Posts Tagged ‘Oakland Zoo Elephants’

Big Love for Elephants with Big Life!

by | April 24th, 2015

It started with a book:  1,000 Places to See Before You Die. I was planning a trip to Kenya — my last one had been 25 years earlier — and read this:

“An Unspoiled Corner of Kenya:  Ol Donyo Wuas, Chyulu Hills. The owner and occasional resident personality, Richard Bonham chose the site for its view of Mount Kilimanjaro.  Bonham himself occasionally pops up…”

Big Life, one of our Quarters for Conservation partners for 2014-15, is headquartered in the Chyulu Hills at Ol Donyo; Richard Bonham is one of the co-founders, along with photographer Nick Brandt.  Big Life protects 2 million acres of the Amboseli-Tsavo ecosystem of East Africa, encompassing portions of southern Kenya and northern Tanzania.

Amboseli Tsavo ecosystem map
They implement the philosophy I heard about when I got there:  Wildlife Helping People.  Big Life is the largest employer of community members (predominantly Maasai) in the region, and the organization ensures that tourist revenue derived from wildlife in the ecosystem benefits the locals.

Richard Bonham grew up in Kenya, the son of a Kenya Wildlife Services ranger.  He recently received the Prince William Award for Conservation in Africa, and he thoroughly understands and appreciates Maasai economics and culture.

 

big life awardFor the Maasai, cattle are their wealth.  They live on semi-arid land that their cattle share with savannah grazers and browsers — elephants, giraffe, buffalo, wildebeest, antelopes, zebras — along with predators — lions, leopards, cheetah, hyenas.  Young boys grow up herding and protecting cattle among all the resident wildlife, and they have a deep knowledge and appreciation of nature, with one exception:  lions are a traditional enemy, and when a lion kills a Maasai cow, teenage warriors retaliate — and prove their manhood — by killing a lion.

Over the last 25 years, Maasai elders — who serve as mentors for adolescents — have realized that their lion-killing tradition can’t continue.  Lions are among the iconic tourist draws, and if every Maasai warrior proved his manhood by killing a lion, tourist revenue would die with the lions.  In 2008, the elders asked Richard Bonham to brainstorm a solution with them, and together they came up with two schemes:  a predator compensation fund, from which the community partially compensates a family that loses cattle in spite of their best efforts to protect them; and the Maasai Olympics, where young men compete in traditional Maasai skills for prizes, displacing the need to kill a lion as a rite of passage.  The elders spent six months on education about the importance of the young generation in implementing a cultural change that would preserve the best of their traditions — but update their values to the realities of the 21st century.

Big Life and their partners have organized Maasai Olympics competitions in 2012 and 2014.  David Rudisha, the Maasai gold medalist in the 800 meters at the 2012 London Olympics, is a fervent supporter, and guest of honor.
2014-12-01-MaasaiWarriorJumps9.8ftduringMaasaiOlympics
During the last quarter of 2014, not one elephant, among the 2,000 that pass through, was poached in Big Life’s area of operation.  Most of the danger for elephants now lies in conflict with farmers:  elephants raid crops, or drain the water supply, potentially destroying a year’s livelihood.  Farmers retaliate by spearing the elephants.

And Big Life comes to the rescue:  a Kenya Wildlife Service vet flies to Ol Donyo when the staff spot a wounded elephant, treats the wound and sends the elephant back to the wild, hopefully wiser about where and what he chooses to eat and drink.

 

elephant down
The community around Ol Donyo now Gets It about conservation.  Big Life’s latest story:

They arrived with a just cause, eight construction workers to build a classroom. They must have wondered at all the animals, living in peace and not terrified of humans. Clearly they didn’t take the time to find out why.

And this led to a very bad decision. If no one else was eating all these animals, well then they would. They chased down a lesser kudu, an uncommon and shy antelope, and snuck the carcass into the school through a hole in a fence.

But they misjudged the people around them. The message went from a set of community eyes, via the Big Life control room, and straight to the rangers. The cooking fire wasn’t even warm by the time the ranger team arrived, and the men found themselves on their way to the police station. A bad end to their day.

