Each time a new elephant arrives at the Sanctuary we post her progress online. As she adjusts to her new life, entries in her diary are less and less frequent.
For those of you who yearn to hear more, visit the Ele-Notes.
Thanks for your continued interest and support.
Photo right: As far as the eye can see—Asian Elephant Habitat
February 14, 2012
A Day in the Life of Tarra
7:30 AM: The air is brisk, the sunshine is warm, and Caregivers arrive to the silent Asia barn, their boots crunching on the limestone gravel as dogs with wagging tails circle around their legs, darting in and out. The Girls spent the night in the warmth of their heated barns to protect them from the cold winter night. Now, the barn comes to life as the Caregivers open the doors and look to see Tarra and her sisters in the warm barn. Greetings come in various ways from all, but Tarra gives her signature "barking" sound and reaches out with her trunk in greeting. The Girls jockey for a position at the front of the stall, ready for a morning meal.
8:00 AM: The smell of peanut butter and molasses reaches the sensitive trunks waiting beyond the kitchen area as the Caregivers mix supplements with both and stuff apples with the enticing mixture.
8:30 AM: Caregivers take their time rolling the breakfast cart with six buckets of specially prepared fruit and grain and vitamins to be spread on a flake of hay on the stall floor for each of the Girls. Tarra is the only one to be fed in a bucket as the other Girls are much too destructive with theirs in play. Tarra picks through the bucket to get her favorites first and then to see if any additional seasonal fruits are added, such as strawberries. After eating all the contents, she grasps her empty feed bucket with her trunk, and extends it to waiting caregivers, who give her a smile and a banana in return.
Then Tarra reaches over into Shirley's stall to see if she might gather a few more morsels of hay. Shirley, being Tarra's best friend and herd matriarch, allows Tarra a taste, but moves some of the hay a little further away and out of Tarra's reach.
9:30 AM: There is still hay to leisurely eat as the Caregivers finish cleaning the surrounding barn yards. Tarra hears the sound of gates moving and heads toward the barn exit near her. On this particular day she has chosen to be in the barn the night before, and the Caregivers have placed hay around in the habitat not far from the barn.
10:00 AM: Tarra wanders out of the barn with Shirley, heading toward the north. Winkie and Sissy soon follow. In the field are unusually shaped containers placed some distance apart by the Caregivers. Tarra goes directly over to investigate, with trunk reaching out to smell as she approaches one container. She is familiar with these containers and knows it most probably holds various treats including cut apples, oranges, bananas, alfalfa cubes and grapes. She is right.
Tarra finds the tasty treats inside the container
After several quick flips of the container, Tarra has gotten quite a few morsels and with a wad of hay in her trunk, she moves on to examine a ball container nearby. This allows Shirley to investigate the first container and shake loose a few more goodies.
Tarra moves to the ball as Shirley tastes the hay before going further to the treat container.
Mid-day: Tarra wanders along elephant paths she knows so well, sometimes napping in the woods amidst the aroma of pine trees or sunning on the pipelines. All of this is so familiar to her and the other Girls. It's their home, their Sanctuary.
Tarra seems to know where Shirley is spending her day, and "checks in" with Shirley periodically. Their greetings expressed with rumblings and trunk hugs and tails held straight out, show their excitement in each other's company and their contentment in their strong relationship.
Tarra found Shirley enjoying hay and joined her for a snack.
Tarra enjoys the rest of the day meandering around in the woods, crossing the pipeline in the sun and rests there a bit. Then she moves on to see what things of interest she can observe in her habitat. Later, as if sensing where Shirley may be, she heads in that direction. Tarra finds her good friend and their tender greetings show their joy at reuniting.
Tarra walks up Lake Road to find Sissy and Winkie, since they have been enjoying that area recently. Sure enough, she finds them, and greets them with a backwards walk towards them, all the while "er er erring…" Tarra continues to graze contentedly around Sissy and Winkie for a while.
Tarra and Shirley are joined by Sissy and Winkie on Lake Road.
3:30PM: A short afternoon shower gives everyone a chance to enjoy some mud baths. When Tarra returns to the barn, she finds the gates to the south yard are being opened for her, so she promptly heads through them to visit with Dulary and Misty in the south habitat. Tarra's "er ers" alert Dulary and Misty to her presences, and they join in the excited greetings and vocalizations.
Tarra finds Misty and Dulary in the mud after a light rain.
5:30PM: Early evening, Tarra anticipates her special delivery of onion, corn, cabbage, broccoli, potato and carrots with grain, brought on a 4-wheeler by her Caregivers. Hay is added to the selection and soon Tarra casually loosens her hay flake and throws a bit up and over her head to her back where it sticks to her hair.
Tarra "wears" some hay, sticks and dirt on her back.
As the darkness moves into the night, Tarra feels the cooler temperatures descending and she moves slowly toward the warm barn. Tarra senses the 10:00pm feeding will come soon. She'll enjoy the apples, oranges, bananas and grains along with her sisters. She even has some bamboo stalks to chew for hours this evening.
10:30pm: Caregiver activities are quiet now as they leave for the night. They know Shirley will most probably be the last to come in on this cold evening. The rest of the night is left to the Girls to enjoy in their own way, as the wee hours of the morning follow. A trumpet is heard from the barn, rolling across moonlight shadows on the north meadow; then silence, as one day moves quietly into another in the Sanctuary.
February 2, 2012
Liz Update: Everybody Loves Lizzie
Liz found Sanctuary along with Queenie on February 2, 2006.
Today marks the anniversary of Lizzie's arrival at The Elephant Sanctuary back in 2006. She journeyed along with 7 of her sisters who all came as part of the Caravan to Freedom – leaving their former Circus life behind them. Each of these 8 girls carried with them the scars of the trials they experienced throughout their lives – both emotional and physical. While Lizzie's gentle spirit thrives here in the rolling hills of Tennessee, her body continues to this day to struggle with the consequences of her former life.
As many of you remember, last summer we all were waiting with great anticipation for our sweet Lizzie to reach the end of her 18 month long TB treatment. After numerous negative test results throughout 2010 -2011, we all held out great hope that her treatment was a true success. However, much to everyone's dismay, toward the very end of her treatment, one of Lizzie's last test results came back positive. Everyone was shocked and horribly disappointed, especially because we all knew just how hard the first round of treatment had been for her.
Our dear Lizzie struggled with decreased appetite, weight loss and lethargy, all side effects of the drugs. But, despite how difficult the first treatment was on her body, our precious Lizzie is a fighter. Once off the drugs, we saw a fairly immediate return to the joyful Lizzie we know and love. After several months of a break from treatment, Steve Smith, Director of Elephant Husbandry mused, “I wish our supporters could see her now..She is a very happy, content elephant!”
While Lizzie was enjoying her much-needed break, we worked even harder – for it was up to us to identify new ways to approach Lizzie's treatment that might be more successful and easier for her body to cope with. Over the course of several months, the Sanctuary's Veterinarians, Caregivers, Management, and Board, with guidance from an expert team of Consultants, developed a new plan to be implemented at year end. Everybody loves Lizzie, and we were determined to be here for her, every step of the way, during this next round of treatment!
Last year, the TB drugs were administered rectally which, of course, is not much fun for anyone - - so one of our new approaches was to try to train Lizzie to swallow pills. This would be no easy feat considering one day's treatment would require her to swallow 157 capsules of TB medication (This seems like a lot to swallow, and it is, but remember, an elephant can pop an entire pumpkin in her mouth!)
Training Debbie to swallow pills is easier, because she is able to lift her trunk up and open wide.
We weren't sure if training Liz to swallow pills would work, but it was surely worth giving our all to find out. Lizzie's partially paralyzed trunk made training her for pill swallowing a challenge for both Lizzie and her Caregivers. For elephants without Liz's handicap, it's a bit easier - they can lift their trunk up and place it on their forehead or wrap it on a bar above them, causing them to open their mouth wide and giving Caregivers better access to the back of their mouth. In Liz's case, it can be hard, because she can't lift her trunk. It's more difficult to get good pill placement, and there's a greater risk of the pills being chewed instead of swallowed, revealing their terrible taste. Of course, Lizzie does love to have her tongue rubbed, and she is known to open her mouth to beg for treats, which worked in the Caregiver's favor!
Lizzie's training started under the guidance of Active Environments PC training specialists and was continued under the direction of Steve Smith, The Sanctuary's Director of Elephant Husbandry. Through the dedicated and tireless efforts of the Q Caregiver staff, Lizzie learned to open her mouth and swallow placebos (gel caps filled with vegetable oil). Caregivers gradually increased the number of pills given until we knew Liz would accept the entire 157 capsules representing a full dose of TB medications.
Caregivers Ashleigh and Sam give Lizzie her pills with Gatorade to "wash them down!"
Because we wanted to minimize any adverse effects from the new drug treatment, and ensure that Lizzie's new treatment protocol is as easy on her as possible, Director of Veterinary Care Dr. Susan Mikota began a new approach with the approval of USDA. This new protocol includes giving Liz her medication a little at a time, carefully observing her for any complications. "It's called a drug tolerance trial, and by introducing one drug at a time at 1/4, 1/2, 3/4 and then full dose, we're able to carefully monitor Liz and her reaction to the TB medications," Dr. Mikota explained.
After the much-needed break from treatment, during which Lizzie gained back some of the weight she had lost over the last year, we started Lizzie's drug trial on December 8th. Dr. Mikota elaborated: "Once we got to the full dose and there were no adverse effects from the first drug, we added the second drug the same way and then the third. It was going very smoothly. We had added the 3rd drug at full dose and thought all was well when she had a bad day (we think she bit into one of the bitter pills) and then chose not to cooperate. Luckily we had another drug option for the 3rd choice and quickly switched to that."
Liz is now on full doses of all 3 drugs and to our relief has so far shown none of the side effects she had during the earlier treatment! Regarding the pill swallowing technique, Caregiver Ashleigh said, "It's cool because it gives Liz some control over her treatment. She does seem to like the attention and some extra treats … so that's a plus."
Caregivers at Q hold a month's worth of Lizzie's TB medication, and despite their concern for Liz, they are taking their cue from her and remaining upbeat and positive.
The Lizzie we all know and love continues to have her positive attitude. For all that she's been through, she's still just sweet Lizzie. She's been a great patient, and some days she takes the pills slower than others. "Some mornings she's a little sluggish to get going, but, hey, who isn't?" said Caregiver Ashleigh. The other day she was incredible and took all 3 drugs in record time - less than 20 minutes! That was wonderful, as it happened to be the day we were planning to collect blood samples to measure the levels of the drugs (this is a necessary step, required by the Guidelines to Control TB in Elephants).
Lizzie was just as cooperative for the blood draw as she was for her pills! At hour intervals, we collected 3 blood samples to then test for drug levels. Lizzie was amazing; we were hoping that she would come back and present her ear each time so we could draw the sample, and she did so, patiently and without complaint. Now we cross our fingers that Liz's levels are where they need to be... which means her treatment is bringing her one step closer to being free from the debilitating effects of active TB.
Her Caregivers are filled with hope for a successful treatment, especially since Liz's appetite has been fabulous this time around. During the last treatment, Lizzie's appetite was greatly diminished and she lost weight. This time, she's still been eating tons of produce, calf manna, a senior horse feed, and hay. Still, Lizzie likes her treats. Her doting Caregivers still find themselves strolling around the aisles of Morrow's, the local grocery store, thinking, "Hmm, I wonder if Liz would like…."
