It’s been one magical year with our Swaziland elephants

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Tendaji and Zola share a playful moment.

Tendaji and Zola share a playful moment.

Today marks one monumental year since we rescued five elephants from drought-stricken Swaziland, Africa. (We’re as shocked as you are that it’s really been a year.) The elephants were flown to the U.S. aboard a chartered 747 jet in a carefully planned operation, arriving March 11, 2016.

Nolwazi, Amahle, Zola, Tendaji, Mlilo and baby Ajabu joined our four “Golden Girls,” Jenny, Gypsy, Congo and Kamba. And since they’ve arrived, we’ve soaked up every minute of this opportunity to get to know them.

Nolwazi, Jenny and Zola rub their trunks on one another./Jared Moeller

Nolwazi, Jenny and Zola rub their trunks on one another./Jared Moeller

They’ve taught us more than we could’ve imagined. Patience. Perseverance. Our love runs so deep for these animals.

Each elephant is complex and personable, each different from the next, yet so perfect together. They’ve merged extremely well with our Golden Girls.

“Their social bonding has exceeded our highest expectations,” said Harrison Edell, vice president of animal operations and welfare. “It’s been quite heartwarming to see them form such strong connections so quickly.”

As they continue to figure out their social hierarchy within the 10-member herd, we’ve enjoyed learning who’s drawn to who; who prefers dips in the pool and who prefers dry land most; who brings the playful trouble and who respects their elders. Here’s the shortened Cliff Notes version.

Gypsy embraces Amahle./Marc Abelanet

Gypsy embraces Amahle./Marc Abelanet

According to our rock star elephant keepers, “little” Amahle, who is daughter to Nolwazi, is goofy, playful, loud and dramatic. She’s an instigator and gets away with it, because most of the elephants are simply drawn to this social butterfly. She’s a water baby and will gladly swim solo, or welcome a partner. She’ll lay down and flop around in the pool with the Texas sun shining down on her.

Nolwazi, who is protective of daughter Amahle, is pretty quiet and mellow, but has a frisky side that she can’t hide. She enjoys playfully sparring with older gals Jenny and Gypsy. She enjoy pool dips and serious mud wallow sessions. She also loves her browse, stripping the bark off of branches and snapping ‘em like twigs.

Tendaji is a ladies man for sure, and the ladies sure love their boy! Zola and Gypsy are his go-to sparring partners. He frequents mud wallow gatherings with the ladies, where they’ll splash in the mud with no cares. He’s grown into one confident, gregarious fella.

Take note: This is how you really enjoy a sand pile. Thanks, Nolwazi and Jenny./Jared Moeller

Two happy elephants in a sand pile. (Nolwazi and Jenny)/Jared Moeller

Zola can be quiet and reserved, but at other times very playful and assertive. She’s great at respecting her elders, and is a leader by example. Her favorite sparring partners are Amahle and Tendaji – the playing never ends.

Mama Mlilo is busy raising her 635-pound, 10-month-old baby Ajabu like a pro. She’s patient and attentive, and keeps a very watchful eye on her precious boy. She enjoys wallowing and dust bathing with the sand.

Ajabu, our surprise baby born two months after their arrival, loves getting dirty, climbing on rocks and logs, investigating everything and testing his strength by trying to push logs around. “He’s sometimes overly dramatic, and is usually full of energy, but will often have afternoon siestas if he has worn himself out earlier in the day,” said elephant supervisor Katrina Bilski.

Ten-month-old Ajabu take a break to nurse.

Ajabu takes a break to nurse.

Last year, our Swaziland rescues arrived underweight. With food sources affected by the historic Swaziland drought, we were paying to bring in truckloads of hay from South Africa to feed the hungry elephants.

Now, their diet is as gourmet as it gets. Fresh woody “browse” greets the growing elephants daily – they spend hours foraging for scattered branches like American elm, Bradford pear and red-tipped photinia. Produce like sweet potatoes and carrots are crowd favorites; squash, zucchini, and celery, though, not so much.

Bilski says Ajabu is the odd exception. “The baby loves his greens, especially kale and celery.”

And they’ve packed on weight like happy honeymooners on vacation.

Nolwazi, our oldest Swaziland elephant estimated to be 23 years old, and Amahle’s mom:

  • Arrival weight: 4,310 pounds
  • Now: 5,390 pounds

Mlilo, estimated to be 14 years old, and mother to Ajabu:

  • Arrival weight: 4,775 pounds
  • Now: 5,000 pounds and a nursing mama

Zola, estimated to be 14 years old:

  • Arrival weight: 4,055 pounds
  • Now: 5,160 pounds

Tendaji, our bull, estimated to be 14 years old:

  • Arrival weight: 3,530 pounds
  • Now: 4,780 pounds

Amahle, daughter to Nolwazi, estimated to be 8 years old:

  • Arrival weight: 2,395 pounds
  • Now: 3,130 pounds

We hope you’ve enjoyed observing these exceptionally smart, dynamic animals as much as we’ve loved caring for them. Elephants in the wild have a huge crisis to combat, and one we will continue to fight wholeheartedly in Africa and here at the Dallas Zoo.

“Our research scientists have several observation projects under way involving our 10-elephant herd,” said Edell. “With the species facing such an uncertain future and so many threats in the wild, that critically important information will help us ensure that these animals thrive in human care.”

Our Swaziland elephants remind us every day why we undertook this long, difficult process to bring them to a home where they’re safe, loved and enriched.

And a special shout-out goes to our elephant curator Karen Gibson and her remarkably devoted, hard-working team of keepers. They’re world-class.

Check out this slideshow of never-before-seen photos of our herd.

The elephants gather on the Savanna.
The elephants gather on the Savanna.
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Categories: Africa, Conservation, Elephant, Mammals | Tags: | 3 Comments

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3 thoughts on “It’s been one magical year with our Swaziland elephants

  1. Kerry Clines

    It’s awesome to see how much healthier these elephants have become under the care of the keepers at the Dallas Zoo. The Savanna is my favorite place to be when I’m there…and just can’t get enough of that baby. Good on ya, Dallas Zoo….. 😉

  2. Gayla

    Warms my heart with pride to see the Golden girls and the Swazi elephants thriving, bonding, enjoying friendships and enjoying their wonderful home in the Savanna at the Dallas Zoo. A huge thank you to the staff and management for making such a bold decision to save the Swazi elephants and to be so patient and loving to help and allow them flourish here.

  3. Adele Ichilian

    LOVE watching them on my visits. Are Indian Elephants just as endangered?

    Especially love the early opening on Saturday mornings. Coming in a 8 am is like having my own semi-private zoo.

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