Winter has finally set in and although we are fortunate so far to have not had too much snowfall we have had some fairly frigid days and especially nights. As I said in my previous post, we are now spending a lot of our time during the day coming up with ideas for toys and activities to keep the elephants entertained. When coming up with ideas, it is not enough to think, “what would keep an elephant entertained?” You have to look at each elephant as an individual and understand based on their personality, what would interest that specific elephant.
Ambika, our grand dame, has always been the most social of our elephants and much of her entertainment involves her interactions with the other elephants and the keepers. Some people would assume that because she is now 64 years old (the third oldest elephant in North America!) that she would be exhibiting all these obviously geriatric elephant behaviors, but that is just not the case. We, as her keepers, are treating her differently because we are mindful of the particular issues that can come up as elephants age but I don’t think Ambika is acting significantly different than she did 30 years ago.
She continues to enjoy a warm sunny spot on cool days with a pile of hay in front of her, but she will also play with the large toys we build for Kandula almost as much as he does. She enjoys spending time with the keepers and sometimes seems to fake confusion about what we are asking her to do just so that we will spend more time asking her to do it. That is a classic Ambika move from way back. Some of us who have been with her for a while catch on pretty quick but she now has a few new keepers to try it on.
Even at her age, she also enjoys a good roughhousing session with Kandula. We will sometimes stand and watch her and Kandula tussle through the bollard barriers for 30 minutes or more. It is sort of like watching a giant thumb wrestling match. There isn’t really a way that they can hurt each other, but if they maneuver just right they may be able to get the upper hand, or trunk, and get in a shot and then move before the other can retaliate. I think they both know that they are safe with the barrier in between so they are both much more confident about how much they can interact.
All of us are very proud of Ambika and how she has adapted to her new home. I think that if there is one thing that has changed with age it would be that her confidence level has increased and she has generally mellowed and is less prone to panicking in potentially stressful situations. This new level of self-confidence will help tremendously when we eventually bring in new elephants. We don’t take one day for granted as we care for this lovely senior elephant.
As of the end of 2011, the Elephant Ambassadors program was able to raise more than $30,000 that will help purchase and install elephant enrichment exhibit furniture in the new Elephant Trails habitats. This amount will help tremendously, and I would like to personally thank all of the volunteers and FONZ employees who helped make this year’s Ambassador’s fund drive so successful. There will likely be a new Ambassador’s program theme for next year but we will still be able to provide tours for donations into the Elephant Ambassador’s account.
Questions and Comments?
I now have an account where people can email questions about the elephants at the Zoo and elsewhere. I will always try to answer the questions as accurately as I can but I can’t guarantee it will be in the form of an email to the sender. I may decide the best way to answer is to post my reply in an Elephant Diary. Let me know if you have any questions or comments.