Last Wednesday, October 26th, was a day of mourning for everyone at the Elephant Sanctuary. Our beloved Bella had passed away to the great sadness of everyone who knew her – but especially to her best friend Tarra. Staff found her little body not far from the Asia Barn near the pond that she and Tarra often frequented.
Dr. Scott and a representative from the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Center were consulted and determined that Bella died from wounds suffered from a coyote attack.
This amazing little white dog who bravely defied canine logic and befriended an elephant brought nothing but joy to Tarra's life. Though their friendship may have been a mystery to Tarra's elephant sisters, who sometimes did not seem to understand their relationship, that never mattered to Tarra and Bella.
The story of Bella's passing is as much a testament to the bonds of friendship as is the story of their life together. Staff members recount the chain of events and their personal feelings over the course of last week's sad discovery:
Monday, Oct. 24, 2011
Caregiver Suz remembers the last time she saw Tarra and Bella together: "I found Tarra and Bella heading out of the Right Branch of Marcellas, so they were probably back in there for the day. And Bella—oh geez—Bella was Bella times ten that night. She is always pretty excited about meal time, but tonight, she was incredible. She always does this funny thing with her front legs—from her spinal injury years ago—and she was jumping up and splaying them and I couldn't stop laughing and I scratched her head and told them both goodnight and left."
Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2011
Tuesday morning, when staff members went out to feed, Tarra was found in the same spot she had eaten dinner, but Bella was not with her. While this was not unheard of, as Tarra and Bella sometimes went off on adventures without each other, Caregivers were nonetheless very concerned, and started an immediate search.
Suz describes the stressful morning, "The next morning, Tuesday, I went out to feed. And Tarra was in the exact same spot I fed her dinner…but… Bella wasn't there. I couldn't believe it. I couldn't trust my eyes that didn't see her running over, my ears who couldn't hear her barking. I sat there, after feeding Tarra, just…confused. I mean… I had never seen them apart. Tarra seemed quiet, and sad. But… I mean, I wouldn't accept it."
"I kept reminding myself she was a dog, dogs chase things sometimes. She would be back. Give it five minutes. Five became ten. I started driving around the area, knowing she just HAD to be there. I left for half an hour to clean and fill a nearby water trough, which I had to do before leaving the area. I came back. Still no Bella. I could not and would not wrap my head around it. This was not right. This was not happening. I put her food dish down in plain view of the camera tower, at the entrance to Marcellas, maybe 100 feet from Tarra. I rode back to the barn, put the camera on the spot, and Laurie emailed the other barns—saying, please keep an eye on this camera, Bella is missing, if you see her PLEASE call our phone immediately."
Caregivers paid extra attention to Tarra when she returned to the barn alone, giving her treats and talking to her soothingly. On four-wheelers, staff split up and began combing the area Bella was last seen. They walked Marcellas, calling her name, shaking food bowls, and listening in vain for a bark in response. That Tarra returned by herself to the barn, and that she appeared to be depressed and grieving seemed to indicate the outcome for Bella everyone feared. However, we held out hope and continued to search but, despite everyone's efforts, Bella was not yet found.
Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2011
The next morning, the staff resumed the search of those places where Tarra and Bella used to hang out most often. Suz recounts the hopeful but solemn search "Laurie, Angela, Maddie, and I went out, again on four-wheelers, drove through the elephant fence (since Tarra was nearby) and continued our search on foot where Tarra could not go. We were still desperately holding out hope that Bella was just injured, and that she was where Tarra couldn't get to her, and that is why Tarra didn't lead us to her. That it wasn't too late. That it COULDN'T be too late. Tarra stood by the elephant fence at the spot we drove in. And watched us call for Bella, and shake dog food bowls. She waited in that spot until we came back."
Meanwhile, as the staff continued to search throughout The Sanctuary for Bella, Steve Smith, Director of Elephant Husbandry, decided to search the area close to the barn. To Steve's shock and to everyone's despair, Bella's body was found near the pond she and Tarra often frequented – just yards away from the Asian Barn they called home.
Steve made the heartbreaking calls to staff to end the search and return to the barn – Bella was found.
