December 13, 2010

Tange and Flora have been enjoying the quiet days of winter by basking in the sun. Meanwhile, their caregivers have been “browse hunting” for them all over the county. Each of these African elephants can eat about two trees a day, so we try to supply them with plenty of tree parts in the barn at night. Some of the trees are ones that they have pushed down in the valleys. Other times, we find people cutting trees around their homes and we ask if we can take the parts that are still green. Most people are happy for us to take their tree limbs off their hands.

Tange and Flora will eat most of the native species of this region, with the exception of cedar and yellow wood, and they will even eat some of the non-native species, such as Bartlett Pear. It's not just the tender tips of the branches they enjoy—they will also chew the bark off the thicker branches. They really enjoy pinning the logs up against the wall, then stripping the bark off with their tusks in order to eat it. Some of their favorite logs include pine, tulip poplar, and maple.

Before the girls come in each day, the barn is prepped with lots of browse, hay, and sawdust.  Depending on when they choose to arrive, their dinner might also be waiting for them. Tange usually walks right past her dinner and goes straight to the browse pile. She starts with some maple and oak as an appetizer and then goes back for the main course: produce and grains. Flora likes to save her browse for dessert. She will take her time with it, tossing the sticks up into the air once she has eaten all the bark off them. She also saves some for bartering with her caregivers, or just gives it to them. Each night the pops of the branches breaking and the loud thuds of the logs dropping to the floor give clear evidence that Tange and Flora are still enjoying their browse.

As Ele-Cam viewers saw last week, we let Minnie, Debbie and Ronnie all together (without a fence barrier) for the first time since Lottie's passing. At first, much to our surprise, Minnie seemed more excited to explore Debbie and Ronnie's yard than she was to see Debbie and Ronnie! After a quick, enthusiastic exploration, Minnie was ready to go see Deb and Ron. Again, much to our surprise, Ronnie greeted Minnie's zealous overtures for play with some of her own. The two trunk-wrestled, mouths open in “grins” of joy as they pushed each other around.  We were awed and humbled by Minnie's efforts to play as nicely as possible with Ronnie, whose bad hip can hinder her from being as exuberant as she wants to be. Minnie reined in her excitement, never pushing Ronnie beyond her limits. Debbie hung back—always nearby—but not so eager to engage Minnie in play. Usually Debbie is quite the reserved girl, so this was normal.
The next day brought more of the same: Debbie standing nearby while Ronnie and Minnie tussled. Occasionally, Minnie would try to play with Debbie. Deb would play back a little bit, just not as enthusiastically as Ronnie would. Min would then return to Ronnie after a few minutes of attempting to engage Debbie. We were so proud of Minnie, and the respect she was showing Debbie.


Ronnie takes a break while Debbie and Minnie play in the background.

On the third day, Minnie's zest got the better of her, and her play became a bit too rough. When a caregiver came with hay to lead her away from Debbie and Ronnie, she followed willingly. We gave the girls a couple of days off, with Debbie and Ronnie in their yards and Minnie in hers. When we let them into each other's yards again on Thursday, once again Minnie's play got a bit rough for Debbie and Ronnie. And once again, without a fuss, Minnie followed a caregiver with hay and treats back into her own yard.
Though it will take some more time, we are very proud of Minnie and the strides she is making.

The weather this past week is certainly allowing the staff to perfect their winter routines in the barn. This is the coldest December in Hohenwald in quite some time, and yesterday it snowed. The girls are very easy to care for when the weather makes it necessary to stay in the barn. Dulary and Misty aren't bothered by anything as long as they have each other. Rather than feel the chill outdoors, Sis and Winks prefer staying in where it's toasty warm. Shirley and Tarra are the first ones to want to venture out, but when their overhead door is opened to give them a peek at what is going on outside, they quickly decide it's not for them—especially when it's snowing and temperatures are in the 20s with 20 m.p.h. winds!

So, the toys are all being put to good use—getting refilled, while fresh browse and hay await the girls as they are shifted into a clean stall, allowing caregivers to pressure-wash the dirty ones.  Misty and Dulary don't even have to be asked to move into another stall; when the gate to another stall is opened, they are generally so excited to go somewhere else, they head straight in, making noise most of the way. And with the large size of the barn, it allows caregivers to work around them while still respecting their space. When everything is clean, they are left to enjoy the warmth and the company of each other.

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