So, along with hay and grasses and nutritious things for Liz to eat, come the occasional pastries, tiny pies, and donut holes. Lizzie carefully grasps each little treasure with her trunk before swinging it up to her mouth. She sometimes rolls them up with grass and hay and pops the whole thing in her mouth, like a kid with a giant wad of cotton candy. If anybody deserves to have a sweet tooth indulged from time to time, we figure Liz does.
The end of each successful day of treatment is a cause for much celebration for her compassionate Caregivers. There's a long road ahead for both Liz and her Caregivers – twelve to fifteen months of treatments, but so far, things are looking good. After she's been given her treats each day and Caregivers have rubbed her big tongue, we are all reminded of how grateful we are; our Liz has been given another chance in Sanctuary.
Liz has been in great spirits, eating well, and has the love and support of her sisters Frieda and Billie.
November 3, 2011
Saying Goodbye to Bella
Last Wednesday, October 26th, was a day of mourning for everyone at the Elephant Sanctuary. Our beloved Bella had passed away to the great sadness of everyone who knew her – but especially to her best friend Tarra. Staff found her little body not far from the Asia Barn near the pond that she and Tarra often frequented.
Dr. Scott and a representative from the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Center were consulted and determined that Bella died from wounds suffered from a coyote attack.
This amazing little white dog who bravely defied canine logic and befriended an elephant brought nothing but joy to Tarra's life. Though their friendship may have been a mystery to Tarra's elephant sisters, who sometimes did not seem to understand their relationship, that never mattered to Tarra and Bella.
The story of Bella's passing is as much a testament to the bonds of friendship as is the story of their life together. Staff members recount the chain of events and their personal feelings over the course of last week's sad discovery:
Monday, Oct. 24, 2011
Caregiver Suz remembers the last time she saw Tarra and Bella together: "I found Tarra and Bella heading out of the Right Branch of Marcellas, so they were probably back in there for the day. And Bella—oh geez—Bella was Bella times ten that night. She is always pretty excited about meal time, but tonight, she was incredible. She always does this funny thing with her front legs—from her spinal injury years ago—and she was jumping up and splaying them and I couldn't stop laughing and I scratched her head and told them both goodnight and left."
Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2011
Tuesday morning, when staff members went out to feed, Tarra was found in the same spot she had eaten dinner, but Bella was not with her. While this was not unheard of, as Tarra and Bella sometimes went off on adventures without each other, Caregivers were nonetheless very concerned, and started an immediate search.
Suz describes the stressful morning, "The next morning, Tuesday, I went out to feed. And Tarra was in the exact same spot I fed her dinner…but… Bella wasn't there. I couldn't believe it. I couldn't trust my eyes that didn't see her running over, my ears who couldn't hear her barking. I sat there, after feeding Tarra, just…confused. I mean… I had never seen them apart. Tarra seemed quiet, and sad. But… I mean, I wouldn't accept it."
"I kept reminding myself she was a dog, dogs chase things sometimes. She would be back. Give it five minutes. Five became ten. I started driving around the area, knowing she just HAD to be there. I left for half an hour to clean and fill a nearby water trough, which I had to do before leaving the area. I came back. Still no Bella. I could not and would not wrap my head around it. This was not right. This was not happening. I put her food dish down in plain view of the camera tower, at the entrance to Marcellas, maybe 100 feet from Tarra. I rode back to the barn, put the camera on the spot, and Laurie emailed the other barns—saying, please keep an eye on this camera, Bella is missing, if you see her PLEASE call our phone immediately."
Caregivers paid extra attention to Tarra when she returned to the barn alone, giving her treats and talking to her soothingly. On four-wheelers, staff split up and began combing the area Bella was last seen. They walked Marcellas, calling her name, shaking food bowls, and listening in vain for a bark in response. That Tarra returned by herself to the barn, and that she appeared to be depressed and grieving seemed to indicate the outcome for Bella everyone feared. However, we held out hope and continued to search but, despite everyone's efforts, Bella was not yet found.
Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2011
The next morning, the staff resumed the search of those places where Tarra and Bella used to hang out most often. Suz recounts the hopeful but solemn search "Laurie, Angela, Maddie, and I went out, again on four-wheelers, drove through the elephant fence (since Tarra was nearby) and continued our search on foot where Tarra could not go. We were still desperately holding out hope that Bella was just injured, and that she was where Tarra couldn't get to her, and that is why Tarra didn't lead us to her. That it wasn't too late. That it COULDN'T be too late. Tarra stood by the elephant fence at the spot we drove in. And watched us call for Bella, and shake dog food bowls. She waited in that spot until we came back."
Meanwhile, as the staff continued to search throughout The Sanctuary for Bella, Steve Smith, Director of Elephant Husbandry, decided to search the area close to the barn. To Steve's shock and to everyone's despair, Bella's body was found near the pond she and Tarra often frequented – just yards away from the Asian Barn they called home.
Steve made the heartbreaking calls to staff to end the search and return to the barn – Bella was found.
As the staff absorbed the terrible news, Dr. Scott, Bella's veterinarian, was called in to examine her body and determine the cause of her death. Dr. Scott's assessment was that Bella most likely died from injuries caused by a coyote attack. He also noted that based on the condition of her fur, she put up a fierce fight to the very end. That was the Bella we knew and loved – afraid of nothing – not even an elephant.
With this information in hand, over the course of the next 24 hours, the rest of the story began to crystallize. There were no signs of a violent struggle near Bella's body – the ground was left undisturbed as if she was laid in her final resting place. Marcella's, the last known area they were seen together, was almost a mile from the barn, yet with the injuries sustained, there was no way Bella could have made that long journey back. When devastated Caregivers discovered blood on the underside of Tarra's trunk, all became clear. Tarra must have interrupted the attack and then, gently cradling Bella's body in her trunk, carried her home.
Rob, The Sanctuary's CEO commented on the amazing discovery. "I am still humbled by what Tarra did for Bella at the end. Why did she carry her home? We'll never know, but I do know that in the wild bereaved elephant mothers will carry their recently dead babies. Having been so close to them since their birth maybe those mothers simply cannot bear to be separated. So, for a time, they carry them perhaps because in their grief they do not know what else to do. Tarra, like all our Girls, had an upbringing totally unlike the way a wild elephant would be brought up. We would understand if Tarra and all our Girls had lost all their inherent 'elephantness'. Yet time and time again they show us that they are much stronger than this, that they just need the chance to show themselves as the magnificent elephant beings they are."
Wednesday evening, the staff rode out on four-wheelers to bury Bella's body in Marcella's. Although Caregivers gave her every chance to participate, our normally inquisitive and engaging Tarra kept her distance. Steve reflects on her behavior, "We expected Tarra to visit Bella, as elephants in their grief pay great attention to the bodies of their dead, but to our surprise Tarra stayed away."
Suz describes Bella's burial ceremony, "Under a setting sun, there were 8 of us present, going out on multiple four-wheelers, carrying Bella out to Tarra for a final goodbye. We buried her in the spot where we had sat with Tarra, crying for much of the day. It is also where Tarra and Bella spent Bella's last day together. Tarra chose not to participate in her burial. She was close, less than 100 yards away, on the other side of some trees but she would not come over. She had already said goodbye. This was for the humans."
Thursday, October 27, 2011
The following day, Caregivers made the heartbreaking discovery that Tarra had gone to visit Bella's grave sometime during the night or early morning. They found fresh dung nearby and an elephant foot print directly on Bella's grave.
Caregiver Laurie, struggling with her own grief, "Tonight I set out to deliver dinner to Shirley and was just coming around the pond when I saw Tarra! I burst into tears. I felt so, so, so glad to see her, but it was so, so, so painful to see her walk down the hill towards the barn without Bella bounding in front of her and to realize the last time she made that journey, she was carrying her friend."
In such times of sadness, we all look for signs of hope. "Bella was a wonderful, wonderful soul—as we all know. She was full of life, able to be ferocious – a fighter to the end. It was incredible to have known their relationship, to have witnessed it, to have seen that bond, that love, that gentle, gentle side of both of them. I know many, many people found strength in their relationship. I know I did. And it will be hard for Tarra in the coming weeks. But we want everyone to know, Tarra is loved. Tarra is well taken care of. And she will turn to elephants in this time of heartbreak, and use this loss to strengthen her relationship with the rest of the herd." - Caregiver Suz
Thank you so much for your overwhelming support - to read the hundreds of tributes submitted by our members visit Bella's Tribute Page or visit the Bella Fund (link will be forthcoming) and learn how you can help create a lasting legacy in Bella's honor.
October 25, 2011
With the advent of Fall, our Asian Girls are in their glory amidst the changing colors of the season.
At Q-Barn, putting Minnie, Debbie, and Ronnie together has always been challenging for their Caregivers. Initially, Minnie's rough and tumble behavior was just too much for Ronnie and Debbie, and the best solution was to keep Minnie separated. But as you know, this spring Caregivers began letting the Threesome have daytime play dates which progressed very well throughout the summer. But, after several months of allowing Minnie to play with Debbie and Ronnie and then separating them at night, eventually, the Girls decided they did not want to be separated from one another. At the end of the day, around dinnertime, no matter how many different tactics were tried, the result seemed to be the same: Ronnie would follow her Caregiver amiably enough, but Minnie would not allow Debbie to leave. This behavior would only happen when their Caregiver attempted to lead them apart. The rest of the time, Minnie would be perfectly polite to Debbie.
Minnie and Debbie
After much discussion, we finally decided that if they chose not to separate, we would just have to leave them together and hope for the best. This decision brought lots of apprehension with it. Up until this point, Debbie and Ronnie had only been allowed to "play" with Minnie under Caregiver supervision, just in case Minnie got too rough. But in light of the recent difficulties getting the Girls back to their respective yards, we decided it was time to try a "sleepover."
One day they spent the afternoon way back in Fields 6 and 7, which is a substantial distance from the barn. Their Caregiver fed the three elephants their dinner together. No separation, just enough space between them so that Debbie and Minnie weren't eyeing Ronnie's food while she ate. Later on in the evening, their Caregiver drove out to check on them and see if they would come close to the barn and elect to be separated. To the Caregiver's surprise, on this night they did. Debbie and Ronnie were separated from Minnie with very little fuss. Everyone was happy and relieved for the postponement.
A few days later, their Caregiver fed them in Field 6 again and drove away, leaving them to their own devices. They were checked on again in the early evening. The Girls were still very far away from the barn, now in Field 3, calmly grazing in the dimming light. Just before it got too dark to drive around in the habitat safely, we checked on them one final time. The Girls had moved farther away, still in Field 3, but closer to Barbie's Wash. They still had no interest in returning to the barn. Well, that was it: with the sun's light failing, their Caregiver drove away, simultaneously nervous and comfortable with the Girls' choice.
At the night feeding, there were no Girls waiting at the barn gates. Just the empty night and the blaring chorus of frogs and crickets. The sleepover was really going to happen this time! The Caregiver on grounds was asked to crack the windows that night and listen for any blaring trumpets or angry bellows indicating elephants not getting along. But the night was silent, as if we had no elephants at all.