As the staff absorbed the terrible news, Dr. Scott, Bella's veterinarian, was called in to examine her body and determine the cause of her death. Dr. Scott's assessment was that Bella most likely died from injuries caused by a coyote attack. He also noted that based on the condition of her fur, she put up a fierce fight to the very end. That was the Bella we knew and loved – afraid of nothing – not even an elephant.
With this information in hand, over the course of the next 24 hours, the rest of the story began to crystallize. There were no signs of a violent struggle near Bella's body – the ground was left undisturbed as if she was laid in her final resting place. Marcella's, the last known area they were seen together, was almost a mile from the barn, yet with the injuries sustained, there was no way Bella could have made that long journey back. When devastated Caregivers discovered blood on the underside of Tarra's trunk, all became clear. Tarra must have interrupted the attack and then, gently cradling Bella's body in her trunk, carried her home.
Rob, The Sanctuary's CEO commented on the amazing discovery. "I am still humbled by what Tarra did for Bella at the end. Why did she carry her home? We'll never know, but I do know that in the wild bereaved elephant mothers will carry their recently dead babies. Having been so close to them since their birth maybe those mothers simply cannot bear to be separated. So, for a time, they carry them perhaps because in their grief they do not know what else to do. Tarra, like all our Girls, had an upbringing totally unlike the way a wild elephant would be brought up. We would understand if Tarra and all our Girls had lost all their inherent 'elephantness'. Yet time and time again they show us that they are much stronger than this, that they just need the chance to show themselves as the magnificent elephant beings they are."
Wednesday evening, the staff rode out on four-wheelers to bury Bella's body in Marcella's. Although Caregivers gave her every chance to participate, our normally inquisitive and engaging Tarra kept her distance. Steve reflects on her behavior, "We expected Tarra to visit Bella, as elephants in their grief pay great attention to the bodies of their dead, but to our surprise Tarra stayed away."
Suz describes Bella's burial ceremony, "Under a setting sun, there were 8 of us present, going out on multiple four-wheelers, carrying Bella out to Tarra for a final goodbye. We buried her in the spot where we had sat with Tarra, crying for much of the day. It is also where Tarra and Bella spent Bella's last day together. Tarra chose not to participate in her burial. She was close, less than 100 yards away, on the other side of some trees but she would not come over. She had already said goodbye. This was for the humans."
Thursday, October 27, 2011
The following day, Caregivers made the heartbreaking discovery that Tarra had gone to visit Bella's grave sometime during the night or early morning. They found fresh dung nearby and an elephant foot print directly on Bella's grave.
Caregiver Laurie, struggling with her own grief, "Tonight I set out to deliver dinner to Shirley and was just coming around the pond when I saw Tarra! I burst into tears. I felt so, so, so glad to see her, but it was so, so, so painful to see her walk down the hill towards the barn without Bella bounding in front of her and to realize the last time she made that journey, she was carrying her friend."
In such times of sadness, we all look for signs of hope. "Bella was a wonderful, wonderful soul—as we all know. She was full of life, able to be ferocious – a fighter to the end. It was incredible to have known their relationship, to have witnessed it, to have seen that bond, that love, that gentle, gentle side of both of them. I know many, many people found strength in their relationship. I know I did. And it will be hard for Tarra in the coming weeks. But we want everyone to know, Tarra is loved. Tarra is well taken care of. And she will turn to elephants in this time of heartbreak, and use this loss to strengthen her relationship with the rest of the herd." - Caregiver Suz
Thank you so much for your overwhelming support - to read the hundreds of tributes submitted by our members visit Bella's Tribute Page or visit the Bella Fund (link will be forthcoming) and learn how you can help create a lasting legacy in Bella's honor.
October 25, 2011
With the advent of Fall, our Asian Girls are in their glory amidst the changing colors of the season.
At Q-Barn, putting Minnie, Debbie, and Ronnie together has always been challenging for their Caregivers. Initially, Minnie's rough and tumble behavior was just too much for Ronnie and Debbie, and the best solution was to keep Minnie separated. But as you know, this spring Caregivers began letting the Threesome have daytime play dates which progressed very well throughout the summer. But, after several months of allowing Minnie to play with Debbie and Ronnie and then separating them at night, eventually, the Girls decided they did not want to be separated from one another. At the end of the day, around dinnertime, no matter how many different tactics were tried, the result seemed to be the same: Ronnie would follow her Caregiver amiably enough, but Minnie would not allow Debbie to leave. This behavior would only happen when their Caregiver attempted to lead them apart. The rest of the time, Minnie would be perfectly polite to Debbie.
