December 20, 2011
To everyone’s surprise, we have had some wonderfully balmy and unseasonably warm weather recently. The Girls have been doing lots of adventuring in their habitat, and there the varied terrain, vegetation, and even native wildlife provides plenty of stimulation. On cold days when the Girls prefer to remain in their toasty warm barns, it’s up to the Caregivers to think of really inventive ways to entertain them. Caregiver creativity abounds, and everyone can’t help but laugh and join in the fun when it’s time for elephant enrichment!
The definition of environmental enrichment is the practice of providing animals under managed care with environmental stimuli, improving their quality of life and stimulating natural behaviors. Any new item that interests our Girls can be considered a form of enrichment, whether they play with it - or eat it! New natural or artificial objects for them to play with, new scents, and even preparing their food a different way can be exciting and stimulating for our elephants. For Thanksgiving, Caregiver Kelly made turkeys out of sweet potatoes as a treat for the Q Girls. She carved a sweet potato turkey head, and stuck it in a sweet potato body. Apple slices for turkey feathers fanned from the turkey’s rear end! The turkeys were a work of art – and took a long time for Kelly to make – but it took only a moment for the Girls to scoop the turkeys up with their trunks and deposit them in their big mouths. Everyone was in a celebratory mood, and Caregivers giggled and laughed at the Girls’ enthusiasm for their turkey treats…
The Girls love it when Caregivers fill their enrichment containers with popcorn for a popcorn party! The Girls have to manipulate the container with their trunks this way and that until the popcorn spits out of the small holes and goes flying across their stalls. Then, the Girls have to find and pick up the tiny popcorn pieces with their dexterous trunk before they can pop them in their mouths for a satisfying morsel. Sometimes the enrichment toys last longer than others – Caregivers Kelly and Sam worked so hard to string up a new blue treat ball across Minnie’s stall, and she took matters into her own trunk and disassembled it in mere minutes. Caregiver Sam said good naturedly, “We knew it was going to break, it wasn’t up high enough. We just didn’t know it would break…so quickly!” At least Minnie got a good back scratch out of the deal.
The other day in Asia, when the Girls were inside the barns on a particularly cold snow day, their Caregivers scattered dollops of peanut butter and Froot Loops all over the stalls. The Girls had a great time smelling the air with their trunks, picking up the wonderful aroma of the peanut-buttery delicacy. Misty and Dulary were so eager to access the “treated” stalls that they snaked their trunks in between the bars to sneak a taste. Once inside the stalls, they sucked off every last trace of the peanut butter, smearing it all over their faces in the process.
Over at Q, on a very rainy day Minnie had oodles of fun with a culvert out in her habitat. She spent at least a half an hour pushing all 200 lbs. of culvert up the hill with her trunk and letting it roll back down, only to send it flying back up again. Sometimes, she’d roll the culvert with her head, bobbing up and down, pushing it back and forth until it rolled over some brush, knocking several bushes flat in the process. Then, she’d kick the culvert with her front foot, just for good measure. At one point she placed her trunk inside the culvert and lifted one end high up in the air with her trunk, only to have her face and trunk disappear inside its depths. Then she dropped it, stood on the side of the culvert, and threw her whole body’s weight into it, bumping it with her bottom. Who would have thought Minnie could have so much fun playing with a culvert? Definitely not our Facilities crew!