Thursday, October 22, 2009
Thoughts from Hogle Zoo elephant manager Doug Tomkinson
Today’s Zuri photo is chuckle-worthy because it looks like she has started practicing yoga. This “downward elephant” posture really helps purification of the mind!
While Zuri isn’t really practicing this ancient form of exercise, Hogle Zoo Elephant Manager Doug Tomkinson says he believes the elephant team will start training with her in November or December. Training for husbandry procedures, for enrichment and for exercise is critical to the well-being of elephants, and the keepers will help Zuri learn behaviors which will be useful in her care. For instance, having an elephant lift their foot helps the keepers make sure the bottoms of their feet are clear of rocks or anything else that might make standing or walking uncomfortable. When elephants get older, they learn to present their ear to the keepers for procedures like blood draws or checkups. Behaviors like these might seem easy to the average person, but this all takes significant hours, weeks and work on the part of the keepers. Training also helps bond the animals to their keepers and establishes important relationships.
Right now, however, Zuri seems to be learning and exploring very well on her own. Tomkinson talks a little bit about his experience with Zuri this week:
It’s been just over ten weeks since Zuri was born and she is still adventurous and independent. It’s surprising to me that her curiosity hasn’t lessened. I’m amazed by Zuri every single day; even today when I watched her climb on a log and on her balance beam, I am amazed by her strength and agility. I watch her try new things and see how quickly she learns that she can lift her front legs and then her back legs before she energetically takes off running across her yard.
Zuri continues to seek out new things like solid foods like fruit, hay or popcorn but her trunk isn’t developed enough to help her out with the eating, so she often just sticks her head down through the food just to see what happens. She is still nursing, and will for quite a while.