Minnie and Debbie
After much discussion, we finally decided that if they chose not to separate, we would just have to leave them together and hope for the best. This decision brought lots of apprehension with it. Up until this point, Debbie and Ronnie had only been allowed to "play" with Minnie under Caregiver supervision, just in case Minnie got too rough. But in light of the recent difficulties getting the Girls back to their respective yards, we decided it was time to try a "sleepover."
One day they spent the afternoon way back in Fields 6 and 7, which is a substantial distance from the barn. Their Caregiver fed the three elephants their dinner together. No separation, just enough space between them so that Debbie and Minnie weren't eyeing Ronnie's food while she ate. Later on in the evening, their Caregiver drove out to check on them and see if they would come close to the barn and elect to be separated. To the Caregiver's surprise, on this night they did. Debbie and Ronnie were separated from Minnie with very little fuss. Everyone was happy and relieved for the postponement.
A few days later, their Caregiver fed them in Field 6 again and drove away, leaving them to their own devices. They were checked on again in the early evening. The Girls were still very far away from the barn, now in Field 3, calmly grazing in the dimming light. Just before it got too dark to drive around in the habitat safely, we checked on them one final time. The Girls had moved farther away, still in Field 3, but closer to Barbie's Wash. They still had no interest in returning to the barn. Well, that was it: with the sun's light failing, their Caregiver drove away, simultaneously nervous and comfortable with the Girls' choice.
At the night feeding, there were no Girls waiting at the barn gates. Just the empty night and the blaring chorus of frogs and crickets. The sleepover was really going to happen this time! The Caregiver on grounds was asked to crack the windows that night and listen for any blaring trumpets or angry bellows indicating elephants not getting along. But the night was silent, as if we had no elephants at all.
When morning arrived, their Caregiver anxiously hopped on the 4-wheeler with breakfast loaded up. A million thoughts were running through everyone's heads at this point. Are they all right? Did Minnie get too rough with Debbie? Did she get too rough with little Ronnie? Did they have a wild party and knock down a bunch of trees? Did they head off to explore the far reaches of the habitat together and would they be impossible to find?
Those questions were answered quickly. Their Caregiver found Minnie, Debbie, and Ronnie all quietly munching on the grass in Field 6. No one was hurt, nobody looked stressed. They all looked beautifully peaceful and relaxed. With a sigh of relief, their Caregiver distributed breakfast to everyone and drove away, leaving them to their serenity.
After a period of several nighttime breaks again (the Girls starting coming back to the barn again to be separated) Debbie, Ronnie, and Minnie elected to have another sleepover. Their Caregiver Samantha found them in Field 4 in the late afternoon, heading further out instead of towards the barn. And then she left… much less nervous than last time. Come morning, their Caregiver found them calmly grazing near each other, as if sleepovers happened all the time and they couldn't understand the fuss. We're so happy our Girls are getting along so well!
July 31, 2011
On July 4th, 2011, Lizzie received her last dose of her scheduled TB treatment.
With great anticipation, we all planned for July 4th - Lizzie’s Independence Day (once termed “Lizziependence Day”), to mark the end of her TB treatment and the beginning of the next chapter of her life at the Sanctuary. But, unfortunately, we cannot yet rejoice in knowing that a clear path lies ahead for Liz.
As many of you know, Lizzie began her TB treatment in early 2010 and has struggled with weight loss, poor appetite and general lethargy. But the disease and, likely, the side effects of the medical treatment itself were grueling and took its toll on her. We periodically took nasal samples and sent them off to the lab for testing. Consistently negative results suggested that we were making headway in treating Liz’s TB and kept us hopeful that it was all worthwhile. But shortly before her treatment was due to end, we received the result we’d all been dreading: Liz was still TB positive.
