Welcoming orphaned elephant

Video: youtube, elephantnews

The Elephant Nature Park in Thailand is a special place.  They rescue elephants and rehabilitate them from landmine accidents, abusive circus acts, and body-breaking logging work.  The elephant then can live out his or her life in retirement.

Tourists are allowed to observe the elephants, and even can feed or bathe them (the staff are careful to choose elephants who are willing participants).   This park was where I got to meet a variety of elephants during my trip to Thailand in June 2015.

Therefore, I try to keep up with news online about the Elephant Nature Park.  This video of an orphaned elephant being welcomed by the herd made world news this week, and for good reason.  It’s so heartwarming to watch good news!

With summer here (a short season in my city), I will be posting on the blog less – likely once a week – as I will be trying to spend as much time outside during my free time as possible!



Elephants help rescue effort

An elephant in India hurt his leg and became stuck in swamp waters.  Local villagers have been bringing the wild elephant food.  They have ridden their domestic elephants into the murky water to deliver supplies.  Now a team of rangers and vets have arrived to free the elephant and fix the leg.

One of the most touching aspects of this story is that the domestic elephants showed great compassion for their fallen wild friend.  They intertwined trunks for extended periods of time, an act usually reserved only for friendly family members.

From ABC News:

Indian veterinarians are treating a 10-year-old wild elephant with an injured leg to help it escape from a marshy area where it has been stuck for at least five days.

The state Forest and Environment Ministry said forest rangers are bringing domesticated elephants to help rescue the trapped male elephant in Amchang Wildlife Sanctuary, 40 kilometers (25 miles) east of Gauhati, the capital of Assam state.

Sadly, more elephants are becoming trapped (and often die) in wells or dangerous waters.  This is due to climate change – wild elephants are going into unchartered territory to search for water and food.


Do Asian and African elephants get along?

According to an article in Forbes magazine, zoos nowadays are trying to avoid mixing African and Asian elephant populations.

The reason has little to do with personality differences and more to do with health.  African elephants can carry a virus called EEHV without complications, but Asian elephants can die from it.

Asian and African elephants can accept one another and become like family despite their size and personality differences (Asian elephants are smaller, only males have tusks, and both sexes tend to be less into rough housing as their African cousins).

Interestingly, Asian and African elephants have differences in communication sounds/body language, but when placed together, they seem to learn each other’s methods and combine elements of each to communicate successfully with each other.


Photo taken at my zoo

Male elephant harms baby elephant

I won’t link the video here, but there was a sad story about a male elephant caught on camera in South Africa tossing a baby elephant angrily into the air.  Fortunately, the mother elephant then protected her baby.

Animal experts say this is rare, but can happen.  The key fact is that the male elephant was young, about twenty years of age.  Like human teenagers, young male elephants don’t always behave responsibly, partly due to their still developing brain.  A young male elephant is still not aware of certain sexual scents – a fully mature male can tell when a female elephant is a recent mother or is ovulating and ready  to conceive.  A young male elephant acts on his sexual desire alone.  This particular elephant was sexually frustrated and took out his anger on the innocent little elephant.

A story in National Geographic says that the incident was one of the worst they have seen.  Usually, other elephants can sense when trouble is brewing and will put a stop to bad behavior before things get out of hand.


My volunteer work

IMG_5013Since I do not live in Thailand, my elephant volunteer experience was a one day event.  But, I am lucky enough to work with large, friendly, intelligent animals here at home.

There is a horse therapy farm about twenty minutes away by car that does amazing work.  The horses are all rescues, and they take disabled children for rides on trails.  This is my fourth year volunteering.

My volunteer job is varied.  First, I get to work with the horses – grooming, tacking, and taking them for some exercise prior to their work with the children.  Then, I help the children get comfortable around the horses, and help them get in the saddle.  I then serve as a sidewalker or horse leader on the trail.  Finally, I have some messy chores to do like helping clean up the stalls.


Each horse has a sad background story, so it’s heartwarming to see how both horse and rider benefit in this program.

My selfishly favorite part is at the end of the season I get offered a riding lesson of my own.



Photos show three of the horses (there are seven at the farm).  The last photo is of me riding my favorite!



Protected Contact vs. Free Contact

There are two main methods of dealing with zoo elephants.  Protected contact means the caretakers and elephants are separated, and elephants have more independence to make their own decisions.  Free contact signifies a more traditional method, where zookeepers have regular physical contact with the elephants.


My local zoo still uses free contact but has incorporated more and more protected contact methods.  It is interesting to watch.  As a child, I remember watching the keepers bathe an elephant by being in the cage, having the elephant lie down while they scrubbed leaning their weight upon her.  Nowadays, the keepers have a partial barrier at bath time and give verbal commands (“ear!” for example, and the elephant moves her body close to the barrier and sticks her ear out straight so it can be washed by gentle hosing, which has a soapy setting and rinse setting).   Often, the keepers do not need to touch her.  They toss peanuts or fruit chunks to the elephant if she completes the task properly.

The Hannover Zoo, which I discussed earlier this week, likely has used an aggressive free contact form of training for their elephants called free contact dominance.  This makes the elephant fear the keepers.  In the first half of the 20th century, people believed this dominance not only trained the animal, but also protected the human.  With more research, however, most animal behavior experts nowadays agree that an animal that is in fear is actually more likely to react violently than one who has been treated with more respect and granted more independence.

Photo: taken at Elephant Nature Park







Fighting a Crocodile

Alexander Amuli M’betti Makanga was on a boat safari in Malawi, observing birds and a peaceful herd of elephants when chaos occurred.  He captured the incident on his camera.  A crocodile grabbed hold of a young elephant’s trunk.  The older elephants at first bolt, trumpeting, but soon realize the young elephant is still being attacked.  They then turn back to save their family member, with the largest elephant taking the lead with her tusks.

The crocodile lets go and disappears in the water.  The young elephant cannot be seen anymore by the camera, as it is surrounded by the herd.  The extent of injuries is therefore unknown, but it looks like it had been fighting the crocodile off without tiring so hopefully will be strong enough to recover.

Crocodiles and lions are two predators of young elephants.  The herd is vital to a young elephant’s survival, and the oldest and biggest elephants are the most important.  That is yet another reason why poaching is so tragic.  Poachers often want the elephants with the biggest tusks, which in turn puts the whole herd at greater risk.

video – YouTube