Despite the on-going conflicts with elephants and predators, this is a community that has decided to conserve wildlife, and the sooner visitors get the message, the better for them.

Note: Big Life will be presenting at our annual Celebrating Elephants event on May 16th. Join us!

Legal ivory sales in California?? Not on our watch!!

by | February 27th, 2015
California is the second largest retail market in illegal ivory sales in the U.S.

California is the second largest retail market in illegal ivory sales in the U.S.

The laws and legality regarding the ivory trade in the United States consist of a long web of complicated and not quite so clear issues. Let me break it down for you so that you can understand the issue on a national and state level.

What are the federal regulations regarding the ivory trade?

African Elephant number estimates in 1979 were 1.3 million. About ten years later, the population was down to 650,000. Due to a global ban in the ivory trade in 1989 this helped curb the trade significantly. The only imports allowed into the United States were either antiques (over 100 years old), or trophy tusks (yes, elephants are legally trophy hunted). The only other imports or trade allowed were one-off sales of the existing stockpiles, regulated by the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species, (CITES). Two one-off sales were granted to China and Japan in 1999 and 2008, and it is believed that this is part of why the value of ivory and the illegal killing of elephants has once again sky-rocketed. Elephant numbers are now currently down to 450,000.

Prior to President Obama’s Executive Order in February of 2014, antique ivory was still legally imported into the United States. The selling of antique ivory or ivory imported prior to 1989 (when the global ban happened) within the states and across state borders was legal. Under the current Executive Order or federal permissions, antique ivory is no longer allowed to be imported, but still may be exported. The reason why this is important is because since elephants are still being killed for their tusks, there is constantly a flow of new ivory. The antique and pre-ban ivory, or the legal trade, is masking the illegal ivory trade. Unless you are an expert, it is almost impossible to distinguish the difference between the two. In fact, sellers that are selling illegal ivory are using techniques to stain the ivory to make it look antique! The EO also states that we cannot trade from state to state (interstate). Unfortunately importing trophy hunted tusks is still legal, but the EO limits this to two trophies per year. Obama also created a Wildlife Task Force that will be responsible to all wildlife trade as well as enforcement, which is key. The onus is also on the owner or seller, meaning they must have the legal permits stating when the piece was imported legally (if they have it). What the EO does not cover is intrastate trade, or what goes on within each state. This means that antique ivory and pre-ban ivory are still legal to sell within states, creating that shadow to cover the illegal market. The law is even worse in California.

Did you know that it is currently legal to sell ivory in California?

Oshy, 20 years old, shows off his large ivory tusks. Ivory can be valued up to $1800 per pound.

Oshy, 20 years old, shows off his large ivory tusks. Ivory can be valued up to $1800 per pound.

In 1976 California established one of the strongest laws banning the importation for commercial purposes, possession with intent to sell, or sale of any elephant part. In 1977 uncodified language of the annotated portion of the law, penal code 653o, created a large loophole, basically saying that any ivory imported into the state before 1977 is legal. Further, Department of Fish and Game does not take responsibility for enforcing the current law because it is penal code, those of which are typically enforced by police officers, sheriff deputies and other peace officers throughout the state. In addition, neither the California Fish and Game Code, nor the state wildlife regulations enforced by the Department of Fish and Wildlife reference elephants or elephant products.

How are we going to stop this?

If you haven’t already seen it in the news, according to a 2008 investigation by Daniel Stiles, it was found that the United States was the number two importer of illegal ivory. The top states? New York, California, and Hawaii. The top cities in California? Los Angeles and San Francisco. The most current investigation conducted in the spring of 2014 found that up to 80% of the ivory being sold in 30 markets in San Francisco was likely illegal. Also, since the 2008 report, illegal ivory products have doubled in CA, showing a parallel trend to the slaughter happening in Africa. In August of 2014 both New York and New Jersey banned the selling and purchasing of ivory within their states. California, amongst other states such as Hawaii, Florida and several others, intend to do the same.