When morning arrived, their Caregiver anxiously hopped on the 4-wheeler with breakfast loaded up. A million thoughts were running through everyone's heads at this point. Are they all right? Did Minnie get too rough with Debbie? Did she get too rough with little Ronnie? Did they have a wild party and knock down a bunch of trees? Did they head off to explore the far reaches of the habitat together and would they be impossible to find?
Those questions were answered quickly. Their Caregiver found Minnie, Debbie, and Ronnie all quietly munching on the grass in Field 6. No one was hurt, nobody looked stressed. They all looked beautifully peaceful and relaxed. With a sigh of relief, their Caregiver distributed breakfast to everyone and drove away, leaving them to their serenity.
After a period of several nighttime breaks again (the Girls starting coming back to the barn again to be separated) Debbie, Ronnie, and Minnie elected to have another sleepover. Their Caregiver Samantha found them in Field 4 in the late afternoon, heading further out instead of towards the barn. And then she left… much less nervous than last time. Come morning, their Caregiver found them calmly grazing near each other, as if sleepovers happened all the time and they couldn't understand the fuss. We're so happy our Girls are getting along so well!
July 31, 2011
On July 4th, 2011, Lizzie received her last dose of her scheduled TB treatment.
With great anticipation, we all planned for July 4th - Lizzie’s Independence Day (once termed “Lizziependence Day”), to mark the end of her TB treatment and the beginning of the next chapter of her life at the Sanctuary. But, unfortunately, we cannot yet rejoice in knowing that a clear path lies ahead for Liz.
As many of you know, Lizzie began her TB treatment in early 2010 and has struggled with weight loss, poor appetite and general lethargy. But the disease and, likely, the side effects of the medical treatment itself were grueling and took its toll on her. We periodically took nasal samples and sent them off to the lab for testing. Consistently negative results suggested that we were making headway in treating Liz’s TB and kept us hopeful that it was all worthwhile. But shortly before her treatment was due to end, we received the result we’d all been dreading: Liz was still TB positive.
The shock of this news lasted only briefly. Immediately, The Sanctuary’s Caregivers, management, veterinarians and Board, helped by an expert team of consultants, rallied together to decide a way forward. We decided to finish her scheduled treatment on “Lizziependence Day” and then, for several reasons, to take a break. We needed to take time to cheer her success at fighting for so long, to celebrate the commitment and dedication of her Caregivers, and to properly plan a way forward. Above all, Lizzie just needed a vacation from the endless treatment and the side effects of the drugs she had been taking for a year.
For now, things look reassuring. The short break seems to have done her good—she has rebounded to quite a remarkable degree, eating fruit and vegetables that she hasn’t touched in months, and she’s become more vocal and interactive with both Billie and Frieda, as well as with her Caregivers.
But TB in elephants is very much an unknown. We have little idea how the disease might progress, or how she will respond if we proceed with drugs that are new to her. We cannot leave Liz untreated; there is an unacceptable health risk to Caregivers and other elephants along with the severe impact on Liz’s quality of life when the disease progresses. At the same time, we know how challenging the first round of treatment was for her, and ask ourselves whether her body and spirit can handle another round.
Rest assured, we are exploring every last pro and con of every single option for moving forward. We will do everything we can to help her. Perhaps there will be some consolation in knowing that Lizzie herself, through her reactions to her training for treatment, to her drugs, to the disease and to her Caregivers and elephant companions, will guide us to the right decisions.
All is well at the moment. Liz’s break from treatment has rejuvenated her, at least for the time being, and she has many moments when she is bright, playful and vocal. Her Caregivers laugh as, once again, any time someone walks by, Lizzie opens her mouth in hopes of a treat. For now, our dear Lizzie of old is back, and we welcome her with open arms.
May 27, 2011
Shirley and Tarra's relationship continues to flourish. Twice recently when Scott went to check on them way back in their favorite pastures near the lake, they got spontaneously playful and vocal. (You'll see that even Bella decided to take a few steps back, as she often does when they get in these moods!) Sometimes when the Girls are doing something unexpected, it's a very lucky thing to think quickly in order to capture the moment. We are not sure what inspired these happy episodes between these two—perhaps it's just the beauty of spring and the freedom of green meadows in the company of friends—but it's wonderful to see them continue to enjoy life to the fullest.
May 11, 2011
Billie's Chain is Off!
After 5 years here at the Elephant Sanctuary, Billie is finally free of the chains that tied her to her former life as a circus elephant.
In February of 2006 at the age of 53, Billie became the twenty-first resident of The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee arriving with her friend Frieda. They were the last of eight circus elephants rescued from the Hawthorn Corporation—where they were exposed to TB. Billie, one of the older members of the herd and weighing 8,450 pounds, was placed with her sisters at the Q-Barn where additional medical observation and treatments are provided. While Billie enjoyed her new-found freedom at her forever home in Tennessee, Billie's front left foot held the remains of the chains that tied her to her past. Despite early and repeated efforts over the past 5 years – Billie simply did not trust anyone to get close enough to remove the short, ankle chain. It became known as her "bracelet" and the rattle of it as she walked became a tell-tale sign she was approaching.
Virtually all the elephants retain scars of their captivity – both physical and emotional, but Billie's chain was an irrefutable reminder to the staff, the herd, and to Billie of what she left behind. Thanks to new efforts which began in February of this year, in collaboration with Active Environments, the Sanctuary introduced Protected Contact training. Caregivers worked consistently with Billie over many weeks and gradually managed to gain her cooperation, an amazing accomplishment after so many years of mistrust and fear. The new training entailed Caregivers remaining on one side of an outdoor fence barrier, and Billie voluntarily participated in the training activities that allowed the Caregivers to gingerly use bolt cutters to clip off the chain.
Richard, her primary Caregiver, recounts the process:
"Removing the chain was something we had all wanted to do for a long time but were never able to. Until the positive reinforcement training, we never had a way of telling Billie what we were trying to do so she seemed to assume when someone's getting close to her it's probably bad. Convincing her otherwise was a group effort. First Gail got her to present the foot whenever we asked for it. This quickly became Billie's favorite thing to do, she started offering it even if she wasn't asked, trying to solicit treats and praise. Then Jen and I worked on getting her used to the bolt cutters being close to her foot. We did this gradually, just 3 days a week for about 3 weeks.
Our plan was to ask Billie to rest her foot on the fence and have Margaret feed her to keep her calm and let her know that we were not doing anything bad. The first cut was easy and it showed us the chain was weathered and weak. I looked at the chain for a few moments, knowing each passing second was valuable. Even though we did our best to keep her calm, we know that because Billie is so sensitive, her patience cannot be pushed too far. The first couple of cuts made her nervous and she swatted at the fence, keeping her guard up. This was totally understandable and we answered her defensiveness with reassurances. It seemed to work, because even though she would swing at the fence and back away for a second, she came right back when she was ready. After a couple of cuts to the chain, it appeared as though the light bulb went on and she actually figured out what we were trying to do!
The changes may seem subtle to people watching the video, but her expression changed, her swings at the fence subsided, and she even seemed to be trying to help us by lifting her foot higher then ever, pushing it up to the bars as much as she could, and turning her ankle in different directions. After the 6th cut, there was no more that I could take off using the bolt cutters, so I set them aside. I reached out to her foot with my hand to see if I could separate the links; I was just going to test it but a slight touch caused it to slip right off. The chain rattled to the ground and we were finished.
After the chain fell, Billie picked it up for a moment out of curiosity, but quickly lost interest and left it behind for good.
After the camera stopped rolling, Billie went over to the sand pile and woke Frieda from her nap, perhaps to show off her new look; Liz immediately came over as well for the usual trumpeting/chirping reunion.
As for why she seemed to try helping us - we will never know for sure. In the circus they said she was a "bad elephant," they said she couldn't be worked with. It turns out she just has to be asked nicely."
The Caregivers keep remarking about how quiet Billie is without her chain rattling around with each step. This amazing accomplishment, while a huge leap forward for our Billie, is even bigger in light of the plight of captive elephants everywhere. It is symbolic of the freedom we all want and that they deserve, not only for our elephants here at the Sanctuary but for elephants everywhere.
Note: Billie and Frieda reside in the Phase 1 Yard where Lizzie is undergoing treatment for TB. Caregivers in this area routinely wear Tyvek coveralls and masks for protection.
April 28, 2011
Elecam viewers often see our high-spirited Minnie splashing in the Sanctuary's ponds. Here's a rare, ground level glimpse of one of Minnie's dips on a rainy spring morning.
March 18, 2011
It has been almost a year since Dulary and Misty have spent some time with Shirley. While that may seem impossible since they share the same barn and habitat, they don't spend time together very often because of the location of their stalls, and because by the time Dulary and Misty leave the barn in the mornings, Shirley and Tarra are usually long gone. During the warmer months, Tarra regularly treks back to the barn to visit her pals, but Shirley is usually settled deep in the habitat in areas Misty and Dulary never visit. So witnessing the three of them spending time together is a special occasion.
In the days when Shirley, Jenny and Bunny would return to the barn at night, there was always a celebration upon entering the doors. It was like it was a whole different world to them, one they had to greet with much excitement. These celebrations were reminiscent of reunions of those who had been separated for years—yet for them, it had only been seconds between their arrivals in the barn. This was the extent of the love and happiness they felt just having each other. After Jenny's passing, these vocal celebrations continued with Shirley and Bunny, but with Tarra taking part more often. One of Bunny's favorite things to do was to trumpet in Shirley's ear. She would take her trunk, squeeze it past the hairs guarding the opening of Shirley's ear, and with her trumpets blaring, Shirley would squint with each repeated announcement of her joy. (And for the sake of fairness, Bunny would curl her trunk around and trumpet just as loud into her own ear.) Caregivers would have to take turns letting the Ladies in, each one wanting to witness a bliss that was undeniable and infectious.
Unfortunately after Bunny's passing, these regular barn celebrations ceased. Shirley still vocalized and would engage Tarra in play, but that little ceremony seemed to have been lost. That is, until this week.
Since starting some new anti-inflammatories, Shirley has definitely gotten back a little ‘pep in her step.' She has been a little more vocal and we are witnessing a little bit of her superior grandma attitude return. We welcomed the spontaneous return of her stick throwing, high-pitched trumpeting, leg swinging, roaring, bellowing announcements that ‘life is good.' This afternoon in the barn, Shirley got going and of course Tarra joined in. (Watch the video—and be warned, you may have to adjust your volume down a bit!) Shirley even modified Bunny's trumpeting in the ear ritual—trumpting into Tarra's mouth, instead. All the while, Tarra had as much fun as Shirley, even though her grunts and barks were being drowned out by Shirley's exuberance.
Words cannot possibly express the feelings that went through her caregivers' hearts and the teary smiles Shirley brought on by this playful demonstration and vocal interaction. Such a happy Girl!
February 16, 2011
Debbie, Ronnie, Lottie and Minnie on Feb. 8, 2006
It is hard to believe that we've just passed the 5-year anniversary of the monumental arrival of the Hawthorn elephants. During those days in late January and early February 2006, as we transported them two by two from Illinois to Tennessee, we knew them only by name: Minnie, Lottie, Ronnie, Debbie, Queenie, Liz, Billie and Frieda. Who they were as individuals was a complete mystery waiting to unfold.
