March 18, 2011
Who am I and why am I writing this?
I'm Sean Royals, one of the elephant keepers at the National Zoo's Elephant Trails exhibit. I have about 20 years of zoo experience, about 18 of those years have been with elephants. The last 12 of those years, I've been at the National Zoo.
One of the reasons I decided to do these diaries was that for the first two and a half years of my time working in zoos I was in the education department at a small zoo. Because there were exactly two of us in the department most of the time, I got a crash course on how to educate people about animals. The first step in that process was learning how to educate myself. This really created in me a passion for speaking to the public about animals and conservation issues. I felt like a child learning something really cool and running to tell his friends or parents about it. I just loved sharing what I had learned.
So why did I start this blog and why now?
Back in July of 2010 we started transitioning the elephants into the newly (although not 100-percent) completed Phase One section of Elephant Trails. We were moving them from their home in the old Elephant House through a hole cut in the wall into the new building.
We knew that our core group of volunteers wouldn’t be able to see most of this process so Marie, the Zoo's elephant manager, started writing transition updates to keep them informed and partially to let them know we hadn’t forgotten that they existed.
We received a lot of positive feedback from those postings so I thought: why not combine my passion to talk about elephants with our volunteers’ passion (and the passion of other elephant enthusiasts) to know about elephants into a regular diary about the goings on in our program, including caring for our three Asian elephants and the progress of Elephant Trails construction.
I’ll probably include information about elephants around the country and the world and hopefully I'll have the opportunity to answer some questions from the public.
What is happening now at Elephant Trails?
I guess what everyone wants to know is what is happening on the Phase Two construction. Well, right now there's more DEstruction than CONstruction. The old Elephant House is currently a rubble-filled shell. But from all reports, everything is on schedule for completion in 2013. We're still hoping to get more financial support for some of the outdoor areas that will be built last but are proud to say that the exhibit will be one of the best elephant facilities in the country.
In the Phase One area, the elephants are enjoying the slightly warmer weather and are starting to be able to use more of their new areas again after a relatively short acclimation period last fall before colder weather set it. Already, they are consistently going up the Trek on a daily basis (usually at around 11 a.m.). The down time over the winter seems to have helped because Ambika, who was very hesitant to go up the trek last fall, is going up quite readily now.
Soon I hope to have a mailbox set up where readers can send questions and comments, and I'll happily answer. Keep your eyes open for that. I hope to get some interesting questions about our elephants and elephants around the world. I’m not saying I will have all of the answers off the top of my head but I know a lot of people to ask and places to look.