The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee

Asian Ele-Diary 2012

February 14, 2012

A Day in the Life of Tarra
7:30 AM:  The air is brisk, the sunshine is warm, and Caregivers arrive to the silent Asia barn, their boots crunching on the limestone gravel as dogs with wagging tails circle around their legs, darting in and out. The Girls spent the night in the warmth of their heated barns to protect them from the cold winter night. Now, the barn comes to life as the Caregivers open the doors and look to see Tarra and her sisters in the warm barn. Greetings come in various ways from all, but Tarra gives her signature "barking" sound and reaches out with her trunk in greeting. The Girls jockey for a position at the front of the stall, ready for a morning meal.
8:00 AM:   The smell of peanut butter and molasses reaches the sensitive trunks waiting beyond the kitchen area as the Caregivers mix supplements with both and stuff apples with the enticing mixture.
8:30 AM:   Caregivers take their time rolling the breakfast cart with six buckets of specially prepared fruit and grain and vitamins to be spread on a flake of hay on the stall floor for each of the Girls. Tarra is the only one to be fed in a bucket as the other Girls are much too destructive with theirs in play. Tarra picks through the bucket to get her favorites first and then to see if any additional seasonal fruits are added, such as strawberries. After eating all the contents, she grasps her empty feed bucket with her trunk, and extends it to waiting caregivers, who give her a smile and a banana in return.
Then Tarra reaches over into Shirley's stall to see if she might gather a few more morsels of hay. Shirley, being Tarra's best friend and herd matriarch, allows Tarra a taste, but moves some of the hay a little further away and out of Tarra's reach.
9:30 AM:   There is still hay to leisurely eat as the Caregivers finish cleaning the surrounding barn yards. Tarra hears the sound of gates moving and heads toward the barn exit near her. On this particular day she has chosen to be in the barn the night before, and the Caregivers have placed hay around in the habitat not far from the barn.
10:00 AM:  Tarra wanders out of the barn with Shirley, heading toward the north. Winkie and Sissy soon follow. In the field are unusually shaped containers placed some distance apart by the Caregivers. Tarra goes directly over to investigate, with trunk reaching out to smell as she approaches one container. She is familiar with these containers and knows it most probably holds various treats including cut apples, oranges, bananas, alfalfa cubes and grapes. She is right.

Tarra finds the tasty treats inside the container

After several quick flips of the container, Tarra has gotten quite a few morsels and with a wad of hay in her trunk, she moves on to examine a ball container nearby. This allows Shirley to investigate the first container and shake loose a few more goodies.

Tarra moves to the ball as Shirley tastes the hay before going further to the treat container.

Mid-day:   Tarra wanders along elephant paths she knows so well, sometimes napping in the woods amidst the aroma of pine trees or sunning on the pipelines. All of this is so familiar to her and the other Girls. It's their home, their Sanctuary.
Tarra seems to know where Shirley is spending her day, and "checks in" with Shirley periodically. Their greetings expressed with rumblings and trunk hugs and tails held straight out, show their excitement in each other's company and their contentment in their strong relationship.

Tarra found Shirley enjoying hay and joined her for a snack.

Tarra enjoys the rest of the day meandering around in the woods, crossing the pipeline in the sun and rests there a bit. Then she moves on to see what things of interest she can observe in her habitat. Later, as if sensing where Shirley may be, she heads in that direction. Tarra finds her good friend and their tender greetings show their joy at reuniting.
Tarra walks up Lake Road to find Sissy and Winkie, since they have been enjoying that area recently. Sure enough, she finds them, and greets them with a backwards walk towards them, all the while "er er erring…" Tarra continues to graze contentedly around Sissy and Winkie for a while.

Tarra and Shirley are joined by Sissy and Winkie on Lake Road.

3:30PM:    A short afternoon shower gives everyone a chance to enjoy some mud baths. When Tarra returns to the barn, she finds the gates to the south yard are being opened for her, so she promptly heads through them to visit with Dulary and Misty in the south habitat. Tarra's "er ers" alert Dulary and Misty to her presences, and they join in the excited greetings and vocalizations.

Tarra finds Misty and Dulary in the mud after a light rain.

