November 3, 2011
Since we moved into the addition over a year ago we have been working very hard toward the goal of being able to accomplish in the new building all of the things we had been able to do with the elephants in the old building. For many animals, the location of the training can become as important as the training itself. So when we moved them into the new building we had to essentially retrain many of the behaviors that had previously been very reliable. I wanted to be able to say that we were back up to full speed with the elephants by the time the construction project is finished. This is mainly so that when they have access to the new community space and yards we will already have them at a point where they have a comfort zone to go back to once we give them the new spaces and start asking them to cooperate with training over there. I always find I’m more successful if I set attainable goals that I can keep my eye on than if I just meander along not knowing what direction I’m supposed to be moving in.
So, we have been mostly successful with this goal except for two specific things; we haven’t been able to get Kandula to cooperate for regular blood draws and we have not been able to get Ambika to move into and through the ERD, or Elephant Restraint Device. We draw blood from our elephants' ear veins at least once a week for hormone research and for routine health checks. The ERD is a device that all elephant holding facilities accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums are required to have in some form. The ERD is used for non-chemical restraint of an animal mostly for routine health inspections but could also be used for fully restraining and anesthetization for a major medical procedure. One of the more common health inspection type uses is the weekly weighing, which is done on the scale platform built into the base of the ERD. Weights are one of the best indicators in determining changes in an animal’s health.
Last week we had success in both of these areas after a full year of little improvement. We were able to collect several tubes of blood from Kandula while he was standing unrestrained at the training wall and there was no reaction at all. Perfect. Real success will be measured by whether or not we are able to do this fairly consistently but this was definitely a step in the right direction.
For Ambika, we started doing multiple baths each day and we did them with her standing in the elephant chute area just outside of the ERD and stall five During her bath she is hand fed a portion of her food. So we were able to use this feeding and proximity to the ERD to gradually move her closer and eventually leading her all the way into the ERD. We would basically hold the food just ahead of her and wait for her to decide on her own to move that extra step or half step forward to be able to get it into her mouth. In training this is desensitization and habituation. It has worked very well and we have been able to weigh her with the ERD scale two weeks in a row now. Being able to monitor our animals’ health is a major part of our job and these two strides forward will make that much easier to accomplish.
Construction on Phase II continues to progress well. Just today they started the process of reinstalling the stone facade on the back side of the new exterior wall. When they removed the stones from the old wall before demolishing it, they graphed out and numbered each individual stone and stored it on site. Now they are putting the jigsaw puzzle back together with the help of a template and the result is pretty neat to watch. They have also poured the concrete for the keeper walkway in front of the Elephant Community Center so now we can see where we will be standing when working with the elephants in front of the public.
Come to the Zoo for an Evening for Elephants
The Elephant Ambassadors program is hosting an Evening for Elephants fundraising event on November 17. There will be a presentation on our program and what we are hoping to do in the future. Afterwards, there will be a panel discussion, time for Q&A time, a reception, and a White Elephant Sale It will be fun and informative and, most importantly, for a good cause. (And I’ll be there too!)
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.