Initially in their new home, they were "dysfunction junction"—8 circus elephants arriving within just 2 weeks—learning what to do with their instant freedom and space free from chains, how to act in a group unsupervised by dominant trainers, and how to make sense of this new lifestyle inside and out. Often times when the elephants seemed to be embracing it all at once, we wondered if they expected this dream vacation to end and were determined not to waste a single moment of their freedom. For the entire herd, there were a few weeks of peace mixed with the occasional struggle as we watched them separate into their areas of comfort. Some liked to wander, while others felt more secure close to the barn. Some liked to play while others just wanted to chill out. Eventually they each found their way, separating themselves into smaller groups where they could relax and begin to heal.
Looking back over the years, it is easier to put the pieces together, witnessing all their little shifts and changes that would evolve or emerge as their true personalities. There were soft moments from Billie early on that gave us glimpses of what resides in her sheltered core. Five years later she is still unfolding, each week allowing us to see a little more of the real Billie.
Then there are Ronnie's radiant eyes that simply tell us how much she loves life—no part of it more than standing next to her best friend, Debbie. Very few things take place without Ronnie and Debbie joined at the hip. Debbie—sweet, steady, stable Debbie—who walks through life with an unassuming grace. Out of all of our Divas, Debbie appears to have found the ability to truly live in the moment—it is all about right now. It seems that we sometimes have the most to learn from the ones that say the least.
Then there is Minnie. Whatever did Minnie do before all these acres of pastures, ponds, trees, fences and culvert pipes to act upon? We believe she is finally realizing that she has more work to do tempering her play to help her become a true member of the herd. This is no easy feat for an elephant like Minnie who has an unyielding energy and is determined there is always time for a little more fun. Although the other elephants are sometimes a little guarded when Minnie starts to whirl around and go into play-mode, it does make for some very entertaining Elecam moments.
Five years later, we find Lizzie fighting through a very challenging treatment of Tuberculosis. Even in the darkest parts of this journey she still takes time to play with her sweet sisters. While treatments are still ongoing, we see a little more of our "old" Lizzie returning now—more vocal and always ready to be the middle of a Billie and Frieda sandwich.
Frieda is such an inspiration—suffering from advanced osteomylitis in her front feet, yet if you didn't watch her walk, you wouldn't have a clue, because she is always smiling with her eyes, and always ready to sing with her friends. Frieda helps look after Liz not only when Liz is feeling poorly, but also to provide the perfect belly scratch as Frieda settles in for long naps outside. Liz still moves in to shade Frieda from the sun, slowly stepping over Frieda's back legs, then side stepping to find the perfect height of Frieda's recumbent body to tend to her own, itchy underside.
Of course we would be remiss if we did not also take some time to remember Queenie and Lottie—both passing on far too soon. Queenie was a perpetual ball of play. With her adorable little round body always on the move, swimming, foraging, grazing and playing—using any excuse to spin, trumpet and squeak. She was a bundle of joy. There is a saying about not arriving to the heavens clean cut and well preserved— it is about sliding into home plate face first in a cloud of dust saying, "Oh what a ride." That was our Queenie. Almost always covered in mud, seldom quiet and always smiling. And dear Lottie, we still miss you like it was yesterday; stoic and radiant, touching all of those around you with your calming presence, and walking through life with a sense that the world is good. Thank you for all of the lessons you taught us. We will endeavor to follow your example as we honor your spirit.
Five years later, we are all reminded how grateful we are for these 8 beautiful Girls, not only to be blessed to observe their wonders of change, but that we have been given the capacity to offer them this life… to provide them with Sanctuary.
February 7, 2011
Shirley isn't our only "grandma" at the Asian barn—Bella is entering her senior years now, too. Bella was a young adult dog when she first strayed onto Sanctuary grounds in 2002, so we estimate her to be about 10 years old now. Just as we do routine health checks for all our elephants, we provide the same level of top veterinary care for Bella.
In order to minimize Bella's time away from Tarra, we take blood and urine samples from Bella in the barn. Bella has never been fond of strangers, but trusts her elephant caregivers implicitly, so she doesn't mind when they take samples, and she willingly goes with them when it's time to make a visit by car to the vet in town.
We have regular x-rays taken on Bella for two reasons: to check on the status of her spine—making sure there is no further damage since her accident a few years ago—and to check her chest, since we discovered a benign lump there over 2 years ago that was removed and thankfully, was not serious. While at the vet's, we also do an abdominal x-ray, listen to her heart, and check her blood pressure to make sure she is doing well from end to end.
This past week another routine checkup was due, so we waited until Tarra returned to the barn early one evening—early enough that we could get Bella to Dr. Scott's office before closing time. Tarra "err-err-erred," touching Bella all over, and then we whisked her friend away with promises we would get Bella back home as soon as possible. At the vet's, Bella's caregiver stayed close to her at all times for two reasons: to provide comfort (since Bella isn't quite as tough as she seems when standing next to her elephant), and also to make sure she didn't decide to snap at someone she did not know or trust. Bella took it all in stride, practically napping while her blood pressure was being measured. The only growl that left her mouth was when one of the hospital cats decided to come into the room—apparently Bella can be territorial even in places that are not her home. As soon as Bella's checkup was complete, she was returned to an ecstatic Tarra, who always greets her little friend with the same level of excitement—whether Bella just leaves the barn to go outside for a minute, reappears from a wild bunny chase, or spends an hour at the vet's.
Bella's radiographs appeared good—her spine looked better than expected, and both her chest and belly were clear. Her blood pressure was also good (did we mention how relaxed she was?) and all her blood values were within range. Overall, not bad for a geriatric pup! A special ERD test designed to detect for early kidney problems did come back "low positive." While this is not serious right now, it gives us an opportunity to make some immediate adjustments in her diet with organic foods that contain low phosphorous and moderate protein levels, vitamins and omegas that should help slow the progression of these renal issues— and in some cases—may completely halt them since it was discovered this early. We'll also add a supplement that is geared specifically towards kidney health, plus we are making plans to add special dog waterers at all of the elephant water corrals throughout the habitat, to ensure Bella has better access to clean water. Traditionally, Bella's preferences for water have been a combination of drinking out of puddles, creeks, ponds, the lake, and from the elephant bins we fill up with water especially for her at every feed. Having her own 24-hour water supply that she can reach at all the watering stations in the habitat will increase her opportunities for a more consistent fresh water supply, especially on the days when Bella and Tarra cover a lot of miles in the summer heat—they will both be stopping at these often!
For her age, Bella is the picture of health. Her hind quarters may still lean a little to the side when she runs (and boy, does she still run!), and she may be turning a little white around the muzzle, but Bella still thoroughly enjoys romping through the habitat with her closest friend, and we intend to help her do just that for as long as possible.
January 21, 2011
Tarra and Bella had some fun playing in one of our many record snowfalls this winter.
January 3, 2011
Last fall we suspended Liz's TB drugs to allow her some time to recover from the side effects. When she became stable again, it was time to slightly increase her dose in order to attain therapeutic drug levels. One drug at a time, the increase took place and Liz remained stable. Now as we enter the new year, her treatment continues, and although she is eating hay well, her palate has steered her away from grain and produce yet again. She has lost a little of her vitality, as she did several times last year, but each time she bounced back.
Our panel of caregivers, veterinarians and scientists continually reviews Lizzie’s treatments and the way she reacts to them. We continue to explore new ways of easing her troubles and hope that 2011 sees the major recovery we all hope for.
This past week, Dulary began showing signs of gastro intestinal irritation. Her vet team and caregivers have been monitoring her constantly, and as of today, we are relieved to report she is beginning to show signs of improvement.
In the afternoon of last Sunday the 12th of December, Dulary stopped eating. The minute we noticed symptoms of moderate abdominal discomfort, we proceeded with our typical treatment for any elephant exhibiting the early signs of colic. Throughout the night, Dulary rested normally and defecated periodically without strain, however her abdomen continued to bloat.
On Monday, Dulary drank only marginally and nibbled at just a few pieces of food, even though her color and temperament were good. But then she stopped defecating, and her belly was becoming more distended. Medical treatments and vet visits continued through the day and night. By Tuesday morning, things looked brighter. Her bloating was down a bit, appetite slightly improved, but our sigh of relief was short-lived. For the remainder of the week, Dulary would have a series of ups and downs.... binge-eating two apples and three pears, another day eating only two granola bars and four peeled oranges, with the highlight being 3 bowls of popcorn saturated with oil and a little salt for palatability. In between these signs of appetite were the rare and occasional bite of hay, but her appetite was still not up to par.
By late last week, Dulary had essentially stopped drinking—instead of the normal 20 gallons a day for this time of year, she was only drinking maybe 3 or 4. Enemas continued and Dr. Scott inserted a catheter in Dulary's ear, where she has cooperatively allowed us to give her more than 35 liters of fluid each day to prevent dehydration. Yesterday and today, Dulary began to drink water again on her own, selectively eating produce, crackers and cranberries. The greatest highlight for all of her caregivers is that Dulary “pooped” last night. While that event may not sound very glamorous, it is an awesome sign that her digestion is beginning to improve. We are hopeful that Dulary is on the road to recovery.
We would be remiss if we didn't mention Misty, who has stood by Dulary throughout her ordeal.
Dulary is without a doubt the best patient ever: frequent enemas, daily fluids, caregivers and vets doting and coddling... quite simply, Dulary is an absolute gem. With every passing day, she becomes a little brighter, rumbling a little more... and we even hear a few “gargles and grunts,” a sign she is definitely on the mend.
As for what may have caused Dulary's gastro intestinal irritation, unfortunately we may never know. With limited diagnostic tools available for elephants, there is no way at this point to determine if it is a blockage or obstruction, or just excessive gas. We hope to find more answers on what may have caused this later, but for now we are 100% focused on her recovery and satisfied just knowing that Dulary continues to eat, drink and defecate... the simple functions of life that we all take for granted.
December 7, 2010
Some of our enrichment supplies have arrived, so at the New Asian Barn, we have been busy hanging "toys." Each of our Girlfriend pairs have been given either a hanging barrel or a hanging ball feeder that spins from above in their stall. The Ladies can certainly smell the popcorn that awaits inside, and as this video shows, each individual finds her own way to get the treats! For the full story, see the December 6, 2010 Ele-Notes.
December 4, 2010
After Lottie's passing, we began discussing the idea of letting Minnie, Debbie, and Ronnie into the same yards, so that Minnie wouldn't be without companionship. In the past, Minnie has been too rough with Debbie and Ronnie, which was why she was separated from them in the first place. Interactions with these three continued over and through a common barrier—a safety net that protected Debbie and Ronnie should Minnie get too rough. Debbie would play trunk games with Minnie, while Ronnie would periodically climb part way up the fence and engage Minnie. Minnie was never rough with Lottie, though. With Lottie gone, we want Minnie to enjoy physical companionship; unrestrained ability to rub and play and hopefully grow closer to her companions. Of course there is concern for Debbie and Ronnie as well, if Minnie is too rough with them.
On Saturday, December 4th, we decided to give it a trial. Scott and the caregivers began by distracting all the Girls with some hay, then opened the gates that normally separated their sides of the habitat. Much to our surprise, when Minnie walked away from her hay, she took a few steps into the "60 Yard" where Debbie and Ronnie were—and then promptly turned around to explore the Night Yard Extension. Granted, she had not been in this area for quite a long time, but we were surprised that she seemed more excited about her access to this yard rather than reuniting with Debbie and Ronnie.
