Elephant

Saving elephants: the largest land animals on Earth

Conservation and Management Intern Alisia Boyd guest-blogs on Zoohoo!

“They say an elephant never forgets. What they don’t tell you is, you never forget an elephant.“

Bill Murray

In the early 1900s, an estimated 3-5 million elephants thrived across a vast range in Africa. Today, there are only about 415,000 African elephants remaining in the wild, and their range has been reduced by nearly half. They have suffered from massive amounts of poaching for their highly prized ivory tusks. The demand for ivory was so steep that in 1989, an international trading ban was put into place. However, illegal poaching persists and results in the deaths of approximately 96 elephants every single day.

If current trends continue, it is entirely possible that they will be extinct in our lifetime, which is why we are on a mission to support elephants in the wild. This week, the Dallas Zoo has set a goal to raise $10,000 through grassroots fundraising to support conservation efforts in the wild. Read on to learn more about these amazing animals and what you can do at the Dallas Zoo to help!

Dallas Zoo’s herd

The Dallas Zoo’s award-winning Giants of the Savanna habitat is home to 8 magnificent African elephants. The “Golden Girls:” Jenny (42), Gypsy (37), Congo (41), Kamba (39) and the Swazis: Tendaji (approx. 15), Mlilo (approx. 15), Zola (approx. 15) and baby Ajabu (2).

Baby Ajabu plays in a mud wallow.

The design of the Giants of the Savanna habitat was based on field research and allows our elephants to be more active as they look for food, water, and companionship, just as they would in the wild. Treats are occasionally hidden in trees or in niches around the habitat, and elephants exercise their trunk muscles to find those treats or to reach high-hanging hay nets. They travel over small hills, into waterholes, and along an off-exhibit pathway for additional workouts.

The Dallas Zoo elephants also have the luxury of their behind-the-scenes barn. The innovative barn is optimized for climate control – with radiant floor heating and padding in the winter months and movable walls that provide cross-ventilation in the summer heat. This barn also has a community room with 7-foot-deep sand floors used to bury food and toys, since the elephants are accomplished diggers.

An elephant’s life

Elephants are well-known for their intelligence, close family ties and social complexity, and their capacity to remember other individuals and places for years. Elephants have strong, individual personalities that affect how they interact with other elephants and how others perceive them.

An example of this at the Dallas Zoo can be seen among the Golden Girls. Jenny, our oldest resident, is vocal and playful. Gypsy is mischievous, eager, and loves attention. Congo is inquisitive and enjoys exploring. Lastly, Kamba is friendly and cautious and enjoys being around the other elephants.

The position of head of the family is held by a female known as the “matriarch.” Matriarchs express their dominance in both competitive and cooperative situations. The most successful leaders seem to be confident individuals who are able to command the respect of others through both their wisdom and their charisma.

An elephant herd consists of one or more (usually related) adult females and their immature offspring who feed, rest, move, and interact in a coordinated manner and are closely bonded. Members of a family show extraordinary teamwork and are highly cooperative in group defense, resource acquisition, offspring care, and decision-making.

(Source: elephantvoices.org)

Dallas Zoo supports conservation

Since January 2019, a group of dedicated conservation interns has been learning all about African elephants – through interviews with keepers, behind-the-scenes tours, and tons of research. It all culminates in this special Conservation Week (March 9-16), when we will be engaging Dallas Zoo guests to promote awareness about elephants and inspire conservation action.

This is an exciting time for us, as we get to show our months of hard work and dedication to the conservation of elephants. We have also worked countless hours ensuring that we are getting different departments of the zoo engaged and excited for the upcoming week of fun, information, and memorable experiences.

How YOU can help

The BIGGEST way you can help elephants is to NEVER purchase ivory or anything made from parts of elephants. Also share this information with others around you so that you can help spread awareness and begin the cycle of change.

A group of Dallas Zoo interns, including myself, have organized a jammed-packed week full of fun events and conservation engagement. We hope you join us at the Dallas Zoo during Swing Break through March 17 to help us create a better world for animals.

We’ve set ambitious goals for Elephant conservation, and we need your help to reach them:

  1. $10,000 for elephant conservation – Help us reach this goal by purchasing elephant swag from us at our Campaign Station in the Zoo, or by attending any of the events during Swing Break.
  2. 2,500 personal pledges – Stop by our Saving Elephants Campaign Station to take a pledge for pro-wildlife behaviors that benefit elephants.

Please support our efforts of raising funds for elephants so we can continue making a positive impact for the lives of the most majestic mammals.

Categories: Africa, Conservation, Elephant | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Snoozing in the sand: Studying elephant sleep habits

 

Coordinator of Animal Behavior Science Nancy Scott guest-blogs on ZooHoo! about a study conducted on our elephants’ sleep habits and behaviors.

