Jumbo the Elephant

A recent blurb in The Telegraph features a review of a documentary:

One could easily have imagined Attenborough and the Giant Elephant (BBC One), the bittersweet tale of the world’s first animal superstar – Jumbo the elephant, London Zoo’s foremost attraction in Victorian times – filling a prime-time slot in the Christmas or Boxing Day schedules. But perhaps it was deemed too sad. Too liable to dial down Yuletide high spirits with its archaeological examination of unintentional animal cruelty and the appalling ignorance of generations past.

I had never heard of Jumbo, but his story is rather tragic.  He was a superstar attraction, the first time many had ever seen an elephant.  He was beloved by children on both sides of the Atlantic.  

However, he was severely mistreated.  He was forced to perform and did not receive proper medical care.  His keeper then gave him alcohol to depress his violent outbursts.  He ended up dying in a horrid fashion – being hit in a train crash.

The only comfort is that perhaps Jumbo planted the early seeds of animal rights in people’s minds.  Seeing a live elephant made some care more about their welfare, and zoos have made positive changes since that time.  Many circuses have gone out of business or have stopped using animals in their shows.





Donating to zoos

My local zoo gladly takes donations to help elephants and other animals.  Obviously, monetary donations are accepted, but it is nice to donate items where you can see the animals actually use them.

The zoo elephants enjoy “foraging” for pasta, unsweetened cereals, oats, and unsalted pretzels.  They also like spices and perfumes.  And, if you have large cardboard tubes you want to recycle, they make enjoyable elephant playthings to manipulate and destroy.

Other animals also need supplies – for example, my zoo was thrilled to accept blankets for their primates.


So, if you are cleaning out your cupboards, house, or garage, ask your zoo if they need anything!





Seoul Zoo Baby Elephant

Hui-mang, which means “Hope”, is a lucky little one.  The baby elephant fell into water and her mother and grandmother rushed in to rescue her.  The video is from a zoo surveillance camera, and shows another family member in the background pacing with concern.

This video is yet more proof of the social nature of elephants, the importance of familial relationships, and their intelligence.

It is also a good visual of why humans have long felt a kinship with the animals.

Video: YouTube, photcube



Snow Leopard Trust

My local zoo is finally expanding the area for their snow leopards; their previous enclosure always broke my heart a bit.  Snow leopards, like elephants, are struggling in the wild with climate change, poaching, and human/animal conflicts.  There are only between 4000-6000 wild snow leopards in the world today.

The Snow Leopard Trust has been instrumental in saving the snow leopard.  One of their projects includes providing livestock insurance – herders who wish to receive compensation for lost livestock must protect snow leopards.  Another provides income to women by purchasing their handicrafts and selling them through the Trust all over the world.  They also create eco-camps and nature clubs for children to  learn about conservation, and run adult educational seminars on a regular basis.



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

Becoming an Elephant Keeper

Chester Zoo in the UK has a job opening for an elephant keeper:

“Chester Zoo aims to set a benchmark for animal welfare and the successful candidate must be able to deliver an excellent level of animal husbandry, care and welfare for the assigned mammals, ensuring that all enclosures and facilities are maintained to the highest possible standards.”

What does this mean?  Well, there are actually no degree requirements to work with elephants.  Yet, successful applicants almost always have a university degree in zoology and previous experience working with large animals.

Even if you have these qualifications, there is the reality of low pay (at my hometown zoo, expect less than $30000 a year for your degree and experience), varied hours, and quite a bit of physical labor.  Expect to come home smelly.

But, of course, the rewards of working with animals are great too.

Plus, you’ll always have a good and interesting conversation when someone asks, “What do you do?”.

IMG_3690Photo: taken at Elephant Nature Park

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