January 24, 2011

Cold, wet weather has been the pattern here in Middle Tennessee for a good while…. so common, that we are all anxious for the sun to make an appearance to warm things up and dry it out a bit. Still the Divas haven't stayed inside. They have been ready to head out shortly after they finish their breakfast, returning in the afternoons to their clean, warm barn.

This past Thursday morning held a higher than usual level of entertainment during the morning stroll from the barn out into the Night Yard Extension and the 40. Minnie was out first—as usual—heading into the Pond Yard to wait close by until Ronnie and Debbie decided to brave the misty weather and join her. The Girls got the "sillies" early on, and the playfulness lasted longer than usual. A caregiver came out to meet them all with hay on the 4-wheeler.

Debbie and Ronnie had already begun their excited displays with tails out and up, ears out, heads and trunks held high as they spun around each other—flinging legs out as they moved and making it very entertaining for their caregiver, as well as for themselves. Then began the short bursts of ele-sprints, as Debbie would spot the hay on the 4-wheeler waiting some distance away. She would turn and run, which elicited the same from Ronnie and her cute little "jiggly" side-to-side run.

They almost made it to the open gate leading into the Night Yard Extension, but could not pass up a large area of soft mud nearby. With Minnie resting her head on the top rail of the fence with her trunk in the air, ele-acrobatics commenced on the other side. Debbie and Ronnie were having a wonderful time…starting out with spinning leg kicks in all directions, then came the head shaking, and "moon walking" backwards in the slippery mud. This was followed by Ronnie's signature move: resting her jaw on the top bar of the fence while lifting the front of her body and legs to dangle in the air. She was also extremely vocal, letting out her funny, high-pitched squeals and squeaks as she and her sisters made full use of the sloppy mud.

Debbie moved near the fence, went down to her belly with front and back legs stretched out almost completely. She then leaned sideways, rubbing her head on the fence while scooting her belly around in the mud. Ronnie seemed to be delighted with this action, and promptly backed toward Debbie to sit on her rump. Ronnie couldn't sit still, however, and moved around Debbie, continuing her animated actions. Eventually Debbie got up and they touched trunks and investigated each other's face, eyes, and mouths, before heading into the Night Yard Extension. The caregiver was patiently "chilling"—quite literally—waiting and enjoying the comedy nearly as much as the participants.

When Ronnie and Debbie met Minnie at the fence, the three of them seemed to decide it was the right moment for a race. They ran side-by-side for a good distance with Minnie barely edging them out from the other side. Everyone began to settle down as they neared 40 Creek. Minnie went to her waiting place by the tree line of 40 Right for her hay, while Ronnie and Debbie followed the caregiver along the creek bed for their hay delivery.

If only we could all begin our days by witnessing this kind of unfiltered happiness.

With the recent cold weather, the Girls in New Asia have spent several days in a row indoors. The first morning after the snow, Tarra, Bella and Shirley were the only ones who ventured out. Shirley was outside a total of two minutes before she decided she wanted nothing to do with it. Tarra and Bella burnt off some energy and literally ran around in the snow for about 45 minutes before returning to the warmth of the barn. It wasn't until the next day that the rest of the Girls decided to venture out, and even that was limited to just a couple of hours investigating Mother Nature's transformation.

Tarra and Bella

Ideally the average temperatures here this time of year would remain mild enough that being in the barn would not be necessary. Since returning these elephants to the wild in their native climates is not an option, we do our best to make their time inside more enjoyable. The first day is usually easy on all of them—they spend the day engaging each other, interacting, napping at common gates, and enjoying the increase in hay offered to them. By the second day, we begin to see a level of boredom present among them. To try to alleviate some of this, they are given different stimulation such as rotating toys, sometimes filled with treats at different points during the day. However, it is still no substitute for being able to wander and graze over thousands of acres. By the third day, understandably, these Girls start to get antsy.

Tarra's high energy level makes her more vocal, as she tries to initiate play with any of her sisters who will take her up on her offer. Sissy and Winkie begin to spend more time in separate stalls, which is usually Sissy's preference since she seems to desire more space the longer they remain inside. Dulary and Misty still stay practically on top of each other, though Dulary will become more possessive of food items and less gentle with her sister when Misty tries to snatch a morsel or two. When the weather presents them with a day they can finally go outside, they all vocalize and engage in play behavior almost immediately upon walking out the door. They'll step gently upon the white snow, curiously surveying everything with their trunks.

In Africa, Tange and Flora were also energetic whenever they ventured outdoors. They slid down to the valley one day and found some tasty browse to eat. The rest of the week they waded through the thick mud, slathering as much on their bodies as they could before heading on to find more "Mother Nature." They will generally stay out as long as they can withstand the cold weather, sometimes for a few hours, then return to their barn doors, signaling that they are ready to come in.

Keeping these two stimulated in the barn this winter has been challenging. Unlike the Asian Girls, their options for enrichment toys are more limited because of the African elephants' great strength and apparent desire to flatten, dismantle, or chew anything that they are given. Over the history of the African barn, the caregivers have tried to create different types of enrichment for the Girls. However, each new toy was destroyed within the first few minutes of play. So now their caregivers are coming up with new alternatives, presenting these strong girls with large tree trunks, root balls, or even entire trees. All of these things have to be dragged in by the 4-wheeler, as they are much too heavy to move by hand. However, Tange and Flora have no problem maneuvering these heavy objects around or breaking what was once a fifteen foot pine tree into little pieces.

This Wednesday, January 26, is Sissy's 11-year anniversary at the Sanctuary! We are also approaching the arrival anniversaries of all the Divas, beginning next Monday with Minnie and Lottie, who arrived on January 31, 2006 at 12:00 noon. Hard to believe it has already been 5 years!