After a quick, almost-running tour of the Night Yard Extension, Minnie rolled around on the ground for a little while, covering her body with dirt. When she finished, she got up and walked back out into the 60 for a reunion with Deb and Ron. Debbie distanced herself a little bit but Ronnie was eager to engage Minnie with some trunk wrestling and gentle pushing. Fortunately, Minnie never pushed too hard or too much, and we were ecstatic with her gentleness for Ronnie.
The following day, we opened all the gates right away, and the day went wonderfully. Debbie still kept her distance from Minnie, but she remained calm. Ronnie and Minnie continued to wrestle and play. In the early afternoon, Minnie went off to explore the 60 on her own, and Debbie and Ronnie wandered closer to the barn like they normally do.
The next day followed the same successful pattern until the early afternoon. When Debbie and Ronnie started coming closer to the barn, this time Minnie followed them. She started to behave more roughly with Debbie, at which point we felt that it was becoming too much for Debbie. A caregiver drove out with hay to lead Minnie away, and after only a few minutes, Minnie followed willingly. We then shut their gates to give Deb and Ron some time by themselves.
The next few days were "off" days for the Girls, as they remained separated in their regular yards. On Thursday we opened their gates again, but with the same result as Monday: Minnie's play became a bit too rough, so we separated them again.
The elephants and the caregivers need more time. Clearly, it is not quite the time for Minnie and Debbie to share the same space all the time, but we're delighted with the progress Minnie and Ronnie have made.
October 31, 2010
The Divas celebrated Halloween with a little bit of "trunk or treating." Each Girl received a carved pumpkin filled with tasty treats (generously donated by our supporters), including fig newtons, alfalfa cubes, apple and oat treats, and honey oat biscuits, as well as some pieces of fruit. Most of the Girls approached the pumpkins in much the same way, carefully inspecting them with their trunk, maybe picking up a loose treat, then stepping down on the pumpkin with a loud CRUNCH to split it open and allow easy access to the hidden treats inside. Typically, the Divas don't eat all of their pumpkin, so it was a surprise when Lizzie began eating the squashed pieces of her pumpkin after finishing the treats she found inside.
Adjusting to unexpected change takes many forms and comes with many challenges. Yesterday, we struggled with the difficult balance respecting the peace of a recently passed loved one, with the necessity of performing a necropsy to learn all we can, so that we can help all captive elephants live longer, healthier lives.
Lottie’s necropsy left us with a few answers and more questions; some that won’t be answered for a few more months while samples are tested and analyzed. We can’t say with any level of certainty what caused Lottie’s sudden passing, so we wait with the peace of knowing that at least she passed quickly.
Late yesterday afternoon, Lottie was buried about 50 feet from the base of the giant cedar where she passed. Today was a day of passive resolve; our world has shifted and we begin to awaken to this new reality. For the most part, we are all doing well…then you see the food bins with Lottie’s name lying empty on the shelf; it is the little reminders that come up when you least expect it.
Minnie appears to be doing well. She is quiet but remains grounded. This afternoon, she wandered out to the back of the property, grazing and dusting along the way. She entered field 7 (Lottie’s Field), passively grazing before making her way to the edge of the forest, fiddling with branches and scratching on massive oaks. Occasionally Minnie would pause to raise her trunk toward the back of the pasture and Lottie’s grave, stopping for a few minutes before returning to grazing and scratching. About an hour after entering “Lottie’s Field,” Minnie circled to return home without visiting Lottie’s grave. It may be too hard right now—or more likely, that the strength of connection to Lottie’s spirit will carry her forward.
The walk back to the front of the Quarantine facility began with a few pauses looking back, then it turned into a stroll at “Minnie speed” ...a triple time walk, on a mission past prime grazing, to rejoin Debbie and Ronnie for social time, reassurance, and a few extra treats from Angela.
The rest of us humans are still stuck in the physical realm. It is still hard to accept that our stoic, strong and stable Lottie has passed. She was always one that you could count on being ready for every meal—being a pillar of support for Minnie, helping her to emotionally grow into her physical confidence, and overall, being a presence of strength for all of us. As one caregiver mentioned, “Lottie is…Lottie. It just felt like she would always be here.” Somewhere we know that she still is. In time, we will make the shift like Minnie has, connecting with Lottie’s spirit overlooking the Sanctuary—our pillar of strength is now larger than life.
October 10, 2010
Today we are both saddened and shocked to announce that our Lottie passed away early this morning. Until this discovery, Lottie had appeared to be fine, with no signs of discomfort or ailing health; her energy level had been up, her appetite normal, and she and Minnie had been relishing in the cooler fall temperatures lately, wandering and grazing the pastures.
This morning while making her normal rounds, Samantha found Minnie in field 6 by herself, which is not at all out of the ordinary. After feeding Minnie, she carried on to look for Lottie, who was usually not far away. Sam checked all of Lottie’s normal hangouts, but kept a watchful eye on Minnie too, hoping that she would help by calling for Lottie with loud rumbles and bellows. But today was different. When Minnie finished eating, she wandered toward the front of the property, meeting up with Debbie and Ronnie at one of their new waterers and rendezvous areas. At that point, Scott joined the search too, and they continued on four-wheelers and on foot, looking in all of the valleys and crevices, in the creek beds and even unexplored hill tops.
Eventually Minnie headed towards the back of the property again, grazing slowly just like any other day. When Scott entered field 7 on a four-wheeler, Minnie was grazing on the left side by the creek bed. Scott went along the right tree line, approaching previously explored areas but from a slightly different angle... when Lottie was finally spotted lying down behind some brushy growth under a giant cedar tree. This was the same tree Delhi could be found napping under in the chilly days of winter. A closer approach revealed a surreal image; Lottie was lying in an abnormal position, and with no sign of life.
Minnie methodically grazed over towards Lottie's body, moving with a grace that suggested, "I know, and I am okay." When we asked Minnie to step away so we could examine Lottie, she did so willingly, standing just 20 yards to the side, giving us some time with Lottie to explore.
The biggest struggle right now in losing Lottie is trying to determine what might have happened. There were not any signs of distress—it simply looks like Lottie collapsed and passed in an instant. Still without answers, we are all finding a little solace in the expression on Lottie's face; there is a peace beyond words.
We are all in shock. Minnie may be as well, but for now she remains passive and calm, eating, drinking and socializing. While Minnie appears to be okay, she has lost her best friend and closest family, so we know that this will be a difficult journey forward. We’ll be there for her in every way we can, with a few extra treats or just to stand close by. The coincidence of this date Lottie chose to leave has also not escaped our thoughts today--October 10th was also Ned's birthday.
Today is the first day of a new tomorrow, where Lottie has changed us all, and with her passing, we will all continue to grow in the shadow of her spirit. Our team of pathologists from the University of Georgia have scheduled a necropsy for Tuesday, and we are hopeful it will provide new information that will help us determine why Lottie left us so suddenly. Her grace and presence will be missed by all. We love you Lottie and miss your beautiful eyes already.
Namaste, sweet girl.
September 29, 2010
A few weeks ago crews finished construction on the new "Minnie-proof" fencing around the pond near the Phase II barn. Debbie and Ronnie took immediate advantage of the new security barrier from any interruptions by Minnie, and proceeded to relax and have a blast. (Well, Ronnie preferred to make her dip brief and seemed more interested in dusting herself on the sidelines, so most of the time Debbie had the pond to herself!)
While this is certainly not the first time they have enjoyed the Sanctuary's spring fed ponds, this was the first time Debbie actually allowed herself to be filmed in one of her playful moods by a caregiver. Previously, she would always freeze and stop what she was doing, as if she were trying hard to maintain a reputation of being serious and "all grown up." Maybe letting down her guard here is a sign of a new level of comfort with her family of caregivers? Whatever motivated her decision, we feel very fortunate that on this day at least, Debbie decided she wanted to share her happy mood with us all.
September 12, 2010
Winkie celebrates ten years at the sanctuary today. These past ten years have been a journey of discovery, trust and growth. Winkie arrived with an intensity that was incomparable to most Asian elephants. She had a past reputation of lashing out at keepers and solving any dilemmas with violence, and from the beginning, it was evident how fractured her spirit had become.
For her first 3 days at the Sanctuary when not in the company of other elephants, she incessantly paced, and for 3 days she was given the space to decide how she wanted things to play out. On that third day, while Scott was cleaning the stall next to her, she backed up to the bars and gave an unassuming vocalization, eliciting his affection. Although cautious, that touch was transforming; her body immediately loosened and her one tiny vocalization erupted into a variety of noises and trunk taps.
Sissy helped her over her next hurdle: leaving the barn. Although Jenny and Shirley had tried to usher her outside, Winkie decided she wasn't ready, but that didn't deter Sissy. She would return back to the barn and wait outside. If Winkie did not come, she would join her other sisters, but return to see if it was time yet. Then one random day (to us of course) it was time... Winkie followed Sissy outside and began to explore. But they didn't remain in close proximity to the barn as Sissy usually had, together they ventured to places neither had been; and so began the symbiotic healing relationship of Sissy and Winkie. Although Sissy took Winkie under her wing, it seems Winkie's reliance on Sissy gave her a sense of self and confidence that facilitated her own healing as well.
Together they have overcome many obstacles, but Winkie still dealt with some internal struggles. Her insecurities still had the ability to get the best of her, resulting in her being pushy with other elephants (to ensure they wouldn't be pushy towards her), and unable to fully trust most humans. With things that would come easy for the other Girls, you could visibly see the conscious effort that Winkie had to exert; it was work for her. But she was determined, and continued to open in new ways, and then we were reminded that in some instances, healing is a forever process.
On a morning in which she had been stung in the eye, Winkie had a momentary lapse of self. When one of her caregivers walked around to view her eye, Winkie turned, swung, and crushed her. Continuing to lash out, her actions were only quelled by repeatedly yelling her name—and just like that—Winkie snapped out of it. She immediately became quiet, passive and approachable. She exited the state as quickly as she had entered it. On that day of July 21, 2006, we not only lost a genuine, caring friend that was deeply loved by both elephants and humans, Joanna Burke, but we also temporarily lost Winkie. For days, she placed herself where the fences met up into a corner, and shunned affection from both her trusted sister and her closest caregivers—she was punishing herself. Her actions hung over her for weeks, and although she slowly allowed others back in, her self-inflicted sentence made everything harder to bear.
Gratefully, Winkie realized that she still deserved to be cared for, loved, and happy, and again she put forth the effort to return there. She did not allow this tragedy to define her any more than the reputation that had preceded her arrival. Although handled with extra awareness and adjusted parameters, her spirit and freedom are nurtured just like all of the Girls. There is a protective feeling that comes with Winkie. There is no question that she is strong, yet to have seen her so fragile opens up a special place in your heart for her. Winkie is nothing short of remarkable.
Over the past year and a half, she has grown by leaps and bounds, and her once visible effort only shows its head on occasion. Shirley's softer side allowed for better relationships, which instilled more confidence in Winkie. This confidence showed in an increased comfort in herself, and overall contentment. She found the ability to shrug things off that would have bothered her in the past. She no longer stressed at Sissy being a short distance away, and then soon began to wander on her own. To look upon Winkie, grazing alongside her sister with a wet spot on her trunk, indicating that she has been making her “happy noises” so much that the mark is semi-permanent, or watching her gently touch one of her sisters, you don't see all of the things she has endured, and that is part of her beauty. She isn't perfect, and it hasn't been easy, but Winkie has refused to give up on attaining the one thing we should all feel we deserve—happiness.