The shock of this news lasted only briefly. Immediately, The Sanctuary’s Caregivers, management, veterinarians and Board, helped by an expert team of consultants, rallied together to decide a way forward. We decided to finish her scheduled treatment on “Lizziependence Day” and then, for several reasons, to take a break. We needed to take time to cheer her success at fighting for so long, to celebrate the commitment and dedication of her Caregivers, and to properly plan a way forward. Above all, Lizzie just needed a vacation from the endless treatment and the side effects of the drugs she had been taking for a year.
For now, things look reassuring. The short break seems to have done her good—she has rebounded to quite a remarkable degree, eating fruit and vegetables that she hasn’t touched in months, and she’s become more vocal and interactive with both Billie and Frieda, as well as with her Caregivers.
But TB in elephants is very much an unknown. We have little idea how the disease might progress, or how she will respond if we proceed with drugs that are new to her. We cannot leave Liz untreated; there is an unacceptable health risk to Caregivers and other elephants along with the severe impact on Liz’s quality of life when the disease progresses. At the same time, we know how challenging the first round of treatment was for her, and ask ourselves whether her body and spirit can handle another round.
Rest assured, we are exploring every last pro and con of every single option for moving forward. We will do everything we can to help her. Perhaps there will be some consolation in knowing that Lizzie herself, through her reactions to her training for treatment, to her drugs, to the disease and to her Caregivers and elephant companions, will guide us to the right decisions.
All is well at the moment. Liz’s break from treatment has rejuvenated her, at least for the time being, and she has many moments when she is bright, playful and vocal. Her Caregivers laugh as, once again, any time someone walks by, Lizzie opens her mouth in hopes of a treat. For now, our dear Lizzie of old is back, and we welcome her with open arms.
May 27, 2011
Shirley and Tarra's relationship continues to flourish. Twice recently when Scott went to check on them way back in their favorite pastures near the lake, they got spontaneously playful and vocal. (You'll see that even Bella decided to take a few steps back, as she often does when they get in these moods!) Sometimes when the Girls are doing something unexpected, it's a very lucky thing to think quickly in order to capture the moment. We are not sure what inspired these happy episodes between these two—perhaps it's just the beauty of spring and the freedom of green meadows in the company of friends—but it's wonderful to see them continue to enjoy life to the fullest.
May 11, 2011
Billie's Chain is Off!
After 5 years here at the Elephant Sanctuary, Billie is finally free of the chains that tied her to her former life as a circus elephant.
In February of 2006 at the age of 53, Billie became the twenty-first resident of The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee arriving with her friend Frieda. They were the last of eight circus elephants rescued from the Hawthorn Corporation—where they were exposed to TB. Billie, one of the older members of the herd and weighing 8,450 pounds, was placed with her sisters at the Q-Barn where additional medical observation and treatments are provided. While Billie enjoyed her new-found freedom at her forever home in Tennessee, Billie's front left foot held the remains of the chains that tied her to her past. Despite early and repeated efforts over the past 5 years – Billie simply did not trust anyone to get close enough to remove the short, ankle chain. It became known as her "bracelet" and the rattle of it as she walked became a tell-tale sign she was approaching.
Virtually all the elephants retain scars of their captivity – both physical and emotional, but Billie's chain was an irrefutable reminder to the staff, the herd, and to Billie of what she left behind. Thanks to new efforts which began in February of this year, in collaboration with Active Environments, the Sanctuary introduced Protected Contact training. Caregivers worked consistently with Billie over many weeks and gradually managed to gain her cooperation, an amazing accomplishment after so many years of mistrust and fear. The new training entailed Caregivers remaining on one side of an outdoor fence barrier, and Billie voluntarily participated in the training activities that allowed the Caregivers to gingerly use bolt cutters to clip off the chain.
Richard, her primary Caregiver, recounts the process:
"Removing the chain was something we had all wanted to do for a long time but were never able to. Until the positive reinforcement training, we never had a way of telling Billie what we were trying to do so she seemed to assume when someone's getting close to her it's probably bad. Convincing her otherwise was a group effort. First Gail got her to present the foot whenever we asked for it. This quickly became Billie's favorite thing to do, she started offering it even if she wasn't asked, trying to solicit treats and praise. Then Jen and I worked on getting her used to the bolt cutters being close to her foot. We did this gradually, just 3 days a week for about 3 weeks.
