Elephant Diaries May 01, 2012

Hi, my name is Marie Galloway. I am the elephant manager here at National Zoo. Those of you that have been following our website for a long time might remember me from the "Moving In" blog. I wrote updates in 2010 when the elephants were moving into the new Elephant Trails Phase 1 exhibit. Currently, we are expanding the number of writers contributing to the Elephant Diaries blog. So, you will see my name here from time to time, along with others from our elephant staff.

Elephant Update

In Sean's last blog, he mentioned that we were having some fairly frigid days and nights. While that was true when he wrote it, as it turns out there were few of them throughout the winter! We actually have had an unusual amount of temperate days and nights, with almost no ice and snow all season. Very few nights have been cold enough to require us to close all the house doors to retain warmth. Spring should also be good for the elephants; they appear to most enjoy typical spring temperatures in the 40s to the 70s. However, the weather remains unpredictable. We actually had a couple of days that were so unseasonably hot that Ambika went for a swim in the pool months earlier than she normally would!

Along with the warmer weather, the elephants must be getting more exercise because Shanthi lost a couple hundred pounds that she put on over the winter. She is now about 9,000 pounds. Ambika is holding steady at a healthy weight of about 7,300 pounds. And, of course, Kandula continues to grow larger; his last weight was 6,650 pounds! They all continue to enjoy taking walks through the woods on the trek. Regardless of their individual weights, the climb up the trek hill is helping to keep everyone muscles in good condition—both elephants and keepers!

You may have seen a few new items in the elephant habitat. Thanks to a donation, we have acquired a "Nordic" tree. A Nordic tree is essentially a dead tree that is secured in the ground with tractor tires. It's a perfect toy for Kandula to bash, because although the tires hold it in place, it can still move back and forth a few feet. For Kandula, like most elephants, it's exciting to push on anything that moves, especially if it bounces back!

Thanks to the same donor, we also have a new live tree halfway between the pool and the Outpost. Our horticulture department planted it and ran an irrigation system out to it to keep it well watered. The electricians set up a barrier of "hot grass:" an electrical barrier that will protect the tree from the elephants. This tree will provide additional shade for our elephants in the future when it is larger and better established. For now, the elephants know not to touch the hot grass. Once it has grown larger and we are sure that the roots are strong; we will remove the hot grass protection around the base of the tree, leaving only "hot vines" in the branches and around the trunk. The elephants will be allowed to walk directly under the tree to enjoy the shade; but will still be discouraged from eating it or knocking it down.

While they were working in the habitat, the horticulture department also "planted" some logs into the ground. The elephants had a great time eating the bark, scratching their sides and pushing on the logs. It only took a few hours to knock one of the logs down and about a day for the other.

Another addition that is not so obvious is a new sand delivery. We had several truckloads of sand delivered. The sand was spread out in the elephants off-exhibit paddock and in one of the stalls. Some of the sand was used to create huge piles on which the elephants love to play. Gradually, they wear the piles down to nothing as they play and dust bathe with it. Kandula sometimes likes to sleep on one of the smaller piles.

Construction Update

At the lower end of the Zoo, children (and adults) will have new carousel to enjoy. Like many native Washington, DC children, I have fond memories of visiting the museums and then riding the carousel down on the Mall. It was the thing to do for local kids. Soon now, children can create the same memories here at the zoo. The carousel has beautiful custom-made exotic animals. It will include the Zoo's newest (wooden) elephant for the child in all of us to ride!

The new indoor elephant community center is starting to shape up. The back wall has been built and the huge door openings can be seen clearly. The piping for the geothermal floor heating has been installed. The splash pool is in place; I think the elephants are going to love it! Phase 1 has been terrific, a tremendous improvement from our old facility. Phase 2 will be better still. Watching Phase 2 develop is really exciting. It's almost hard to believe that we will be moving in within the next year.