November 22, 2014

Coming Together

Debbie, Frieda, Ronnie, Liz, and Minnie - all together now.
Debbie, Frieda, Ronnie, Liz, and Minnie – all together now on Q Habitat’s 250 acres.

On a sunny Friday earlier this month, Frieda (always the “trailblazer”) set out from the lower part of Q’s “Phase I” habitat. She was walking to “Frieda’s Field”… so named as she was the first elephant to explore that newly-opened part of the Q-Habitat last year. 

But Sanctuary’s full of enriching surprises for elephants—and there was a big one there awaiting Frieda. As she arrived at Frieda’s Field, Caregivers drew her attention toward a temporary corridor placed there for the day’s purpose. Frieda quickly traveled the walkway and ushered The Elephant Sanctuary into a new phase of progress.

Until this particular day, the Quarantine (or “Q”) Barn & Habitat had consisted of two separate barns and natural-habitats, Phases I and II. Frieda, Billie, and Liz lived in Phase I; while Debbie, Ronnie, and Minnie lived in Phase II.

When the Q elephants arrived at Sanctuary in early 2006, it was known that they’d been exposed to tuberculosis during their time spent in the circus. When Liz was found to be TB-positive, and her trunk-wash test showed her to be actively shedding the TB-bacteria, The Sanctuary made a decision to quarantine Liz in The Elephant Sanctuary’s original barn and habitat – referred to as Phase I. It was also decided that Liz’s closest companions, Billie and Frieda, would move with her to avoid breaking up the trio that had grown so close over many years spent together. The Phase I and Phase II areas were separate facilities with a required buffer-zone of 75 feet of open space between them.

The Hawthorn Elephants in 2006
The Hawthorn elephants at The Elephant Sanctuary in 2006

At that time in The Elephant Sanctuary’s 20-year history, TB-treatment was not a new concept: In 2004, Lota and Misty (also a former Hawthorn elephant) tested positive for TB-exposure upon her arrival in Tennessee. Lota passed away after two months in Sanctuary, and after completing her treatment at Q in 2006, Misty then joined the founding herd over at the then-new Asia Habitat to make way for eight of the Hawthorn elephants at Q. Misty continues to test non-reactive for TB on all test results.

During the time that Billie, Liz, and Frieda have made Phase I their home, the elephant-care community has learned a great deal about the pathology of TB in elephants and its treatment. As of November of this year, all of the Q-Barn Girls that tested positive for exposure (Liz, Billie, Frieda, Debbie, and Ronnie) have made great progress with their treatments, minimizing the likelihood that any of them might shed or become symptomatic for TB, allowing them to be reunited as a herd in the Phase II barn and habitat.

That joyous Friday, as Frieda strolled through the newly-created walkway from her field to Phase II’s habitat, she ushered in a new beginning at Sanctuary—where all six of the former Hawthorn elephants can now socialize via touch, and not just smell and sound. After Frieda’s walk, she turned and entered the Phase II Barn for the first time in years. She was followed by Liz, and eventually (more reluctantly) by Billie—who still shows signs of apprehension toward new developments in her life.

Frieda and Liz walk up the footpath toward their expanded habitat.
Frieda and Liz walk up the footpath toward their expanded habitat with the other Girls.

Left: Billie; Right: Frieda & Liz
Left to Right: Billie, and Frieda & Liz enjoy exploring and foraging in their “new” meadow
– an area of the Q-Habitat to which they haven’t had access for years!

On that night and every night since, all six elephants overnighted together in their heated barn. They are separated into stalls, allowing these six unique personalities the safe space they need, as well as the opportunity to socialize with one another without violating the comfort-level of any of their “sisters.” The habitat itself is fenced into sections for the same purpose. Don’t worry: the evolving social dynamic between these elephants will be the topic of a future EleNote.

You can use our EleCams to watch the elephants acclimate to their new habitats. Thank you for your continued support of The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee. To help provide care for the Girls, please consider a contribution toward our 2014 Year-End Appeal.