Our plan was to ask Billie to rest her foot on the fence and have Margaret feed her to keep her calm and let her know that we were not doing anything bad. The first cut was easy and it showed us the chain was weathered and weak. I looked at the chain for a few moments, knowing each passing second was valuable. Even though we did our best to keep her calm, we know that because Billie is so sensitive, her patience cannot be pushed too far. The first couple of cuts made her nervous and she swatted at the fence, keeping her guard up. This was totally understandable and we answered her defensiveness with reassurances. It seemed to work, because even though she would swing at the fence and back away for a second, she came right back when she was ready. After a couple of cuts to the chain, it appeared as though the light bulb went on and she actually figured out what we were trying to do!
The changes may seem subtle to people watching the video, but her expression changed, her swings at the fence subsided, and she even seemed to be trying to help us by lifting her foot higher then ever, pushing it up to the bars as much as she could, and turning her ankle in different directions. After the 6th cut, there was no more that I could take off using the bolt cutters, so I set them aside. I reached out to her foot with my hand to see if I could separate the links; I was just going to test it but a slight touch caused it to slip right off. The chain rattled to the ground and we were finished.
After the chain fell, Billie picked it up for a moment out of curiosity, but quickly lost interest and left it behind for good.
After the camera stopped rolling, Billie went over to the sand pile and woke Frieda from her nap, perhaps to show off her new look; Liz immediately came over as well for the usual trumpeting/chirping reunion.
As for why she seemed to try helping us - we will never know for sure. In the circus they said she was a "bad elephant," they said she couldn't be worked with. It turns out she just has to be asked nicely."
The Caregivers keep remarking about how quiet Billie is without her chain rattling around with each step. This amazing accomplishment, while a huge leap forward for our Billie, is even bigger in light of the plight of captive elephants everywhere. It is symbolic of the freedom we all want and that they deserve, not only for our elephants here at the Sanctuary but for elephants everywhere.
Note: Billie and Frieda reside in the Phase 1 Yard where Lizzie is undergoing treatment for TB. Caregivers in this area routinely wear Tyvek coveralls and masks for protection.
April 28, 2011
Elecam viewers often see our high-spirited Minnie splashing in the Sanctuary's ponds. Here's a rare, ground level glimpse of one of Minnie's dips on a rainy spring morning.
March 18, 2011
It has been almost a year since Dulary and Misty have spent some time with Shirley. While that may seem impossible since they share the same barn and habitat, they don't spend time together very often because of the location of their stalls, and because by the time Dulary and Misty leave the barn in the mornings, Shirley and Tarra are usually long gone. During the warmer months, Tarra regularly treks back to the barn to visit her pals, but Shirley is usually settled deep in the habitat in areas Misty and Dulary never visit. So witnessing the three of them spending time together is a special occasion.
In the days when Shirley, Jenny and Bunny would return to the barn at night, there was always a celebration upon entering the doors. It was like it was a whole different world to them, one they had to greet with much excitement. These celebrations were reminiscent of reunions of those who had been separated for years—yet for them, it had only been seconds between their arrivals in the barn. This was the extent of the love and happiness they felt just having each other. After Jenny's passing, these vocal celebrations continued with Shirley and Bunny, but with Tarra taking part more often. One of Bunny's favorite things to do was to trumpet in Shirley's ear. She would take her trunk, squeeze it past the hairs guarding the opening of Shirley's ear, and with her trumpets blaring, Shirley would squint with each repeated announcement of her joy. (And for the sake of fairness, Bunny would curl her trunk around and trumpet just as loud into her own ear.) Caregivers would have to take turns letting the Ladies in, each one wanting to witness a bliss that was undeniable and infectious.
Unfortunately after Bunny's passing, these regular barn celebrations ceased. Shirley still vocalized and would engage Tarra in play, but that little ceremony seemed to have been lost. That is, until this week.
Since starting some new anti-inflammatories, Shirley has definitely gotten back a little ‘pep in her step.' She has been a little more vocal and we are witnessing a little bit of her superior grandma attitude return. We welcomed the spontaneous return of her stick throwing, high-pitched trumpeting, leg swinging, roaring, bellowing announcements that ‘life is good.' This afternoon in the barn, Shirley got going and of course Tarra joined in. (Watch the video—and be warned, you may have to adjust your volume down a bit!) Shirley even modified Bunny's trumpeting in the ear ritual—trumpting into Tarra's mouth, instead. All the while, Tarra had as much fun as Shirley, even though her grunts and barks were being drowned out by Shirley's exuberance.
