How do you get an elephant to exercise, safely introduce two songbirds or prepare a cheetah for a veterinary exam? In this series, get an insider’s look at how animal keepers use activities, food, training and toys to care for the Smithsonian’s National Zoo’s animals. Find out how enrichment stimulates the senses, why training builds trust, and how keepers come up with new ways for animals to explore and use their natural behaviors each day.
In the wild, female Asian elephants travel together in family groups and develop tight-knit, strong relationships. Elephants are highly intelligent and emotional animals, so ensuring that they also build close relationships under human care is extremely important for their welfare. At the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, we care for five female elephants from a few different family groups: Bozie, Shanthi, Kamala, Maharani (or Rani) and Swarna. Luckily, there are a few things we can do to encourage them to build positive relationships.