February 21, 2012
All of the Girls were treated to an elephant-sized shipment of banana leaves last week, underwritten by a generous supporter. The special delivery was large enough to be enjoyed over several days by all of the Girls! Along with the delivery of banana leaves came container after container of gorgeous blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries, underwritten by a friend of Tarra’s as a special birthday treat for her. They were put in the cooler for safe-keeping until Tarra returned from her day of exploring. She gingerly picked up each of the luscious berries with her trunk and seemed to savor every tiny bite.
When the banana leaves arrived mid-morning, Tarra and Shirley were already out exploring in the habitat, but Sissy and Winkie were still near the barn. Sissy at first was more interested in the hay, already deposited by Caregivers in the clearing, than in the brilliant green and juicy leaves, but before long she came over to see what Winkie was already appreciating. Though the Girls normally enjoy a mud bath, Winkie seemed to be daintily trying to avoid stepping in the mud puddles to get to the treats, so Steve and the Caregivers were sailing the banana leaves over the fence like paper airplanes, trying to assist her in steering clear of puddles, and talking to her warmly about her treats. "Is that good, Winkie?" one questioned, while the other asked encouragingly, "Is it yummy, Winkie?"
Winkie really seems to have grown emotionally over the past few months, and we are truly heartened to see her relating so well to new Caregivers, bonding with Steve, Director of Elephant Husbandry, and socializing calmly and lovingly with Shirley and Tarra. The repeated efforts of Caregivers to show Winkie love and attention have really helped her blossom.
The other day Steve was able to interact safely with Winkie in Protected Contact to aid her in an uncomfortable situation.
Caregiver Laurie had called Steve on the radio and asked him to assist Caregiver Brianna with the Girls so Laurie could open the gate to the North Yard. She needed Steve to occupy Winkie by giving her treats, while Caregiver Brianna interacted with Shirley, Tarra, and Sissy - distracting them so that Laurie could accomplish her task. As Steve and Brianna fed chopped produce to the Girls, Steve began to notice Winkie was mildly distressed. She started blowing out of her trunk forcefully, and not just when she was shooting produce in her mouth with a "poof." She began flailing the end of her trunk, wrapping it around the steel fence pipes, and squeezing the pipes as she pulled her trunk off. Concerned, Steve and Brianna came to realize Winkie had gotten a carrot chunk stuck – in her trunk!
When Winkie reached out to accept more produce, she allowed Steve to take her trunk in his hand and manipulate it so he could see inside it. Sure enough – there was the carrot, inches up into her trunk. Winkie kept eating, and during one of her reaches for treats, Winkie trusted Steve to hold her trunk momentarily and he was able to stick his finger into her trunk to try and free the carrot! Unfortunately, that effort didn’t work, but the level of complete trust and willingness from Winkie, and the emotional growth it represented elated Steve. "She didn’t pull away. She didn’t push me. She didn’t try to squeeze my finger. She let me do it!" he said.
As Winkie continued to feed, she also continued to struggle to blow out the carrot. She’d eat and then pause and fling her trunk around, trying to shake it loose. When that didn’t work, she wrapped her trunk around the fence pipe and again and again tried to force it out. When she reached out for more produce, Winkie let Steve hold her trunk and control its end as he tried a modified version of the "finger sweep" all Sanctuary staff just learned in the annual CPR class. After multiple tries, he finally got the carrot dislodged and rotated. There were more than a few cheers and claps at Asia when Winkie tried again to blow out her trunk and the carrot chunk finally hit the ground.
Steve said, "Every time I held her trunk, she gave me her trunk; she let me control it. She let me put my finger in her trunk. She never got aggressive. She let me control it enough so I could continuously look into it and try to manipulate the carrot. It was really something. These are the occurrences that compel me to figure out how to calm those elephants who can be more fearful, which often leads to aggression; so we can help them safely when something like this happens."
This unexpected, trusting encounter was exhilarating for Steve and an important emotional milestone for Winkie.
This week we celebrate the anniversaries of the arrival of our first two African Girls! Tange has been Finding Sanctuary Since 2/19/2004, when she arrived with her longtime companion Zula from the Chehaw Wild Animal Park in Georgia. Happy Anniversary, Tange! We know your sister Zula continues to watch over you and all of the Girls in Sanctuary.