Last Friday afternoon, when hay was brought out to Shirley, it was noted that she had an area of edema on her stomach. Edema is observable swelling from fluid accumulation in body tissues. Ventral (abdominal) edema occurs commonly among captive elephants in North America and has been treated in various ways. Noted in "Biology, Medicine and Surgery of Elephants" by Murray Fowler and Susan Mikota, the majority of cases are non-life threatening, and resolve without treatment.
Shirley was acting fine, eating and drinking normally, and didn’t seem to understand the fuss over her belly. Shirley's condition, possible causes, and plan of action were discussed with the Sanctuary's three veterinarians. Edema can be caused by many things ranging from parasites, physiological stressors (very high temperatures being a possibility), certain organ involvement, and some unknown reasons. Blood was taken and samples were sent out to help rule out certain possibilities. The blood work shows that Shirley’s organ function looks good and there were no infectious cells present in her sample. A remedy was prescribed and Shirley was put on an additional supplement, and was monitored closely.
Although the edema initially shifted with gravity, which happens, we are happy to say that, as of Tuesday, it is already decreasing in size. Shirley has shown no signs of discomfort, and has been cooperative with all of her testing and treatment. In fact, she seems intent on making sure that when you are visiting, you acknowledge other parts of her big frame, not just her belly. She has been receiving her grain in her bucket to ensure she is eating all of her food and getting all of her vitamins and supplements. This means no sharing with Tarra. Shirley is still happy and feisty, bathing, coating herself in mud, and thoroughly enjoying the slightly cooler temperatures, along with the rest of the girls. We will continue to closely monitor any changes, and pamper our grandma in any way we can. It seems there is always room for more pampering. Though Shirley is 62, she has no problem reminding us that she is a very strong lady in more ways than one.
July 29, 2010
Stretching from one end of the Sanctuary to the other, the Girls are all out and about, enjoying another wonderful summer in full swing. From grazing and browsing the natural vegetation of their habitats, to spending lots of time cooling off in the water and shade... dusting for sunscreen and even savoring the brief chill of a frozen fruit pop, the season is appreciated by all the Ladies from sunup to sundown. See the brand new video with recent footage captured for you by their caregivers.
July 14, 2010
It's been well over a year since Tarra and Bella became celebrities, thanks to their "Odd Couple" story broadcast by CBS News, which is still making the rounds on YouTube. The Sanctuary continues to get inquiries and emails from people around the world, asking if Tarra and Bella are still together and how they are doing. The answer is right here in video, with new footage recorded just this past week. They are both doing great!
July 13, 2010
With some help from one of our local, long-time supporters, and a group of college student volunteers, the Girls have their very own garden. The gardeners took what we had on hand, and put it to good use; Old hay bales form the border and rows of our raised garden. The garden rows are filled with a rich mixture of dirt, sawdust from the bottom of the pile, and some of our unending supply of premium "big Girl" compost. Seeds were then planted and with almost no monetary cost; we have a sweet little organic garden that supplies the Girls with some tasty extras. Hopefully we will be able to build on this garden area for next year.
Having our own fresh assortment of produce allows us to supplement the girls diets, on occasion, with a little something different. Having grown it ourselves, we know there are no chemicals or pesticides, and we can just run down the Sanctuary road and pick the goodies when they are ready. In addition, even our compost pile grows its own wild watermelons and pumpkins!
Since the staff is generally a little tight on time, our volunteer gardener, Leila, comes to weed, water, and de-bug our mini produce section—so, many thanks for her advice and her diligence.
In addition to the garden, once a week we visit a local Amish produce auction in Ethridge, TN. The pairing of this wholesale produce auction and the big Girls seems a natural as the freshness of the produce and the large amounts definitely fit the Girls' appetites at a great price.
The huge covered auction platform is surrounded with the traditional horse-drawn Amish black buggies as well as large metal-wheeled wagons full of beautiful produce, and pulled by harnessed stocky horses. One can wander the rows and rows of wooden palettes stacked with perfectly sorted summer fruits and vegetables in a rainbow of colors: squash yellows, cucumber greens, translucent onion whites, deep blueberry blues, tomato reds, and eggplant purples.
The Amish families with their children are milling around and helping out, though their work began before daybreak in the fields. At 1:00 pm the bidding begins for each farmer's lot with a minimum number of boxes, bushels, bags or even a wagonload to be bought as the cadence of the auctioneer begins to excite the bidders. A raised hand here, a nod there, a shake of the head, and you may have just bought 4 bags of the season's first sweet corn for $8.00 a 60-count bag.
All of the above supplements our regular produce orders from McCartney Produce in Paris, TN. They have been in business since 1947 and offer organic produce as well as detailed information on the source of their produce. Our standard orders on Tuesdays and Saturdays include various amounts of broccoli, cabbage, carrots, corn, potatoes, onions, bananas, oranges, apples and grapes. Each of the barns orders for their own specific needs depending on the preferences of the elephants there.
To add something special to all of this, some of our supporters like to order "treats" for the Girls. On this website under "How You Can Help" there is information on choices of produce that one may specify for treats, in addition to the regular produce and fruit. Those choices include mangoes, sugar cane, pineapple, strawberries, cranberries, tomatoes, banana leaves and melons.
All totaled, each elephant consumes from 150 to 200 lbs. of vegetation, hay, grain and produce every day.
'Grandma' Shirley is our oldest elephant at the Sanctuary, but she's also one of the strongest. You only have to look at Shirley's body to learn some of her story: an old, improperly healed break in her back right leg from being attacked by another circus elephant, a large section missing from her right ear, attributed to a fire on her circus ship that also left her with scars on her back, side, and feet. And after surviving all of that, she then spent 23 years in a zoo alone with no elephant companionship. Although her keeper cared for her deeply, the zoo realized that was not enough, and decided to retire her to the kind of life she truly deserved.
It was 11 years ago today that we were blessed with Shirley's arrival—an event for which we are ever grateful. Her emotional reunion with Jenny showed us just how strong and everlasting their bonds can be. Her gentle strength and wisdom led her to become a caring matriarch of a herd that united elephants from all different backgrounds. But the fact they were not related did not prevent Shirley from helping to shape the “Founding Herd” into a loving, bonded family.
Shirley has changed much since her arrival at the Sanctuary. She has softened a great deal and we expect it is partially due to the losses she experienced. With truly heartfelt emotions, there inevitably comes heartbreak, but the former always outweighs the latter. Since she has been here, among losing others, she has said goodbye to Jenny, whom she treated as a daughter, and Bunny, who was much more of a sister.
All of this is nothing to be sad about; these are part of Shirley's journey, part of her growth, and part of what makes her who she is today. She is even more nurturing now—more accepting, and for the remaining herd, those qualities are very important. They are again making her the perfect matriarch. Rest assured she is not sad—she always has a warm smile on her face—that is, unless she is wearing her mischievous one! She still rumbles, trumpets, and plays, and now she is sharing her gifts more often with the other Girls. And this includes teaching Tarra what it truly means to be a contributing member of the herd; perhaps shaping our youngest member of the Asian herd to take over her role some day.
Watching Shirley contentedly grazing alongside the lake with Tarra and Bella beside her, surrounded by trees and open skies, knowing the effect she has had on all those she has touched both near and far all these years, one realizes there isn't an ounce of sadness. She is where she belongs; Shirley and her sisters deserve every blessing that comes from every moment that she is here. Happy Anniversary, Shirley.
June 21, 2010
Liz grazing in the pasture
Liz is doing quite well, and she's being incredibly patient with us, as we continue to search for the right combination of treatments that will work for her. Treating elephants for TB has been described by some as a 'year of hell'. Although we wouldn't go that far, it has definitely been challenging and sometimes disheartening.
For a while Lizzie was not absorbing the drugs well; other times there was conflict with one medication cancelling out the others' effectiveness. Other times her body rejected the treatment, rapidly expelling the rectal drugs. The frustrating part is that these treatments have worked well in other cases, so why not with Liz? No one has the answers. A few weeks ago, Liz reached a point where she was only eating a couple of flakes of hay, a few branches of willow or elm and a few pieces of bamboo each day. She didn't want anything else, and trust us, Liz's caregivers tried just about everything under the moon. Occasionally Liz would eat one or two pieces of fruit or vegetables, then wouldn't touch them again for a week.
Recently, after discussing our options with the veterinary TB advisory group, we took Liz off her meds for a week; giving her a break before we started her on another drug, hoping for better results medically as well as helping Liz to feel better. During this break she bounced back rapidly—within a few days returning to her normal diet, with a special fondness for cucumbers and green peppers.
Now she is eating like our old Lizzie, and we are able to once again get her to consume her probiotics and other supplements that help reduce the side effect of the medications. When Liz was not eating grain, or produce, or jello, or smoothies, or homemade peanut butter oat cookies… we were also unable to get Liz to take any of her supplements, which only compounded the effects that she was feeling from the medications.
For a caregiver, the worst feeling in the world is the realization that the treatment we are providing is making our loved one feel worse. While we wished we could have given her this break sooner, the problem is that the more time Lizzie is off this treatment after it has already started, the greater the probability of developing a drug resistant strain of TB.
Lizzie is now on a new treatment regimen that her body appears to be handling quite well. Lizzie remains bright and has maintained a hearty appetite. She always conveys soft, warm rumbles when we are treating her, which is then followed by the chorus of singing, honking and squeaking when she goes back to be with her two best friends, Frieda and Billie.
While we would like to be providing more frequent updates on Lizzie, this roller coaster ride that we've shared with her has made it difficult, since her status has changed so often; one day showing signs of an improved appetite, the next, symptoms she was rejecting her treatment. Our fingers are crossed right now with anxious anticipation as we continue to move forward, finding the balance of keeping Liz comfortable while also meeting her medical needs.
Many people have asked us why treating TB seemed so easy with Misty, but so challenging with Liz. Just like people, no two elephants are alike. Some tolerate medications better than others, and if you just look at the two physically, Misty could be described as an impenetrable tank, while Liz is petite and leaner. Another factor is that one of the treatment drugs that Misty and most of the handful of elephants that have successfully undergone TB treatment in this country received is no longer available, and the alternatives tend to have more side effects. Without the human demand for this drug it is no longer manufactured, adding yet another obstacle towards achieving successful treatment for elephants.
Yet throughout all of the highs and lows, Lizzie's spirit has never wavered. At times she has needed more rest and has not had quite as much energy, but her wakeful time has still been filled with rumbles and playful time with her sisters. She continues to be herself in all ways;in outlook, demeanor, and cooperativeness. The light that Lizzie has always emanated continues to strongly shine through.
We will keep you posted!
June 12, 2010
Several of our Ladies, including Sissy and Lizzie, have different degrees of trunk paralysis. This condition can be found in both Asian and African elephants, and the effect it has can range from mild weakness to complete paralysis and muscle wasting. The cause is generally unknown, but possibilities include trauma, infection, and lack of proper nutrition. You would be able to observe a "tell-tale" appearance in the trunk of most elephants with trunk paralysis. Their trunk appears much narrower than the typical thick and muscular trunk. The paralysis commonly originates at the base of the trunk and extends to different lengths toward the tip with the last ¼ being the least affected. This still allows the girls to use their trunk tip “fingers” to pick up and manipulate objects normally. Elephants with partial trunk paralysis usually learn to adapt by swinging their trunk to reach their mouth, using their feet or other objects to lift items, and leaning over to drink. Monitoring our girls to ensure that adequate nutrition and hydration needs are met is essential. Our experience has shown that our circus elephants (Ned, Lizzie and Delhi) had learned to adapt more effectively, possibly out of necessity.
