May 24, 2010

Debbie and Ronnie have been spending more time in their South Habitat. The South Habitat is mostly an area of trees at a slightly higher elevation with very little pasture. The Girls have been away from that area for so long that Mother Nature has taken back the single 4-wheeler path that caregivers had used to navigate through the woods. Grass and moss now covers that path. Also in that area is a pond that the two girls have not visited in quite some time. Upon bringing the pair their breakfast in the South Habitat one morning, a caregiver found a sight familiar from last summer: Debbie and Ronnie caked in thick reddish-brown mud from wallowing in the pond. Nothing keeps the bugs away better than a good coat of mud!

This week a caregiver (for her own birthday) made piñatas for the Divas. Each girl got a paper bag piñata with berries and other tasty fruits inside. Some girls like Ron and Liz shook their piñatas, tossing the treats around while Debbie and Billie just stuffed the piñatas in their mouths and ate the whole thing.

After the flood rearranged a few things, one of the caregivers found a new toy for "the three-some," Billie, Frieda and Liz. The object is a bright orange, pill-shaped piece of plastic  about three feet long.

Billie followed her "procedure" for an investigation. She approached the object and felt around with her trunk. Her first test was to see what happened when she moved it; she rolled it back and forth with her trunk; it passed the test. As is usual, the next step was to see what happened if she stepped on it; could it be flattened? She started with one foot, then she tried with her shoulder (a position somewhat like tackling), and finally she tried positioning it directly under her stomach and moved lower, lower, and lower until she had done everything she could to flatten the target. When that was finished, the toy could safely be kicked around, swatted, and chased.

Billie continued playing until it became so exciting that she had to abandon the toy to run a giant lap trumpeting repeatedly. She ducked into her hiding spot in the trees, sprinted past Liz, then met up with Frieda, making a ruckus all the way there.

Speaking of the Girls at play, it is "playtime" in Africa. We play a lot with the Girls here by giving them challenges as a kind of African enrichment program.

With Flora, one game is with rocks...yes, rocks. She collects them. In certain areas in the habitat we have noticed a collection of baseball-to-softball size rocks—a good throwing size for an elephant. In this game, caregivers move the rocks away to see if Flora can find the same rocks and return them to the same area where she had originally deposited them. Needless to say, the score is Flora-3, Caregivers-1. Yes, Flora is winning.

Flora seems to have a special sense in figuring things out (a sense that apparently we do not have). Perhaps she reads our minds—but that's another story. Flora has routinely returned the same rocks or selected seemingly "better" rocks to put back in the collection. Also, as we clean the habitat, we have come upon as many as four rocks strategically placed for what seems to be an ambush location. Now whether the ambush is for deer, turkey, dogs or vehicles moving too quickly past her—we are not sure.

With Tange the game is hide-and-seek. When Tange is in the habitat section called "Zula's Area," we will drive out on the 4-wheelers at a fast pace, taking multiple roads here and there, then finally dropping hay in a remote spot with an additional little surprise. We then quickly (but safely) drive away. Tange will sometimes go through each and every road we've driven, following the scent to the end and the "prize." However, sometimes she walks as fast as she can straight to the very end spot to reach the hay — ah, then small rumbles and a tasty treat.

This week Sis and Winks chose to stay in the habitat all night for the first straight week this Spring. There were times earlier in the year when the weather seemed more than nice enough to remain outside at night; however, they would choose to return to the barn. On other occasions, the two would be in the barn just briefly, not even staying long enough to eat all of their hay or leave behind any other signs of their return. Sometimes they would be in the barn for night feed and again in the morning. Sis and Winks, in particular, began spending more nights outside when the weather didn't seem very hospitable as it had been during the weeks when they chose to stay in the barn. Rainy evenings and chilly mornings would have seemed to us a good reason to come inside. But those kinds of choices are what help to bring home the point that we don't always know why they do what they do.


Sissy and Winkie

A huge part of the Sanctuary philosophy is the freedom of space and choice for the Girls. There doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason for the timing of their decision to stay out in the habitat beyond the fact that they were both ready. By their making the choice, they will probably be gone for the rest of the summer exploring the further reaches of the habitat and enjoying the beautiful warm Tennessee nights.

The Girls have all taught us that we have to pay attention to how they feel and put aside our presumptions. The reasons for their choices are not always for us to know. It is difficult to not subject our desires or comforts, sometimes saying "why don't you want to go out; it's nice outside?"  But then we are reminded to quiet our thoughts, take a step back and listen—we have much to learn from them.