The smiles on the young children’s faces were priceless as they got to choose what fruit or veggie they were going to hide and where they were going to hide it. Under a rock? In the pool? Buried in the grass? Produce was everywhere! Amongst the favorite of the elephants were several melons, pumpkins, and pineapples.

A Dad and his son choose which yummy item to hide, photo by author

The best part about this day is that the elephants know what is happening because as soon as the keepers shift them, they race as fast as they can up the path into the exhibit, and seek out the best produce. Each elephant split off into different directions shoving trunkfuls of yummies into their mouths as fast as possible. There was even a little rivalry between Osh and M’Dunda. This spread kept them occupied for a couple of hours, and the keepers fed them a little less produce throughout the rest of the day so they wouldn’t have upset tummies.

The keepers and staff would like to send a huge thank you to all the visitors who came out, donating their time and groceries, to give the elephants a very special and exciting day. We would also like to thank all the volunteers who helped make this day a success, whether by sorting produce, collecting tickets, or helping guide our guests. Our next Feast for the Beast event is Saturday, July 17.

Caring For Elephants – A Labor of Love

by | March 29th, 2010

If you had asked me five years ago where I see myself I never pictured working with elephants, the largest land mammals on earth. Largest mammal = largest poop = lots of labor! Our day starts bright and early at 7:30 am, cleaning the exhibit or barn full of hundreds of pounds of elephant poop. While two unfortunate souls (we all take turns) have that fun task, the other two keepers get to give the elephant’s pedicures. Foot care is crucial in the management of captive elephants. In the wild, elephants walk for miles and miles, so they naturally take care of themselves. But in captivity we are limited on space so elephants don’t get the exercise they need and as a result can have poor circulation; therefore not being able to fight off infection should it arise. Every morning we hose, scrub, and inspect our elephant’s feet to make sure there are no problems. We are fortunate that we have six acres of space for our elephants, and with our observation program have found that they walk anywhere from 3-5 miles a day!

Donna elephant playing with large tractor tire, photo by author

After the foot care and morning manure pick-up is done, there is of course more manure pick-up, as well as basic hosing, raking, and clean–up. An even bigger part of our day than clean-up is feeding or what we call the elephant spreads. Three times a day, we shift the elephants off exhibit and put out a food spread for them. This spread consists of hay, chopped up produce, little tablespoons of sweet and sour items, and lots of tree branches. It’s called a spread because we hide and scatter the items far and wide so the elephants have to work for their food and forage to find it. In total we feed our elephants ten times a day.  Elephants in the wild forage and graze for up to 18 hours, so we try to mock this natural behavior with as many feedings as possible. We also try to hang the tree branches, or browse as we call it, on a chain as high as possible to simulate how an elephant would have to pull on a branch or a tree in the wild. The browse consists of half of their diet here at the zoo. We have a specialized Browse Keeper who is responsible for working with local tree companies to get donations of truckloads of branches. The keepers work hard and spend hours throughout the day picking up large dump truck loads of tree branches when companies cannot deliver.

M'Dunda grazing, photo by author

Besides the feeding, clean-up, and browse pick-ups the keepers find little blocks of time for training and enrichment projects. Most of our training at the elephant barn is for husbandry or medical purposes so we can take care of the elephants properly and safely. Some examples of this are blood draws, x-rays, and foot care procedures. Enrichment is one of the most challenging aspects of the job because what does a 10,000 pound elephant do with toys? They destroy them! The keepers have to be creative in finding ways to hang or plant things just out of reach so the elephants can’t smash hour’s worth of work in just minutes. Enrichment consists not only of toys but of all kinds of different ways to stimulate captive animals to keep them busy, whether it is a toy, a new scent, a puzzle feeder, or a new social group.

I started here as a volunteer intern and was lucky enough after awhile to become a full time keeper. This job is the most challenging, yet rewarding job I have ever had because the elephants keep me busy, creative, and exhausted. Usually I tell people I’m the lucky one because the elephants chose me.

Want to learn more about elephants? The Oakland Zoo hosts Celebrating Elephants each year, which is an event centered around elephants, elephant care, elephant research, elephant barn tours, and fun. A Celebrating Elephants evening lecture by Douglas Long, Ph.D., Chief Curator of Natural Sciences at Oakland Museum will also take place on May 13th at 6:00pm.  All proceeds from Celebrating Elephants Day and Lecture will benefit the Amboseli Trust for Elephants.

Watch an Elephant Munch a Watermelon

by | February 24th, 2010

African Elephant Enjoys a Watermelon. Photo credit Nancy Filippi

I remember arriving to work bright and early on a Saturday morning. It was 8:00am, caffeine hadn’t even taken affect, yet the parking lot of the Oakland Zoo was packing up with people. I scanned the lot and smiled as I watched children who could barely hold their excitement start to line up. Brown bags of groceries were accompanied by parents drinking Starbucks, giddy girls, and babbling boys.

Guests Donating Produce to Feast for the Beasts Event

Guests Donating Produce to Feast for the Beasts. Photo by Adam Fink

They were at the Zoo early for Feast for the Beasts: A day when the public can donate produce to the Oakland Zoo animals. Feast for the Beasts makes me laugh, because it is so much fun to be a staff member and people watch. The first 250 guests through the gate get a ticket, some might say it’s a “Golden Ticket,” and actually get to go inside the elephant exhibit, before the hungry herd, to place their produce in nooks and crannies throughout the enclosure. It’s a special moment to see kids with tomatoes, watermelons, apples, carrots, grapes, and cucumbers. The children really get a kick out of hiding treats. After the produce is all in place and the public has cleared the exhibit, the pacaderms go after their grub. You can actually see an elephant munch down an entire watermelon in a couple of bites. The crowd roars and kids cheer in delight, during this popular produce event.

Little Girl Placing a Carrot into the Elephant Exhibit

Little Girl Places a Carrot into the Elephant Exhibit for Feast for the Beasts. Photo by Amber Frisbie

If you have never experienced Feast for the Beasts, mark your calendar now for 9:00am Saturday, March 27. And, remember to arrive early! The first 250 guests will receive “golden tickets” for the elephant exhibit. Watch special animal feedings throughout the day, see live entertainment, and participate in family friendly activities. The Oakland Zoo welcomes produce donations for all of our animals. This event is included with general admission. For more information, check out our website

Guests Wait for the Elephants to Come Out During Feast for the Beasts Event. Photo by Margaret Rousser