Sissy, who is from a zoo, is still working on perfecting the art of drinking. (see Ele-Notes March 8, 2010) Sissy may have sustained injury to her trunk from trauma in a flood in northern Texas. In addition, her trunk became completely paralyzed after complications. However, since her arrival at The Elephant Sanctuary, she has adapted quite well and the use of her trunk has improved a good 25%. Sissy uses the swinging technique that all of our elephants seem to have preferred. When there is an "itch" at the base of her trunk, (which might seem almost impossible to reach) Sissy will swing her trunk up and pin it between the base of her trunk and either a tree or a barn stall bar. This keeps her trunk in place allowing her to walk the tip of her trunk to whatever area has an itch, and then she happily scratches. Oh, that we had a trunk to reach the unreachable.
Lizzie can easily swing her trunk up to get it inside the auto-waterers to take a drink. She is fairly accurate. In gathering hay, she scoots and scoops with the end of her trunk, then when she has the perfect amount of hay, she thumps it several times on the floor to get it just right, then swings it up to her mouth. She is pretty adept at scooping up her grain and produce along with her hay as well. She has adapted very well with her limitations and has been observed, when outside, seemingly entertaining herself by just swinging her trunk round and round like a large pendulum.
Having partial trunk paralysis has not seemed to limit any of our elephants. They still bathe themselves, hold their trunks out of the water while swimming, touch and smell their sisters, and in the case of Sissy, carry around a full sized tire.
At the New Asian Barn, we have a water trailer to make sure our girls remain hydrated. There are several natural water sources in the habitat (ponds, creeks, and the lake), plus watering stations that have been set up (with more to be installed), but sometimes the Girls still need a little extra. Since they don't migrate in search of food and water as much as wild elephants, we sometimes bring the water to them. These deliveries also let the Ladies know that wherever they choose to wander, we will come and find them, not only with their food, but also with a cool drink. This knowledge allows them to securely wander away from the barn knowing there is no need for them to return if they would rather enjoy what the habitat has to offer.
All of our Ladies get visits from the water trailer, but none as much as Sis and Winks. Although Sissy has gotten much better in perfecting the art of getting water from her trunk into her mouth—with the temperatures being what they are during Tennessee summers—we want to ensure that she is getting enough. And since Sissy and Winkie are always together, Winkie also enjoys a nice drink. That is, when she's not just picking hay off of the back of the four wheeler instead.
There are times when we bring out the trailer and the girls don't drink, but that's fine, as it means a brief visit and being at ease knowing they are caring for themselves. Even though Shirley and Tarra spend most of their summertime around the lake or the creek, the trailer is also brought out to them on occasion, and although Tarra usually does not drink, we want to make sure that our grandma Shirley has more than enough water to make sure her aging kidneys remain healthy. And Dulary and Misty? Well they usually just stop the water trailer on its return trip back to the barn. Sometimes it's just to say 'hello,' and other times it's so they can give themselves a quick rinse—because for them, there is no such thing as too much bathing!
May 24, 2010
After the flood rearranged a few things, one of the caregivers found a new toy for Billie. Of course this bright orange, pill-shaped piece of plastic required intense inspection from Billie first. It appears to have passed her test!
May 15, 2010
Ned left us exactly one year ago today. We buried our young prince near Lota's final resting place, overlooking the valley where the Divas roam today.
Namaste, Sweet Ned
In the short time we had with Ned, he touched many of us differently. One of his caregivers recalls that Ned always seemed to exude this air of being pleasantly surprised. Her favorite memories of Ned were the times when he was feeling very good and would get a little playful. She would be making notes in his log, and out of the corner of her eye she could see his shadow on the wall, watching her. The shadow's trunk would curl and then start to swing. This was usually about the time a flake of hay would hit his caregiver in the back. She would turn with a smile or a teasing word, and Ned would look back very innocently as if to say, "What? No, I didn't throw that. Wasn't me." One time, she turned just soon enough to knock the flake out of the air with her hand before it reached her. Ned's expression remained innocent, and as his caregiver pushed the flake back to him with a broom, that feeling of pleasant surprise grew again.
Ned was a beautiful boy, and while we know there really wasn't anything more we could have done for him, our hearts still ache at the short time we had to care for him. Watching him learn about grass, dogs and other things in and around his domain, was truly heartwarming. His caregivers, as well as his many devoted followers, wished we could have seen him learn so much more. Namaste, sweet Ned.
As caregivers, we remember Nedley with a bit of sadness for a split second, then we just have to break into an automatic smile. One caregiver remembers the day Ned arrived...cold and windy. She could only imagine his thoughts as he was about to exit the trailer after the long trip with Scott from Florida- listening to unfamiliar voices, smelling unfamiliar smells, hearing unfamiliar sounds, etc. Our first look at him brought smiles from everyone present, and looks of concern for obvious signs of what he had endured during his circus life.
As he cautiously, but easily, stepped out onto the porch of his new home, he wasn't greeted with any music, banners, crowds wanting to see him, etc.; but rather, just a few people who had gone the extra mile to rescue him; and a few others of us who had waited for him to come home so we could care for him.
Caring for Ned was a privilege, and getting to know him was a lot of fun. He really came out of his shell once he realized there would be no punishment if he was feeling a bit off, grumpy, or just wanted to keep to himself. He was quite a comedian, and took advantage of any little chance to toss some of his food at a caregiver.
Ned was a champion hay tosser, and had good range and aim. A caregiver recalls one morning in particular....she had given him his morning meal, and turned to write the details in the log book. He was very quiet, and came to stand in the stall behind her. With no sound or warning, a BIG glob of sticky oatmeal sailed past her head and landed on the wall a couple of feet above. Part of it stayed, the rest lobbed down to the floor. She turned to see Ned standing very tall, looking absolutely pleased at his accomplishment. We all learned to stand a bit to the side to keep an eye on this boy, as he loved to catch you unaware. Everyone got things tossed at them at one time or another. For some, it became a silent game of shuffling....We would see him get into position and start to gather hay in his trunk. The caregiver would slowly move to the other end of the barn and do something over there. Once Ned relaxed or moved down closer, she would casually move back and finish her notes, thanking him for his cooperation before she left.
Another favorite memory of a caregiver is of Ned eating some fresh pineapple. The caregiver took a big chunk and slid it to him at the front of his stall. He scooped it up right away and popped the whole thing in his mouth without hesitation. He bit down, and suddenly his eye squinched tightly closed, and his cheeks clinched up...just like when you bite into something sweet/tart and get that sensation that makes you pucker. His eyes opened back up after a moment and he began to chew, then swallowed his treat happily. He also used to fill his cheeks when drinking from the hose, chipmunk style. One could not help laughing out loud at his actions. He was a funny boy.
A favorite image which always makes us smile is a picture of Scott holding a grain bin and a pumpkin while encouraging Ned to explore his yard. Ned had a face for the camera, that's for sure. We used to love calling to him and walking down the fence line so he would follow to the grass, which at first was foreign to him and he didn't quite know what to do with all that soft, sweet smelling stuff under his feet. Eventually he learned to enjoy his luxuries and freedom and spent a lot of time in his tall grassy habitat.
Pictures of Ned flip through our memories quite often, and they always make us happy. We are very glad to have loved, known and cared for him. We so appreciate those who cared for Ned from afar, in the same way they have cared for our Girls. Ned was a very loved boy, and we are sure he felt that love after coming here to live out his much-too-short life.
Thank you, Nedly.....we all miss you very much.
May 14, 2010
Friday, May 14 is the anniversary of Bunny's passing.
A couple of weeks ago, driving out to Marcella's to feed Shirley and Tarra, there came a deep sense of peace, and instantly thoughts went to Bunny. It had rained the night before, and temperatures were cooler. The sometimes- harsh sun of Tennessee was muted and lit up the valleys with a soft glow. Tarra was quietly grazing towards the entrance of the branch where Bunny's body was laid to rest. Shirley was lying down just twenty yards from the space that will forever be marked by a single lone pine, somehow missed when everything around it was cut down. Upon approaching Shirley, she remained in repose, embracing the quiet of the moment, and consumed her hay where she was - she loved Bunny so. That moment, the space, the feelings that are palpable and sweet, their pure love, respectful and eternal; to all of this, the Girls continue to pay tribute.
Bunny was a love. She arrived here in 1999 from Evansville, Indiana when the deep caring of her family there allowed them to let her go. Even though she had not been with another elephant, (she did have weekly visits with a hippo), she quickly became part of the herd and re-learned what it was to be an elephant. During her first month here, she had slept outside lying down, left behind her brown ball "security blanket," gone swimming, ventured into the woods, decided mud wallows were wonderful, and had completely attached herself to Shirley and Jenny.
Bunny was the catalyst for the rest of the Ladies sleeping outside. It seems after all those nights in a barn, she thought gazing up at the stars on a bed of lush grasses was something not to be missed. The outside proved to be very much to her liking, making her always the last one to return to the barn. Caregivers have spent many a cold night slowly escorting Bunny, and any of her companions, back to the warmth of the barn. These treks would have to be started in the afternoon at times, knowing the hours it would take to finally arrive back at the barn.
To say Bunny did not move very fast, is a gross understatement. You could literally park a fourwheeler full of food about fifteen feet from Bunny, feed everyone else, and she would still be slowly making her way over to try to steal what had been there five minutes before. So the trip home was always slow, but when she arrived, there was quite the trumpeting, rumbling, squeaking, and belching celebration. Of course there did not have to be a long walk home to evoke this response. This greeting was something those Girls did every night they returned to the barn. They brought happiness home with them.
Bunny was silly, playful, and always greeted even humans with a warm loving welcome. She was very "trunky," whether it be grabbing Shirley's trunk and not letting go (while Shirley squinted and belched, adoring every minute), trying to wrap herself around a caregiver, or wanting to take your hand and sometimes keep it for a bit. She loved having you cup the end of her trunk-nose, while she heartily exhaled, and you quickly covered and uncovered it. When she got really playful, she would tilt her head back and forth, like an off-axis bobble head, which was generally followed by the above-mentioned Shirley trunk hold. There was no way you could be in her presence and not smile, which usually turned into a giggle.
Just because Bunny was silly doesn't mean that was all there was to her. She was also very deep, loving and supportive. We had all feared what Shirley would go through when Jenny passed, but Bunny stepped right in to be there for her sister. While Jenny was lying down, Shirley and Bunny would walk up to the top of the hill to spend quiet time together alone; thus began the bonding process that took their relationship to an even deeper level. With Bunny's caring ways, Shirley made it through a terribly difficult time in a better way than we had ever hoped. Bunny stepped in as a friend, not like the mother/daughter caregiving relationship which Shirley had with Jenny, but rather more on equal grounds like a sister.
Each elephant that walks on these grounds brings something to the Sanctuary. It may be something that helps them grow, something they offer to their sisters, or the many lessons they teach us. Every spirit here changes the Sanctuary forever, and we are grateful. It can be hard if you think of the Girls in terms of what we have lost by their not being here anymore. Instead, we remember them in terms of what we have gained. These Girls (and our one strong Man) are a blessing and we have much to be thankful for.