On January 7th 2015, Assembly Bill 96 (#AB96) was introduced in California. Why 96? One elephant in Africa is killed every 15 minutes, 96 per day, and roughly 35,000 elephants per year. If this rate continues, entire populations of elephants, including the African Forest Elephant will be gone within 15 years. This state ban will make it illegal to sell and purchase ivory within the state regardless of the year or if it is antique. However, there are some minor exemptions. Bona-fide antiques (over 100 years old) can be sold but only if under 5% of volume of the piece is ivory. Most bona-fide antiques, are less than 5% ivory. Most current ivory products are jewelry, trinkets, and statues, the majority of these pieces are 100% ivory. Also musical instruments manufactured before 1975 and less than 20% ivory will be exempt as well. Currently, most piano keys are made out of plastic. The rationale behind these exemptions is that these items are not the major contributors to the ivory trade. The figurines and jewelry that are comprised of almost all ivory is the real issue.

What will AB 96 do?

AB 96 will close the existing loophole in the CA law by apealing the penal code. Further, it will add enforcement responsibility to the Fish and

We will not let elephants disappear from this earth!

We will not let elephants disappear from this earth!

Game Code, making California Fish and Wildlife authorities accountable for the enforcement. Penalties, including jail time and hefty fines will be given to those found selling or purchasing illegal ivory. Also, AB 96 includes all types of ivory (narwhal, whale, hippo, walrus, mammoth), and rhinoceros horn. Rhino horn, which is made up of keratin or skin just like ours, is desired specifically in Vietnam where it is believed to have medicinal purposes (that has never been proven). Rhino horn has been found in the United States as well. There are only 28,000 rhinos left in the world!  California has the opportunity here to set an example to the rest of the nation and the world making it clear that we do not support trade in ivory or rhino horn.

What is Oakland Zoo doing?

Time to celebrate at the Capitol! AB 96 passes the Water, Parks, and Wildlife Committee on March 10th. Oakland Zoo staff and coalition partners attended.

Time to celebrate at the Capitol! AB 96 passes the Water, Parks, and Wildlife Committee on March 10th. Oakland Zoo staff and coalition partners attended.

A year ago, Oakland Zoo joined forces with the Wildlife Conservation Society, who founded the 96 elephants campaign, to raise awareness to the plight of elephants and the ivory trade. Joining the coalition for AB 96, which includes the key players, Humane Society of the United States, National Resources Defense Council, Wildlife Conservation Society, California Associations of Zoos and Aquariums, amongst several other supporting NGO’s, including our friends at the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), and dozens of other conservation partners including our own here at the zoo.

As part of the coalition, we are responsible for the support of AB 96, which includes heightening the awareness surrounding the issue through social media, blogs, and zoo tabling, asking our visitors to take action through petitions and sending letters to their district legislators, lobbying our Bay Area district offices, supporting other CAZA member institutions and working together to be the strongest force we can to make change. If you’d like to help, here is a current action you can take.

**Send a letter to your district legislators thanking them for either supporting the bill or asking them to support it. Use this pre-written template: www.96elephants.org/california . It takes only 30 seconds!**

M'Dundamella, 46 years, has beautiful long tusks. Help Oakland Zoo in their conservation efforts to save wild elephants!

M’Dundamella, 46 years, has beautiful long tusks. Help Oakland Zoo in their conservation efforts to save wild elephants!

On Tuesday, March 10th AB 96 successfully passed out of the Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee and is on to the Appropriations Committee! ACTION: If you are a constituent in the districts of the members of the Appropriations Committee, please write to them asking them to support the bill! To find your district rep, go here: http://findyourrep.legislature.ca.gov/. Visit here to see who is on the Appropriations Committee: http://apro.assembly.ca.gov/membersstaff. To stay in touch with the bill status, check here: http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/pub/15-16/bill/asm/ab_0051-0100/ab_96_bill_20150126_status.html. To read the bill literature read here: http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/pub/15-16/bill/asm/ab_0051-0100/ab_96_bill_20150107_introduced.pdf.

Stay tuned for monthly blog updates on the bill and it’s status and don’t forget to #ab96! Join us for Feasts for the Beasts and learn more about our African Elephants here at Oakland Zoo. Main Entrance doors open early at 9:00am for the first 250 guests donating produce. A golden ticket to spread produce in the elephant exhibit will be administered. Once all food is in place, guests will exit the exhibit to watch the elephants enjoy their treats. Stick around after the elephant feeding and explore the Zoo (http://www.oaklandzoo.org/Calendar_Item.php?i=1141).

World Elephant Day: Celebrate, Mourn, and March On!

by | August 7th, 2014

WED LOGOAugust 12th. A day to celebrate how truly magnificent these majestic beings are: variations of grey, brown, and red, wrinkly skin thick and thin but so sensitive they can feel a butterfly land on them, strong in mind and body, emotional and full of facial expressions, unique individuals, funny, explorative, intelligent to say the least, protective of family, stubborn . . . the list goes on. A day to thank them for taking care of this earth and playing a key role in their ecosystem for the survival of other species. A day to advocate on behalf of them and protect them from a gruesome slaughter due to human greed. A day to mourn for those that have succumb to the poachers poison arrow or AK-47, and to not forget the rangers that have given their lives to watch over them. A day to recognize them for what and who they are supposed to be, not what the entertainment industry or circuses force them to be. A day to be grateful for them, respect them, and admire them from afar.

M'Dundamella at Oakland Zoo. We cannot allow more elephants like Mountain Bull and Satao be victims of the poaching crisis.

M’Dundamella at Oakland Zoo. We cannot allow more elephants like Mountain Bull and Satao to be victims of the poaching crisis.

There has been so much going on with elephants there is barely time to keep up with it all. Here are some of the ups and downs on the conservation end of what is currently going on.

  • DEFEAT. May 1st, 2014: Hawaii Ivory Bill failed to meet its final legislative approval deadline, despite unanimously passing 4 House and Senate committees, both chambers and with strong support of the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources and Governor Abercrombie. There are plans to reintroduce the bill in the coming year.
  • SAD NEWS. May 16th, 2014: Mountain Bull, a “famous” bull known for his rambunctious behavior was found dead with his tusks cut off in Mt. Kenya National Park.
  • GOOD NEWS. May 24th, 2014: Oakland Zoo had its most successful Celebrating Elephants yet, and raised over 34,000 dollars for Amboseli Trust for Elephants. Check out www.elephanttrust.org for more info on the 40 year African Elephant research study in Kenya, one we’ve been supporting for 18 years.
  • SAD NEWS. May 30th, 2014: Satao, one of Kenya’s largest bull elephants and with tusks so long they reached the ground, was announced killed by poachers from poison arrows. Satao will be missed, read a beautiful article written by Mark Deeble right before his death, www.markdeeble.wordpress.com/2014/06/15/satao-a-legend-2/
  • GOOD NEWS: Oakland Zoo will now be supporting Big Life Foundation through our Quarters for Conservation program. Every time you come to visit the zoo you should recieve a token to vote on one of the three conservation organizations of the year. Twenty-five cents of your admission fee goes towards these three organizations.  Big Life Foundation was founded by photographer Nick Brandt and conservationist Richard Bonham in September 2010.  Big Life has now expanded to employ 315 rangers, with 31 outposts and 15 vehicles protecting 2 million acres of wilderness in the Amboseli-Tsavo ecosystem of E. Africa. Big Life was the first organization in East Africa with co-ordinated cross-border anti-poaching operations.
  • 96 Elephants campaign created by Wildlife Conservation Society has been HOT with ACTION:
    Some of the 1600 templates our visitors and supporters have made to send to Governor Brown.

    Some of the 1600 templates our visitors and supporters have made to send to Governor Brown.

    • 159 Partners of the campaign to date (http://96elephants.org/coalition).
    • VICTORY! June 4th2014: Thanks to WCS, 96 Elephants partners, and advocates, Antiques Roadshow on PBS will no longer feature carved ivory tusks on air, and has removed past appraisals from their series archive.
    • VICTORY! June 18th 2014: The Ivory Bill in New York state was passed prohibiting transactions of ivory, mammoth, and rhino horn except for a few exceptions for certain musical instruments, educational and scientific purposes, 100 year old antiques that are less than 20% ivory with documentation of proof of provenance. The bill has also increased fines and jail time for violators.
    • ACTION: Kid’s can save elephants campaign. Oakland Zoo has been collecting kids’ drawings of elephants and letters for Governor Jerry Brown to be mailed to his office on August 12th, World Elephant Day, asking for the ivory trade to be banned and strengthened in the state of California. States around the country will be doing the same. Our initial goal was to turn in 960 drawings, but we have surpassed 1600! Check out Oakland Zoo’s super cool video featuring some of these pictures:
    • ACTION: Petition to ban the ivory trade. Oakland Zoo has been tabling weekly to increase public awareness and asking our visitors to sign the petition. We have collected over 1400 signatures! If you haven’t been to visit please go online to www.96elephants.org and sign the petition now.
    • ACTION: Go grey for World Elephant Day. Come visit Oakland Zoo on Tuesday, August 12th, World Elephant Day, and wear grey for our giant friends. We will be tabling, and educating, as well as giving away grey awareness ribbons.
  • VICTORY! June 16th, 2014: New Jersey State Assembly passes legislation to ban ivory trade in the state.
  • VICTORY! July 24, 2014: New Zealand Foreign Affairs, Defense and Trade Select Committee announced their support of a petition, rallied by an Auckland teacher Virginia Woolf, calling the Government to push for the resumption of a full ban on the sale of ivory.

10462529_852455838112885_6531909974391969404_nMarch for Elephants working fiercely: MFE is a San Francisco based grassroots organization dedicated to direct and peaceful action to promote global awareness about the elephant crisis, advocate for cessation of poaching, to shut down China’s ivory carving factories, and to lobby state, federal, and international representatives to revise legislation which currently permits the trade and importation of ivory.

  • Currently MFE is tabling all over the Bay Area at fairs, farmers markets, parades, and Oakland Zoo to raise awareness and promote the Global March for Elephants and Rhinos. Go online to www.marchforelephants.org for more info, join as a member, and sign the petition to help stop the illegal ivory trade in California.

    On October 4th, over 113 cities worldwide will be marching to fight extinction!

    On October 4th, over 113 cities worldwide will be marching to fight extinction!

  • ACTION: Global March for Elephants and Rhinos, also known as GMFER, will take place on Saturday October 4th, in over 113 cities world-wide. Oakland Zoo will be marching in San Francisco, along with many other dedicated organizations and activists. For more information on the GMFER and to purchase your gear visit, www.march4elephantsandrhinos.org.

This about sums up what Oakland Zoo has been working on and supporting to fight for the survival of elephants in Africa. Remember that 96 elephants a day are being killed for their ivory, that’s about one every fifteen minutes. Please join us to help stop elephants from disappearing. Come visit on Tuesday, August 12th for World Elephant Day (www.worldelephantday.org) and get your awareness ribbon at the elephant habitat. Oh, and we’ll see you in San Francisco at the march. Onward, elephant warriors!

96_Elephants_Facebook_Promo_2

 

Moments of the Day: Celebrating elephants everyday!

by | May 14th, 2014

 

Lisa dusting. One of my favorite behaviors to observe. Photo by author.

Lisa dusting. One of my favorite behaviors to observe. Photo by author.

If you had asked me ten years ago where I saw myself today, I probably would have told you sledding with huskies in Alaska or tracking down wolves in Yellowstone . . . after all wolves were my first love and that would have been my dream job at the time. Although they still have a place in my heart, African Elephants trumped those mysterious and elusive carnivores long ago. After my first day as an intern here at Oakland Zoo, I knew I was where I belonged and that was nine years ago.

There are so many things that make my job special . . . the first obviously is that I am privileged to work with these majestic

African elephants love to mud! Oshy doing a great job! Photo by author.

