Posts Tagged ‘Oakland Zoo Elephants’

Celebrating Elephants in 2014: A Sneak Peak

by | April 18th, 2014
All elephants are individuals and have very unique personalities. This is M'Dundamella, 45 years old with long beautiful tusks.

All elephants are individuals and have very unique personalities. This is M’Dundamella, 45 years old with long beautiful tusks.

Did you know that the elephant heart weighs 40-60 pounds and beats 30 times a minute? Did you know that the brain weighs 11 pounds and has a highly complex neocortex, a trait also shared by humans, apes, and dolphins? Did you realize that elephants exhibit a wide array of emotions and behaviors such as grief, learning, allomothering, mimicry, play, altruism, tool-use, compassion, cooperation, and self-awareness? These are just a few important facts about why we should care about elephants and why we need to fight for their survival. Advocacy, education, and conservation are key concepts to protecting elephants and this is what Oakland Zoo is all about!!

We would like to invite you to our 18th annual Celebrating Elephants events, on May 17th and 24th. All of the proceeds of these two days go directly to the Amboseli Trust for Elephants in Kenya, to protect the elephant herds in Amboseli National Park. ATE’s forty year research project, founded by world-renowned researcher Cynthia Moss, has made many important contributions to elephant research and the knowledge gained has profoundly altered the way we think about, conserve, and manage elephant populations. Their research has highlighted the ethical implications of dealing with sentient, long-lived, intelligent, and socially complex animals and their knowledge base provides powerful and authoritative support to elephant conservation and advocacy campaigns worldwide.

A sneak peak into the Amboseli elephants . . .

AAs_drinking_copy

The AA family drinking. The first identified herd of the Amboseli Elephant Research Project in 1972.

Besides tail hair length, tusk length, and size (all changing characteristics) elephants are typically identified by the notches, holes, rips, and tears in their ears, most of which are caused by walking through thorny brush. At Amboseli, elephants are identified by these ear notches and named and categorized by the alphabet, most often, unless a truly unique characteristic defines them. Therefore, the first family Cynthia Moss studied were known as the AA’s on September 1st, 1972, the very first day of the study. From that day, over forty years of observations and data has been collected on them and many other herds. Elephants are extremely social and live in fission-fusion matriarchal societies, constantly joining together and breaking apart depending on environmental conditions and available resources. Sometimes, when conditions are optimal elephants will form what is known as an aggregation and come together to socialize, play, touch, rest, drink, mud, dust, and eat. These aggregations typically average 300-400 individuals, but Cynthia has counted as many as 550 at one time! Read up about more Amboseli elephants here, http://www.elephanttrust.org/.

 

Vicki Fishlock, Resident Scientist at Amboseli, will speak about her studies at our evening event and silent auction on May 17th.

To learn more about these magnificent, majestic beings join us Saturday evening on May 17th, for a special presentation by Dr. Vicki Fishlock, Resident Scientist for the Amboseli Trust for Elephants. Dr. Fishlock joined the research team in 2011 to study the social resilience of female elephants following a devastating drought in 2009. She will share some of her findings in her ongoing research looking at the fascinating social dynamics in the lives of female elephants, and how these individual relationships shape the success of families. She will explain how age, experience, and leadership influence the survival of calves and families in the sometimes difficult life of an elephant. Come hear stories of success and struggle of the magnificent elephants of the Amboseli Plains. The lecture will be followed by a wonderful reception including drink and appetizers, amongst a lovely silent auction, so get ready to bid! Here’s a link to more details about the event http://www.oaklandzoo.org/Calendar_Item.php?i=800.

 

 

Join us the following Saturday, May 24th, for a day of fun and celebrating how special elephants are!

Keeper Gina working with African elephant

Keeper Gina working with African elephant

Family friendly activities will include exciting elephant stations such as touching gigantic elephant bones, making treat boxes for the elephants to eat, holding an eleven pound tooth, and stepping into an elephant-sized footprint. Grab binoculars and participate in a mock research camp where observers are invited to watch and record behaviors, and they can learn how to identify our elephants! Also watch the amazingly talented Circus Finelli, an animal free circus. And don’t forget to experience the once-a-year opportunity behind the scenes to see where the elephants sleep, watch an elephant pedicure, and see how the zookeepers train with them to conduct their husbandry care. This day is also an important opportunity for the staff to explain the differences of elephant management and why you shouldn’t go to or support the circus.

This year Celebrating Elephants will be in honor of Wildlife Conservation Society’s 96 Elephants campaign, named for the 96 elephants that are poached in Africa every day for their tusks.  In December of 2013 Oakland Zoo officially teamed up with the campaign to take action in helping fight the illegal ivory trade through public awareness and taking action through California legislation to change policy against selling and trading ivory.

Read my blog (http://www.oaklandzoo.org/blog/author/ggambertoglio/) or go to our website to find out more details on the campaign and how you can help!

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.

 

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.