Sometimes we can’t sleep the night before Christmas or before a big test. Whether it’s something exciting or scary, big events can affect how well we sleep at night.

The same goes for animals, too. When the Dallas Zoo rescued elephants from Swaziland last spring, we really wanted to confirm they felt comfortable enough in their new environment to sleep well at night.

Our first step was to see how many hours our longtime residents, the “Golden Girls,” were sleeping at night, so we could compare the groups. The thing is, I like to sleep as much as the next person, so how were we going to keep track of elephants sleeping while we were sleeping, too?

Technology to the rescue! We used video cameras in the elephant barns to record what the elephants did at night, and then reviewed the footage the next day… while we were awake.

Although elephants can doze standing up – sometimes even while leaning against a rock or using their trunk as a fifth limb for balance – they’re most relaxed when lying on their sides.

“The most surprising thing to me was that elephants lay down to sleep,” said research volunteer Becca Dyer. “I thought that, because of predators, they slept standing.”

For this study, we wanted to know how much time the elephants were lying down and getting the very best sleep.

Our observations of the Golden Girls told us Jenny likes to go to bed around 10-11 p.m., while the other three females are usually asleep by midnight. And just like you may have to get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom or raid the fridge, the elephants don’t sleep through the night, either. They usually get up three or four times a night, sometimes changing sides, or location.

“When Gypsy finally goes to sleep, Jenny will bug her until she wakes up … and then lay down in her spot! Gypsy doesn’t seem to mind. What a friendship!” research volunteer Jill Donaldson said.

While volunteering as a Base Camp ambassador, Jill has seen the elephants using sand to dust themselves in the Savanna – especially after a good mud wallow – but she didn’t realize they also use the sand piles as a pillow. The keepers often see imprints of the elephants’ skin in the sand piles in the mornings.

Our elephants tend to sleep on their sides, much like humans do

The elephants rescued from drought-stricken Swaziland seemed very comfortable their very first night in their new home at the Dallas Zoo, according to our observations from just about a year ago. There was plenty of sand for pillows, and they certainly took advantage of it. Feeling relaxed in their new home, the rescued adults slept just as long as our resident Golden Girls – about 3-4 hours per night.

We quickly learned their personalities from the overnight video. Our bull, Tendaji, likes to sprawl out with his legs in front of him and will sometimes be on his side with his eyes still open, trying to eat hay while he’s lying down.

Nolwazi tends to go face-first into the sand when she beds down. Research volunteer Julie Evans (who can also be found in the Gorilla Research Station or Base Camp when she’s not observing sleeping elephants) remembers a favorite moment when “Nolwazi raised her head to check that her daughter, Amahle, was sleeping peacefully, then Nolwazi put her head back down.” A typical youngster, Amahle sleeps longer than the adults, resting around 4-5 hours each night.

Donaldson wasn’t sure if watching sleeping elephants would be interesting when she first signed up to help, “… but no way am I bored. They are all fascinating!” she said.

After calf Ajabu was born last May, we learned a lot about baby elephant sleep patterns, too. He loves to climb all over his mom just as she’s trying to get some much-needed shuteye for herself (sound familiar, parents?).

“If all else fails, he’ll curl up under her chin and sleep a little longer,” said research volunteer and Base Camp ambassador Barbara van Pelt.

Ajabu takes more than a dozen naps each night (for a total of 6-7 hours of rest) when he’s not pestering his mom, playing with Amahle, or practicing his balance skills on a log. While Jill and Barbara are impressed by his perseverance, Rhonda loves watching him for his tightrope skills. You may have seen him practicing in the habitat by climbing rocks.

Our volunteers contributed an average of 20 hours a week over the past 14 months on this important project.

“It’s a great group of people who volunteer for the study, and we enjoy sharing our thoughts about what we see,” said Barbara. When asked why she likes to help with this study, Julie said, “Why? Because research is my passion!”

I couldn’t agree more.

Interested in volunteering opportunities? Contact Volunteers@DallasZoo.com

Categories: Africa, Elephant, Volunteers | Tags: , , | 5 Comments

Happy first birthday, Ajabu: Looking back on a year of milestones for our baby elephant

2017_Mar_18_DallasZoo_0722_Ajabu_mud_better

Ajabu enjoys a mud wallow session./Chandra Brooks

It was 7 a.m. on Saturday, May 15, 2016 – the Zoo was just waking up and keepers were filing in, when two elephant keepers shook the barn with squeals of joy as they discovered a little grey bouncing baby boy. Just hours before, elephant Mlilo had delivered a 175-pound, 3-foot-tall calf to our somewhat surprise.

The baby, already standing, nursing and totally unfazed, would be the first African elephant calf born in a U.S. AZA-accredited Zoo in more than two years.

The keepers quickly executed their, “Surprise! A baby’s been born!” procedures to ensure the vet and animal care teams were immediately aware of the newborn.