5:30PM:    Early evening, Tarra anticipates her special delivery of onion, corn, cabbage, broccoli, potato and carrots with grain, brought on a 4-wheeler by her Caregivers. Hay is added to the selection and soon Tarra casually loosens her hay flake and throws a bit up and over her head to her back where it sticks to her hair.

Tarra "wears" some hay, sticks and dirt on her back.

As the darkness moves into the night, Tarra feels the cooler temperatures descending and she moves slowly toward the warm barn. Tarra senses the 10:00pm feeding will come soon. She'll enjoy the apples, oranges, bananas and grains along with her sisters. She even has some bamboo stalks to chew for hours this evening.
10:30pm:   Caregiver activities are quiet now as they leave for the night. They know Shirley will most probably be the last to come in on this cold evening. The rest of the night is left to the Girls to enjoy in their own way, as the wee hours of the morning follow. A trumpet is heard from the barn, rolling across moonlight shadows on the north meadow; then silence, as one day moves quietly into another in the Sanctuary.

February 2, 2012

Liz Update: Everybody Loves Lizzie

Liz found Sanctuary along with Queenie on February 2, 2006.

Today marks the anniversary of Lizzie's arrival at The Elephant Sanctuary back in 2006. She journeyed along with 7 of her sisters who all came as part of the Caravan to Freedom – leaving their former Circus life behind them. Each of these 8 girls carried with them the scars of the trials they experienced throughout their lives – both emotional and physical. While Lizzie's gentle spirit thrives here in the rolling hills of Tennessee, her body continues to this day to struggle with the consequences of her former life.

As many of you remember, last summer we all were waiting with great anticipation for our sweet Lizzie to reach the end of her 18 month long TB treatment. After numerous negative test results throughout 2010 -2011, we all held out great hope that her treatment was a true success. However, much to everyone's dismay, toward the very end of her treatment, one of Lizzie's last test results came back positive. Everyone was shocked and horribly disappointed, especially because we all knew just how hard the first round of treatment had been for her.

Our dear Lizzie struggled with decreased appetite, weight loss and lethargy, all side effects of the drugs. But, despite how difficult the first treatment was on her body, our precious Lizzie is a fighter. Once off the drugs, we saw a fairly immediate return to the joyful Lizzie we know and love. After several months of a break from treatment, Steve Smith, Director of Elephant Husbandry mused, “I wish our supporters could see her now..She is a very happy, content elephant!”

While Lizzie was enjoying her much-needed break, we worked even harder – for it was up to us to identify new ways to approach Lizzie's treatment that might be more successful and easier for her body to cope with. Over the course of several months, the Sanctuary's Veterinarians, Caregivers, Management, and Board, with guidance from an expert team of Consultants, developed a new plan to be implemented at year end. Everybody loves Lizzie, and we were determined to be here for her, every step of the way, during this next round of treatment!

Last year, the TB drugs were administered rectally which, of course, is not much fun for anyone - - so one of our new approaches was to try to train Lizzie to swallow pills. This would be no easy feat considering one day's treatment would require her to swallow 157 capsules of TB medication (This seems like a lot to swallow, and it is, but remember, an elephant can pop an entire pumpkin in her mouth!)

Debbie and pill training
Training Debbie to swallow pills is easier, because she is able to lift her trunk up and open wide.

We weren't sure if training Liz to swallow pills would work, but it was surely worth giving our all to find out. Lizzie's partially paralyzed trunk made training her for pill swallowing a challenge for both Lizzie and her Caregivers. For elephants without Liz's handicap, it's a bit easier - they can lift their trunk up and place it on their forehead or wrap it on a bar above them, causing them to open their mouth wide and giving Caregivers better access to the back of their mouth. In Liz's case, it can be hard, because she can't lift her trunk. It's more difficult to get good pill placement, and there's a greater risk of the pills being chewed instead of swallowed, revealing their terrible taste. Of course, Lizzie does love to have her tongue rubbed, and she is known to open her mouth to beg for treats, which worked in the Caregiver's favor!