African elephants love to mud! Oshy doing a great job! Photo by author.

and profound giants.  At the end of the day I’m exhausted . . . the job isn’t glamour and all fun like everyone may think it is. The majority of our day is spent cleaning up poop, moving bales of hay, loading tree branches, and feeding. It’s a dirty job but I wouldn’t have it any other way and I’m now more of a tomboy then I’ve ever been (coming from the girl that grew up with Barbie). There’s something special that happens on a daily basis that I like to call “the moment of the day”. The elephants teach me something new all the time, a constant reminder of why they are so extraordinary and why I am here to stay.

 

My favorite “moments of the day” with Donna, Lisa, Osh, and M’Dunda:

  • Did you know that elephants yawn? I don’t see this very often, but sometimes at night and early morning, I get to see a stretched trunk and yawn, one of
    M'Dunda yawns and stretches, the only time I've captured this on film! Photo by author.

    M’Dunda yawns and stretches, the only time I’ve captured this on film! Photo by author.

    my very favorite behaviors.

  • In moments of protectiveness or just sweetness, Donna will drape her trunk over Lisa’s head or body.
  • Elephants use “tools” to help themselves. M’Dunda and Donna will pick up sticks to scratch their ears. Osh will stand on a log to reach a pumpkin hanging up high in a hay net.
  • As part of their greeting ceremony, the females will rumble, throw their ears out, heighten their heads, then urinate and defecate simultaneously.
  • Donna enjoys her time “sunning”. Just today I saw her drift off into a cat nap soaking up the sun.
  • M’Dunda snores!
  • Lisa and Donna love to sleep together, and sometimes with their behinds touching.
  • Sometimes they all get something stuck up their trunks and will contort the base of their trunk in a funny way, just like when we scrunch our faces.
  • Lisa will flip upside down in the pool and scoot her body around with all four feet in the air!
  • Last week, Osh dropped a caterpillar out of his trunk!
  • They all like to scratch their sides and bellies on the rocks.
  • Donna especially enjoys tactile touch and walks through her hanging enrichment every day.

The list could go on and on.

Donna loves touch and enjoys draping her "firehose octopus" over her body. Photo by author.

Donna loves touch and enjoys draping her “firehose octopus” over her body. Photo by author.

Second most importantly, Oakland Zoo allows me to be directly involved in conservation. Through WCS’s 96 elephants campaign (www.96elephants.org) we are getting youth involved, signing petitions, and increasing awareness of the ivory trade. This is a brand new campaign that started in late 2013, symbolic for the 96 elephants a day that are being poached in Africa for their tusks (see my blog for more information, http://www.oaklandzoo.org/blog/2014/02/10/96-a-day-96-await/). We also recently began supporting a local grassroots organization, March for Elephants, that we marched with through San Francisco last year to raise awareness of the ivory trade. This passionate army of volunteers dedicate endless hours of their time and are dedicated to promoting global awareness about the elephant crisis, advocating for cessation of poaching in all regions where elephants live, and fiercely working to shut down the ivory trade. Please visit their website (www.marchforelephants.org) for more info and join us in the upcoming march on October 4th!

Girls just want to have fun. Donna throwing her tire around at night. Photo by author.

Girls just want to have fun. Donna throwing her tire around at night. Photo by author.

For the last eighteen years we have been the proud supporters of Amboseli Trust for Elephants in Kenya.  Through our Celebrating Elephants Events (check out www.oaklandzoo.org/Events.php), we have been raising advocacy awareness (for both captivity and the ivory trade), through the hearts and minds of hundreds of thousands of visitors. To date we have raised over 250,000 dollars which goes directly to Amboseli to protect the elephants that live in Amboseli National Park through their forty year research project. Celebrating Elephants is a lot of work and it takes a great team to pull it off, but in the end it’s more than worth it knowing that we are working to protect what elephants remain in the wild. Knowing that we had a hand in making even the smallest change for one elephant or 450,000 is conservation at its finest. So please come join us on May 17th  (evening event) with special guest speaker Vicki Fishlock, Resident Scientist at Amboseli Trust, and May 24th (day event) . . . learn a lot about elephants and the way we manage them here at the zoo, see an animal-free circus, get your face painted, and eat cotton candy . . . all in the name of 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.