Words cannot possibly express the feelings that went through her caregivers' hearts and the teary smiles Shirley brought on by this playful demonstration and vocal interaction. Such a happy Girl!
February 16, 2011
Debbie, Ronnie, Lottie and Minnie on Feb. 8, 2006
It is hard to believe that we've just passed the 5-year anniversary of the monumental arrival of the Hawthorn elephants. During those days in late January and early February 2006, as we transported them two by two from Illinois to Tennessee, we knew them only by name: Minnie, Lottie, Ronnie, Debbie, Queenie, Liz, Billie and Frieda. Who they were as individuals was a complete mystery waiting to unfold.
Initially in their new home, they were "dysfunction junction"—8 circus elephants arriving within just 2 weeks—learning what to do with their instant freedom and space free from chains, how to act in a group unsupervised by dominant trainers, and how to make sense of this new lifestyle inside and out. Often times when the elephants seemed to be embracing it all at once, we wondered if they expected this dream vacation to end and were determined not to waste a single moment of their freedom. For the entire herd, there were a few weeks of peace mixed with the occasional struggle as we watched them separate into their areas of comfort. Some liked to wander, while others felt more secure close to the barn. Some liked to play while others just wanted to chill out. Eventually they each found their way, separating themselves into smaller groups where they could relax and begin to heal.
Looking back over the years, it is easier to put the pieces together, witnessing all their little shifts and changes that would evolve or emerge as their true personalities. There were soft moments from Billie early on that gave us glimpses of what resides in her sheltered core. Five years later she is still unfolding, each week allowing us to see a little more of the real Billie.
Then there are Ronnie's radiant eyes that simply tell us how much she loves life—no part of it more than standing next to her best friend, Debbie. Very few things take place without Ronnie and Debbie joined at the hip. Debbie—sweet, steady, stable Debbie—who walks through life with an unassuming grace. Out of all of our Divas, Debbie appears to have found the ability to truly live in the moment—it is all about right now. It seems that we sometimes have the most to learn from the ones that say the least.
Then there is Minnie. Whatever did Minnie do before all these acres of pastures, ponds, trees, fences and culvert pipes to act upon? We believe she is finally realizing that she has more work to do tempering her play to help her become a true member of the herd. This is no easy feat for an elephant like Minnie who has an unyielding energy and is determined there is always time for a little more fun. Although the other elephants are sometimes a little guarded when Minnie starts to whirl around and go into play-mode, it does make for some very entertaining Elecam moments.
Five years later, we find Lizzie fighting through a very challenging treatment of Tuberculosis. Even in the darkest parts of this journey she still takes time to play with her sweet sisters. While treatments are still ongoing, we see a little more of our "old" Lizzie returning now—more vocal and always ready to be the middle of a Billie and Frieda sandwich.
Frieda is such an inspiration—suffering from advanced osteomylitis in her front feet, yet if you didn't watch her walk, you wouldn't have a clue, because she is always smiling with her eyes, and always ready to sing with her friends. Frieda helps look after Liz not only when Liz is feeling poorly, but also to provide the perfect belly scratch as Frieda settles in for long naps outside. Liz still moves in to shade Frieda from the sun, slowly stepping over Frieda's back legs, then side stepping to find the perfect height of Frieda's recumbent body to tend to her own, itchy underside.
Of course we would be remiss if we did not also take some time to remember Queenie and Lottie—both passing on far too soon. Queenie was a perpetual ball of play. With her adorable little round body always on the move, swimming, foraging, grazing and playing—using any excuse to spin, trumpet and squeak. She was a bundle of joy. There is a saying about not arriving to the heavens clean cut and well preserved— it is about sliding into home plate face first in a cloud of dust saying, "Oh what a ride." That was our Queenie. Almost always covered in mud, seldom quiet and always smiling. And dear Lottie, we still miss you like it was yesterday; stoic and radiant, touching all of those around you with your calming presence, and walking through life with a sense that the world is good. Thank you for all of the lessons you taught us. We will endeavor to follow your example as we honor your spirit.