Baby Ajabu at just three days old.

Baby Ajabu at just three days old.

But, the one who knew exactly what she was doing, Mlilo, took it all in stride. She’d been growing this baby for nearly two years, and her maternal instincts were alive and kicked in right on cue. She was born for this.

Two months prior, Mlilo arrived aboard a chartered 747 jet from drought-stricken Swaziland, Africa, as part of an intricate airlift to save her and 16 other elephants from being culled. This, in turn, saved her AND her beautiful baby boy.

Our animal experts suspected Mlilo was pregnant, but all hormone testing came back inconclusive. Regardless, we were very careful with Mlilo’s day-to-day care, and were able to create the positive conditions surrounding Ajabu’s successful birth.

Estimated to be 15 years old, Mlilo arrived here thin and underweight, but better nutrition in just the few weeks leading up to her delivery helped her gain 300 crucial pounds. And over the course of the next five months, we allowed mom and baby much time to bond privately, and grow together, while we worked to “baby-proof” the Giants of the Savanna habitat.

As we celebrate this precious baby’s first birthday, we look back on the moments that truly take our breath away. And if you weren’t a fan already, we’re certain that over the past year, this rambunctious boy has made you fall in love with his vulnerable species.

We insist you binge watch:

  1. Captured on the barn cameras, Ajabu’s birth; mom’s gentle nudge encouraging baby to stand; his first steps; his first time nursing, will forever remain one of those “pinch us, we’re dreaming” moments. (And yes, utter disbelief caused much pinching.)
  2. That time newborn Ajabu wouldn’t let mom sleep, and Mlilo obliged with his antics Every. Single. Time. #MomGoals
  3. When baby Ajabu took his first dip in a kiddie pool and we thought there was nothing cuter. (We were quickly proven wrong. See No. 4.)
  4. Baby boy received his first ball and played so hard that food and water were the only things that could tear him away. Priorities.
  5. Another major first, the day Mlilo and Ajabu explored their “baby-proofed” habitat This was an unforgettable moment.
  6. Then seeing it all come full circle as baby Ajabu and Mlilo ventured into our largest habitat with other herd members.

Hmm, can you still call a 4-foot-tall, 800-pound, one-year-old elephant a “baby”? Actually, don’t answer. He’s our baby and always will be.

Ajabu, whose African name means “wonder,” “amazing” and “extraordinary” is a remarkable ambassador for his troubled species, inspiring guests daily to help find answers to the grave crisis elephants face in Africa. He represents so much.

He’s here because we took a chance, a major one. And the way children light up when they see his tiny trunk, his perfect ears, and hear his little trumpets – it’s unexplainable. Ajabu plays such a key role in inspiring our next generation of wildlife warriors to save species from extinction and ensure we never know a world without the majestic, powerful African elephant.

Happy first birthday to our baby boy Ajabu. You mean more to us than you will ever know.

And a thank you to Mlilo. You’re the kind of protective, playful, and present mother all moms wish they could be. Here’s to a very Happy Mother’s Day, mama Mlilo.

Categories: Africa, Conservation, Elephant, Zookeepers | Tags: , , , | 5 Comments

It’s been one magical year with our Swaziland elephants

 

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: | 7 Comments

Elephant introductions: A peek at a very complicated process

It’s been eight months since we rescued five elephants from Swaziland, Africa, in an intricate airlift to save their lives. Since then, we’ve been introducing the new arrivals – Nolwazi, Amahle, Zola, Tendaji and Mlilo – to our four “Golden Girls,” Jenny, Gypsy, Congo and Kamba.

And believe us, entire NASA expeditions to outer space may have been launched with less care, planning, observation and hard work. Have you ever introduced a new pet to your family? Now imagine it with 10,000-pound animals.

All summer, the nine adult elephants have been in various parts of the Giants of the Savanna habitat, getting to know each other and forming their own complex social bonds. The arrival of calf Ajabu in May brought great joy, but added another layer of complexity to the introductions.

Congo, Kamba, Tendaji and Zola graze together in the Giants of the Savanna habitat.

Congo, Kamba, Tendaji and Zola graze together in the Giants of the Savanna habitat.

Our keepers have monitored the elephants almost around-the-clock. (They even slept in the elephant barn after Ajabu was born, to keep an eye on the little guy.) And our research scientists and volunteers keep detailed notes of all of the interactions, to chart the herd dynamics.

It’s been complex, exhilarating, humbling, emotional, sometimes nerve-wracking – and incredibly rewarding. So we’d like to share just a bit of our daily lives with these remarkable creatures, taken from our team’s observation notes and interviews.

Remember, training occurs simply so we can provide better medical and husbandry care for the elephants. We utilize “protected contact,” not sharing their space, so we let elephants be elephants.

Read more »

Categories: Conservation, Elephant | 2 Comments

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