December 16, 2011
Last week's Ele-note, which described the new living accommodations for Tarra and Shirley with Dulary and Misty, raised questions about how the Sanctuary habitats are arranged. While we addressed many of your questions individually, we felt your concerns warranted a more through explanation of how the habitats are designed and how the elephants have always been managed here at The Sanctuary.
The Elephant Sanctuary is made up of three separate habitats, New Asian, African, and Quarantine, each of which is also divided into sub-habitats (sometimes called enclosures). The original construction of our 2200 acre New Asia Habitat included expansive sub-habitats which have always been utilized by the Caregivers (past and present) to allow elephants with domineering personalities to have some degree of separation and ample space out in the habitat, when necessary. While our goal has always been to provide a natural herd for our elephants, some Girls are inclined to more actively assert their dominant position in their herd; these dominant elephants and their behaviors often determine how Caregivers manage our Girls and are an important part of our Elephant Husbandry program. For Example:
Over at Q – Caregivers were very pleased throughout the Summer and Fall that Minnie, Debbie, and Ronnie were spending more and more time together. But, as the temperatures began to drop and the Girls started heading into the barns more often, Minnie's rough and tumble behavior started to once again resurface. Minnie loves to solicit play from Debbie, and can sometimes get a little pushy with her requests – regardless of the season. In the wild, aggressive behavior would be addressed by the elephant matriarch and aunts. Here, we have our Director of Elephant Husbandry, Steve, and our Caregivers to do the job! If Debbie doesn't want to reciprocate Minnie's playful advances, Minnie gets frustrated and interactions can escalate. When they do, Caregivers intercede and lead Minnie out to a different pasture, to be separated from Ronnie and Debbie for the rest of the day.
Winter brings about its own unique challenges at The Sanctuary, with the elephants spending more time inside the barn keeping warm. Debbie, in particular, appreciates the toasty barn. Minnie, on the other hand, likes the cold and will go out in temperatures that Debbie wouldn't dream of going out in. When they are together, this leads to a bit of a 'disagreement' about when to return to the barn; in colder weather Debbie wants to go back, Minnie doesn't. This can lead to a pushing match as Minnie tries to keep Debbie with her. It is times like these when Caregivers intervene and separate the Girls to keep the harmony. Due to this seasonal dynamic, Caregivers have decided to wait until Spring to let Debbie and Ronnie in the same enclosure with Minnie again. The warmer Spring weather will keep everyone happy as they wander far from the barn and enjoy their green Sanctuary.
In Asia – The girls have enjoyed several weeks socializing with their new roomies. Misty was very engaging and loving with Tarra and Shirley, which was exactly what the Caregivers were expecting. Their interactions as a threesome were comforting and lovely to witness – to everyone but Dulary! Dulary is very protective of her best friend Misty and was reducing the opportunities for Misty to socialize with Tarra and Shirley. Dulary was also becoming increasingly assertive in her behaviors. So, Caregivers decided it was time to switch everyone back to their original accommodations. Tarra, Shirley, Sissy and Winkie have been interacting very nicely since the switch back. Caregiver Laurie witnessed their reintegration and it went very smoothly. When Laurie saw Winkie heading in the direction of Tarra and Shirley, she followed with many treats and hay, and spread them all over the place! When Winkie found Shirley, she also found a major jackpot of goodies. Tarra and Winkie joined Shirley's smorgasbord and Tarra did her "er er erring" and backed into Winkie, then they all settled in and enjoyed the spoils. Laurie encouraged Sissy to come and join the group, to make sure the reintegration of the final elephant in the herd wouldn't stir up the peaceful dynamics. Sissy slipped in amongst her sisters to enjoy grazing in good company. Misty and Dulary are both their rumbley, happy selves. In the Spring, when weather does not necessitate nightly barn access, we hope to manage the Asia Girls to get all of them together more often.
Great elephant husbandry calls for a dynamic management system, one where the elephants' ever-changing behaviors and socialization preferences are accommodated on a daily basis. As always, here at The Sanctuary, our Girls, their behaviors, and their socialization preferences will determine our management plans, which is exactly as it should be!