August 21, 2012
Although the official end of Summer is still a month away – there is something about mid- August that creates a sense of urgency for us humans. We feel the need to absorb as much sun and squeeze as much fun out of every precious day as possible, for we know that Fall is just around the corner.
Following the exceptionally hot days & weeks in June and July, August has brought a very welcome break with unseasonably cool temperatures and the occasional Summer storm just to keep it interesting. It is wonderful how nature eventually provides the balance we humans desperately crave, though in its own good time. The elephants, however, seem to know this instinctively - they have that amazing ability that we humans struggle to achieve - to simply live in the moment, accepting the ebbs and flows of each season. Summer started much too quickly for most of us with temperatures soaring into the 100s in early June. But the Girls just take these seasonal changes in stride… when it is cold, they seek the shelter of their warm barns; when it is raining, they enjoy themselves making mud hollows; and when it is hot, they swim in the ponds and nap in the shade of the woods, taking full advantage of the nature of their environment.
Tarra and Shirley have used the cooler August temperatures to wander amazingly far on their jaunts around the habitat. This past week they explored Cedar Valley, then wandered over to Hidden Pond, up to Oak Tree pasture, and on Friday they ended up down in Right Field - the entire circuit encompasses miles and miles of varying terrain and beautiful vistas. They often wander together for a time, then separate, then join-up again with each other daily for grazing or to meet up with their Caregivers delivering meals and snacks. We caught a glimpse of our two explorers out in the habitat on the Elecam on Friday and posted the following Elecam Encounter over the weekend.
The Caregivers at Asia Barn have been working with Dulary for some time now in an attempt to ‘capture’ a behavior in Protected Contact Training known as “lean-in.” The term ‘capturing’ (though the word conjures up many negative images in the animal welfare community) is actually a Protected Contact Training technique wherein you reward and label a behavior when it naturally happens in the elephant’s normal daily activities so that later you can encourage her to initiate the same behavior with a verbal cue by Caregivers when needed.
The behavior ‘lean-in’ asks Dulary to stand parallel and up next to the PC wall that is between her and her Caregivers. Why do we train “lean-in” behavior? ‘Lean in’ helps position the elephant for physical exams, for blood collection during health checks, and to help get the elephant in a good position to present their back feet for foot care. The problem was, Dulary just didn’t ever seem to care to ‘lean-in’ and since all we do is positive reinforcement, all we could do was keep trying new things. After a few months of experimenting with different ways to teach this behavior, with little progress, finally Caregivers had a breakthrough.
According to Steve, Director of Elephant Husbandry, “During one session, we reached in with a long-handled scrub brush and gave Dulary a good scratching over her rump and up on her back, something most elephants love! And Dulary did love it! We scratched then stopped, then asked for “lean in” with the scrub brush just a few feet away from her hip, and as one might expect, she was pretty quick to move herself sideways to get those bristles back in action on her back. A few repetitions, a few attempts to ‘capture’ the behavior and voilà! It was done! …Dulary loves the attention, though she seems to want to focus on getting more attention and more treats rather than what we’re asking her to do! It’s kind of cute. She’s really a sweetheart. Really a smart girl, just maybe a little too, I don’t know, self-indulgent during training sessions! But that’s okay with us. We just had to realize we had to use that, and a scrub brush, to get her to ‘lean in’ for us! Sometimes we humans are little hard to train.”
This weekend The Sanctuary was a bustle of activity – as a group of hard working volunteers dedicated their time and (their backs) to help clear fence lines – with 2,700 acres of property, fencing is a never ending project for Facilities staff. The Saturday Volunteers tackled a mass of vines along the eastern Africa Habitat border. As a result, the African Girls spent Saturday visiting the western side of their habitat - an area they do not visit frequently this time of year.
Flora and Tange are incredibly smart and insatiably curious. Caregivers knew that their “nosy nature” could create a slight problem for the volunteer project, and they did not want the Girls interrupting the guests while they worked. So to entice the Girls to remain in the western portion of the habitat, a treasure hunt of sorts was created with enrichments to keep them entertained. There were several hidden piles of fruit set out in the habitat under logs, rocks, and piles of debris to encourage foraging. A few treat-stuffed toys were also laid out around the habitat, including a fruit-filled keg. The Girls seemed to truly enjoy their treasure hunt. Tange ran ahead and grabbed one of the fruit-filled treats and took off with it to avoid sharing it with Flora. According to Caregiver Kristy, “Flora enjoyed the treats so much that once she had found them all, she came over to me, while I was taking photos, and continually offered me presents of rocks and sticks. She would politely hand them to me in order to “trade” for more treats.” After several nice offerings of gifts, Flora received a large slice of watermelon in return. She certainly knows how to win over her Caregivers!