Five years later, we are all reminded how grateful we are for these 8 beautiful Girls, not only to be blessed to observe their wonders of change, but that we have been given the capacity to offer them this life… to provide them with Sanctuary.
February 7, 2011
Shirley isn't our only "grandma" at the Asian barn—Bella is entering her senior years now, too. Bella was a young adult dog when she first strayed onto Sanctuary grounds in 2002, so we estimate her to be about 10 years old now. Just as we do routine health checks for all our elephants, we provide the same level of top veterinary care for Bella.
In order to minimize Bella's time away from Tarra, we take blood and urine samples from Bella in the barn. Bella has never been fond of strangers, but trusts her elephant caregivers implicitly, so she doesn't mind when they take samples, and she willingly goes with them when it's time to make a visit by car to the vet in town.
We have regular x-rays taken on Bella for two reasons: to check on the status of her spine—making sure there is no further damage since her accident a few years ago—and to check her chest, since we discovered a benign lump there over 2 years ago that was removed and thankfully, was not serious. While at the vet's, we also do an abdominal x-ray, listen to her heart, and check her blood pressure to make sure she is doing well from end to end.
This past week another routine checkup was due, so we waited until Tarra returned to the barn early one evening—early enough that we could get Bella to Dr. Scott's office before closing time. Tarra "err-err-erred," touching Bella all over, and then we whisked her friend away with promises we would get Bella back home as soon as possible. At the vet's, Bella's caregiver stayed close to her at all times for two reasons: to provide comfort (since Bella isn't quite as tough as she seems when standing next to her elephant), and also to make sure she didn't decide to snap at someone she did not know or trust. Bella took it all in stride, practically napping while her blood pressure was being measured. The only growl that left her mouth was when one of the hospital cats decided to come into the room—apparently Bella can be territorial even in places that are not her home. As soon as Bella's checkup was complete, she was returned to an ecstatic Tarra, who always greets her little friend with the same level of excitement—whether Bella just leaves the barn to go outside for a minute, reappears from a wild bunny chase, or spends an hour at the vet's.
Bella's radiographs appeared good—her spine looked better than expected, and both her chest and belly were clear. Her blood pressure was also good (did we mention how relaxed she was?) and all her blood values were within range. Overall, not bad for a geriatric pup! A special ERD test designed to detect for early kidney problems did come back "low positive." While this is not serious right now, it gives us an opportunity to make some immediate adjustments in her diet with organic foods that contain low phosphorous and moderate protein levels, vitamins and omegas that should help slow the progression of these renal issues— and in some cases—may completely halt them since it was discovered this early. We'll also add a supplement that is geared specifically towards kidney health, plus we are making plans to add special dog waterers at all of the elephant water corrals throughout the habitat, to ensure Bella has better access to clean water. Traditionally, Bella's preferences for water have been a combination of drinking out of puddles, creeks, ponds, the lake, and from the elephant bins we fill up with water especially for her at every feed. Having her own 24-hour water supply that she can reach at all the watering stations in the habitat will increase her opportunities for a more consistent fresh water supply, especially on the days when Bella and Tarra cover a lot of miles in the summer heat—they will both be stopping at these often!
For her age, Bella is the picture of health. Her hind quarters may still lean a little to the side when she runs (and boy, does she still run!), and she may be turning a little white around the muzzle, but Bella still thoroughly enjoys romping through the habitat with her closest friend, and we intend to help her do just that for as long as possible.
January 21, 2011
Tarra and Bella had some fun playing in one of our many record snowfalls this winter.
January 3, 2011
Last fall we suspended Liz's TB drugs to allow her some time to recover from the side effects. When she became stable again, it was time to slightly increase her dose in order to attain therapeutic drug levels. One drug at a time, the increase took place and Liz remained stable. Now as we enter the new year, her treatment continues, and although she is eating hay well, her palate has steered her away from grain and produce yet again. She has lost a little of her vitality, as she did several times last year, but each time she bounced back.
Our panel of caregivers, veterinarians and scientists continually reviews Lizzie’s treatments and the way she reacts to them. We continue to explore new ways of easing her troubles and hope that 2011 sees the major recovery we all hope for.