Lizzie's training started under the guidance of Active Environments PC training specialists and was continued under the direction of Steve Smith, The Sanctuary's Director of Elephant Husbandry. Through the dedicated and tireless efforts of the Q Caregiver staff, Lizzie learned to open her mouth and swallow placebos (gel caps filled with vegetable oil). Caregivers gradually increased the number of pills given until we knew Liz would accept the entire 157 capsules representing a full dose of TB medications.

Gatorade helps Liz wash down her pills.
Caregivers Ashleigh and Sam give Lizzie her pills with Gatorade to "wash them down!"

Because we wanted to minimize any adverse effects from the new drug treatment, and ensure that Lizzie's new treatment protocol is as easy on her as possible, Director of Veterinary Care Dr. Susan Mikota began a new approach with the approval of USDA. This new protocol includes giving Liz her medication a little at a time, carefully observing her for any complications. "It's called a drug tolerance trial, and by introducing one drug at a time at 1/4, 1/2, 3/4 and then full dose, we're able to carefully monitor Liz and her reaction to the TB medications," Dr. Mikota explained.

After the much-needed break from treatment, during which Lizzie gained back some of the weight she had lost over the last year, we started Lizzie's drug trial on December 8th. Dr. Mikota elaborated: "Once we got to the full dose and there were no adverse effects from the first drug, we added the second drug the same way and then the third. It was going very smoothly. We had added the 3rd drug at full dose and thought all was well when she had a bad day (we think she bit into one of the bitter pills) and then chose not to cooperate. Luckily we had another drug option for the 3rd choice and quickly switched to that."

Liz is now on full doses of all 3 drugs and to our relief has so far shown none of the side effects she had during the earlier treatment! Regarding the pill swallowing technique, Caregiver Ashleigh said, "It's cool because it gives Liz some control over her treatment. She does seem to like the attention and some extra treats … so that's a plus."

Caregivers with a month's supply of medication for Liz
Caregivers at Q hold a month's worth of Lizzie's TB medication, and despite their concern for Liz, they are taking their cue from her and remaining upbeat and positive.

The Lizzie we all know and love continues to have her positive attitude. For all that she's been through, she's still just sweet Lizzie. She's been a great patient, and some days she takes the pills slower than others. "Some mornings she's a little sluggish to get going, but, hey, who isn't?" said Caregiver Ashleigh. The other day she was incredible and took all 3 drugs in record time - less than 20 minutes! That was wonderful, as it happened to be the day we were planning to collect blood samples to measure the levels of the drugs (this is a necessary step, required by the Guidelines to Control TB in Elephants).

Lizzie was just as cooperative for the blood draw as she was for her pills! At hour intervals, we collected 3 blood samples to then test for drug levels. Lizzie was amazing; we were hoping that she would come back and present her ear each time so we could draw the sample, and she did so, patiently and without complaint. Now we cross our fingers that Liz's levels are where they need to be... which means her treatment is bringing her one step closer to being free from the debilitating effects of active TB.

Her Caregivers are filled with hope for a successful treatment, especially since Liz's appetite has been fabulous this time around. During the last treatment, Lizzie's appetite was greatly diminished and she lost weight. This time, she's still been eating tons of produce, calf manna, a senior horse feed, and hay. Still, Lizzie likes her treats. Her doting Caregivers still find themselves strolling around the aisles of Morrow's, the local grocery store, thinking, "Hmm, I wonder if Liz would like…."

So, along with hay and grasses and nutritious things for Liz to eat, come the occasional pastries, tiny pies, and donut holes. Lizzie carefully grasps each little treasure with her trunk before swinging it up to her mouth. She sometimes rolls them up with grass and hay and pops the whole thing in her mouth, like a kid with a giant wad of cotton candy. If anybody deserves to have a sweet tooth indulged from time to time, we figure Liz does.

The end of each successful day of treatment is a cause for much celebration for her compassionate Caregivers. There's a long road ahead for both Liz and her Caregivers – twelve to fifteen months of treatments, but so far, things are looking good. After she's been given her treats each day and Caregivers have rubbed her big tongue, we are all reminded of how grateful we are; our Liz has been given another chance in Sanctuary.

Liz, Frieda, and Billie
Liz has been in great spirits, eating well, and has the love and support of her sisters Frieda and Billie.