So today, we celebrate the life of Bunny—our cute, little, square, tree-wearing, sweet love of an elephant that has touched so many. A piece of her will be in our hearts always.
May 5, 2010
The devastating storms, torrential rainfall and floods that came through Tennessee May 1 and 2 will be remembered for generations. We're thankful that we, the Sanctuary staff and elephants alike, came through this okay. Our hearts and prayers are with those who were not so fortunate.
Currently Liz is doing exceptionally well, and reminding us, once again, how different each elephant can be. Little Lizzie is proving to be more sensitive than Misty, so we are supporting her in that respect.
Finding the right Anti-TB medications for elephants can be very tricky: some cannot be absorbed rectally, others are difficult to acquire, some that have been used successfully to treat elephants in the past are no longer manufactured, and each drug affects each individual elephant differently. Unfortunately there is an element of trial and error which can be frustrating for the caregivers, but we continue to be reassured by the TB advisory team that this is totally normal and we should be thrilled with how things are going. To be quite honest, part of this frustration comes from so little data; some previous treatments have not been well documented, while other institutions are not sharing their information and experiences. Caregivers’ emotions are sometimes compounded when Liz goes through difficult periods like she did at the end of March and beginning of April. She was not eating well, was lethargic and understandably reluctant for treatment.
After three weeks of ups and downs, constantly working with our homeopathic vet to find a remedy that would help strengthen her system and increase her tolerance of her medications and food, allowing us to provide additional supplementation, Lizzie now looks as radiant as ever. She continues to thrive with her sisters, Frieda and Billie by her side. Lizzie is eating and drinking well, and remains exceptionally cooperative for daily medications. Presently Liz is on two drugs; a third drug will be arriving soon which she will have to be on for two months in order to comply with the treatment guidelines. We remain hopeful that the right combination of supplements, homeopathy, and a whole lot of TLC from her ele-friends and caregivers will carry her through this challenging drug therapy, leading to a healthy future.
Today on the Lizzie scale of 1 to 10 (with 10 being the best), she appears to be a 9.
Special note from Scott: I need to add my sincere and humble appreciation to the caregivers. Treating elephants with TB can be a very difficult and trying process. It is hard enough to tend to an animal when they are sick from factors outside of our control, like tending to Ned who was in poor condition when he arrived. But, when you add in the element that the treatment we give her has actually caused Lizzie’s acute symptoms, the struggle is enough to rip our hearts in two. Times like we are experiencing now, when Liz feels great, rumbling, honking and squeaking, eating well, grazing on the spring grasses and napping with sisters, help to remind us of the long term goal; to help provide Liz with a long and healthy future.
Thank you, Richard, Barbara and Ashleigh, the three primary caregivers for Liz, Frieda and Billie and an extended thanks to Sam and Angela, primary caregivers for Lottie, Ronnie, Debbie and Minnie. This team is what makes the life at the Sanctuary for these lucky seven possible. These caregivers are in the foreground of their care; they are the ones that hold open hearts for healing, providing extra support and security when the elephants need it most. Anyone in the caregiver/healthcare provider role knows that this life can be overwhelming and exhausting, but it can also be infinitely rewarding. For those in our Quarantine barns, where extra precautions are needed, hot and sweaty tyvek suits, bulky respirators, extra disinfection, and intense medical treatments, dedication, commitment and tolerance hold a special value.
We all owe a debt of gratitude to the caregivers and providers on the ground floor, they are the first response in the good and the bad, and their dedication is what makes Sanctuary for Liz and the fourteen other residents possible. All hats off as we praise their work! Please remember to join in the elephants song and joyous celebration when life is good; their light and undeniable appreciation carries us through.
March 30, 2010
Liz remains in good spirits, thoroughly enjoying the companionship of her two close friends, taking turns napping in the sun and grazing. Over the past week, Liz's treatments have caused her to be a little off, which her vet team says can be a quite common as her body begins to adjust to the meds. She is eating hay and bamboo exceptionally well, even devouring willow branches from a tree that Minnie selected for her by the pond. However, Liz hasn't been eating grain or produce as readily as we would like. We continue to give Liz homeopathic remedies to help her tolerate her treatments better, which should provide a positive change in her appetite as well.
Last week, Liz was a little more reluctant to step into the restraint chute where she receives her treatments, likely because of the same minor side effects that caused her to stop eating her grain and produce. But once she is in there, she is wonderful during the treatment. Of course, consistency in meds is the key to success for treating TB, so her primary caregivers, Barbara and Richard, continue to work with Liz, looking for whatever she needs or wants that will help provide a little more comfort. Several fruits and vegetables were offered to Liz; some were marginally appealing, but yesterday, a loaf of bread was the food of the day. Liz came into the chute readily, ate all of her produce and then stood calmly for her treatment. We will continue to follow Lizzie's path, listening to her needs and accommodating her wants.
Liz has not been the only one we have been keeping our eyes on lately. A delightful change in Billie's temperament has begun to unfold! It appears Billie really likes her Phase I barn and yard accommodations with Liz and Frieda, more intimate and a little further away from the other Divas, and it has caused her to settle into a more comfortable state of mind. With a smaller crew of doting caregivers and more freedom, Billie has begun to blossom—vocalizing and even becoming more receptive to physical touch from her caregivers. Billie can now often be heard playing outside late at night. This ray of positive energy from her is so wonderful to watch, and no doubt helps to keep Liz's spirits up, too. During this time, we have also noticed Billie become even more protective of her little sister Liz, often letting us know even before we see the overt signs from Liz, that she is feeling a little under the weather.
Billie loves her big blue ball!
And then there is sweet Frieda, soft and gentle, always ready for a sing-a-long and always looking for extra goodies! Frieda's spirits are always high—we can't remember the last time she had a "bad day." As many of you know, Frieda has Osteomyelitis in her front feet. She continues to receive foot soaks to help the symptoms, along with doses of homeopathic remedies and herbal sprays for increased comfort. Frieda, much like Delhi, does not let her physical struggles interrupt her life song. In her mind, there is no such thing as a bad day, just little bumps along the journey. Often we will see Frieda resting her feet by lying on the sand pile with Liz or Billie, and sometimes they both stand over her—this sisterhood is the complete circle. Last week while Billie was headed to the barn for her dinner, Frieda stayed and stood over little Liz for more than an hour, shading her from the sun. They remind us every day of one of the primary missions of the sanctuary—to provide the space and time for the elephants to be, truly be with the other elephants. Their family is key to their growth and their health.
Today, overall on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being Lizzie at her usual moxie, vocal, playful, animated, healthy self, we would rate her at a strong 7, with appetite signs of an even more positive number tomorrow. We adore the way she brightens her sanctuary every day, not letting any of this get the best of her. Happily, she is still full of that little Lizzie spunk!
If you would like to make a donation towards the costs of Liz's treatments and other supplies, please visit her special Wish List page.
March 20, 2010
The change of seasons has already begun here at the Sanctuary--the meadows are springing shoots of new green grasses and daffodils are in full bloom. On this, the first official day of spring, we thought we would pay tribute to the end of the Winter of 2010 in video. While the entire east coast saw a succession of record snowfalls throughout the winter, the Girls came out and greeted the phenomenon with their usual wonder and appreciation of all that nature has to offer.
March 18, 2010
Shirley and Tarra's relationship is ever-evolving. Tarra has matured much over the past year, moving out of her "little sister" role, and Shirley has opened up more emotionally, not always needing to be the "strong one" anymore. This growth has made Shirley much softer, but it has not taken anything away from her silly, playful side. Along with sharing stalls inside, spending time in the habitat together, and eating together, this bonded pair still also play together. This one morning, Shirley and Tarra were extra silly and started playing as soon as they got out of the barn--Shirley showing Tarra that even though she has almost 30 years on her, she can keep up, no problem.
February 20, 2010
The cold weather of late was broken up by a stunningly beautiful sunny day in the mid 60s. The girls soaked up the sun and napped on their favorite hillsides, taking advantage of the warmer temperatures. As two caregivers watched, Minnie took the first foray into the pond in a long time. It seems the water was just right. She moved along the edge of the bank for a while before deciding to take the plunge. Once she did, it was all water works from there.
Minnie rolled, bobbed, and did “head” stands for a while. She then spotted a big white ball toy floating at the far end of the pond. She stepped on it, chewed it, and knocked it around the surface, losing herself in the sheer joy of unadulterated play and splashing. She also found a LARGE submerged tree. She decided it would look better on top of the water somewhere, and set about redecorating. She rolled it up against another tree on the bank, and pushed, tugged and shifted it until it was where she wanted it. She even appeared to try to wrap it around an upright tree, creating lots of splashes and loud cracking noises as the trunk began to split under her efforts.
Again, as so often happens, Minnie finished playing as quickly as she had started. Then, she just stood still for a few minutes, perhaps admiring her handy-work, and soon joined Lottie who was eating hay near the bank. Everyone enjoyed the sunny day in their own special way.
A winter snow storm covered most of Middle Tennessee, and The Elephant Sanctuary had several inches of snow - a very rare occurrence indeed! When the snow was falling the 3-Sum didn’t seem to think much of it one way or the other. When they came back into the barn, Billie began rubbing up against everything, the walls, other elephants; this activity went on for a while until she was dried off.
The next day when they went out, the snow was icier. Liz was the first out of the barn, and with each step she took, there was a loud crunch. After she had made it a good distance from the barn, she was so pleased with herself that she started kicking up snow, chirping, and bouncing around. This got Billie and Frieda interested enough to follow her (Billie practically sprinted over). Once they were together, all 3 went exploring in the snow, and actually ended up covering more ground then they do on nice days.
In her 10 years at the Sanctuary, Sissy has left her past reputation behind and has become known as one of the softest elephants there is. She generally stays along paths, avoiding pushing down small trees and tall grasses. When branches do brush past her face, she daintily closes her eyes as she goes and she relishes her time just standing side by side with her sisters, exchanging occasional gentle touches, her peaceful smile visible from the distance.
Possibly the most apparent display of her sweet and kind nature is her pure friendship with Winkie. In spite of being rejected by other elephants in her past, Sissy was able to open herself completely to Winkie when she arrived and Sissy became an utterly selfless and supportive friend and sister. This is what Winkie truly needed. Their relationship has not only supported Winkie; it has also allowed Sissy to find herself and grow right alongside Winkie.
Sissy arrived as a shell, and has flowered into this deeply beautiful being who has the ability to pull Winkie out of a dark place, give Shirley comfort, get silly with her sisters, and bring a smile to your face—a smile that swells from the inside out.
Sissy epitomizes unconditional love and radiates a warmth that envelopes those around her. It has been an utter blessing for elephants and caregivers alike that Sissy joined us ten years ago. Happy anniversary, Sissy.
Billie and Frieda spend lots of time together. While Freda naps, Liz protectively stands over Frieda. Sometimes Liz will gently move forward and back, and sometimes she goes from standing next to Frieda to standing directly over her - or even sitting on her!
A snowy January day in Asia. It snowed a bit here last week, but the temperatures were decent, so the ladies got a chance to go out for a bit and play around in the white stuff. It will hopefully be their only snow day this year. The novelty wore out quickly for both eles and caregivers alike.
501(C)(3) Nonprofit Corporation
Accredited by The Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries
Licensed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)
and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA)