What has surprised you about working with them?
Fortner: They’re very close-knit and rely on each other for support. The other day, we gave them access to habitats three (near the Elephant Barn) and four (near the Elephant Outpost). Nhi Linh has decided that she does not like habitat four, but Trong Nhi loves it. Mom was near the outpost by herself, and Nhi Linh vocalized to try to get her mom to come back to the barn. But, Trong Nhi was set on having her “me” time. It’s nice to see them branching out—that is the farthest distance we’ve ever seen them apart.
Riley: All of the elephants talk to each other, and they all have different vocalizations—trumpeting, rumbling and things like that. But Trong Nhi and Nhi Linh ‘bark’ and ‘chirp’ at one another—a first for our elephants! To me, it sounds a little like a turkey call.
VIDEO | Jan. 16, 2023. Nhi Linh is having a ball (err . . . a weeble-wobble)! Our Asian elephant got a kick out of her enrichment toy as she and her mother, Trong Nhi, played in the Elephant Community Center. The Elephant Cam captured all the ele-FUN!
Do they have a favorite enrichment item?
Fortner: Nhi Linh’s favorite enrichment item is a giant buoy. She loves to kick it around, push it in the pool and steal it from her mom.
Riley: Trong Nhi plays keep away with it!
Fortner: Yes! Trong Nhi will put it between her legs so that Nhi Linh can’t go around and get it. Watching them play together is hilarious!
What challenges have you had to work through?
Riley: Ever since they arrived, our biggest goal has been to build our relationships with Trong Nhi and Nhi Linh. We want to ensure every interaction we have with them is positive, because that helps build a foundation of trust. Over the last few months, we’ve established a routine and structure for them so that they are comfortable and confident whenever we work with them.
Just being present—being a part of their day and learning alongside them—goes a long way toward building those relationships.
Fortner: We knew about Trong Nhi’s protectiveness before they came here. And we have seen that evident in the time she and Nhi Linh have been with Spike. So, we are working on separation training. That is not only to take the stress off of her, but also for Nhi Linh to have the chance to form those relationships on her own.
Riley: Trong Nhi and Nhi Linh have always been together. It’s important for them to spend some time apart every day, especially during feeding times and individual training sessions. Having them in separate enclosures means we don’t have to worry about more dominant individuals taking food, distractions from a next-door neighbor or social pressures. Eventually, we will be able to give them one-on-one time with other elephants, including Spike, which will help build those relationships.