December 6, 2010

"Old man winter" has definitely come to town, bringing the biting cold hints of what is still to come. The new radiant heaters installed in Phase II barn, like those already installed in Phase I, are much appreciated by Ronnie, Debbie and Minnie. The radiant heat supplements the floor heating system already in place. On recent chilly days with rain, the Girls seemed to relish taking in the toasty warmth on their backs, as they dried off and settled in for the evening.

Even on chilly days, the sun warms the habitat nicely by late morning, and the Girls enjoy some time soaking up that warmth; napping on hillsides and munching hay under lazy, drowsy eyes. This past Wednesday, Debbie put into practice her winter routine of "I'm not sure I want to go outside just yet." Ronnie and Minnie headed right out with no hesitation, but Debbie lingers inside for a bit, as she prefers those lovely bygone days of 70-plus degrees.

Eventually, Debbie heard her sisters making all kinds of squeaky, excited noises and she hurried down the alley to see what was going on. Ronnie had started a very excited play with a long, skinny forked log lying in the Night Yard. In what is usually the pattern for Minnie, Ronnie began lifting the end of the log, dragging it backwards, and swinging it back and forth. She squeaked and squealed as she pushed it up in the air, resting the end against her side, then pranced in tiny (relative to elephants) circles swatting at it with her trunk.

Minnie got excited with all of this activity and she dashed into the Lower Pond, thrashing water around and making impressive fountains and sprays as she went. It is amazing how the Girls seem to enjoy the water at times when caregivers are all bundled up, watching. (Minnie has been known to play in the water when it was snowing). When Minnie left the Pond, she moved up and down the fence dividing the Pond Yard and Night Yard, picking up large clumps of sand and grass, tossing them over her back, as well as just chucking them with no real aim. She mouthed the top rail of the fence, pushing her forehead against a post as she reached for the perceived "better" sand and dirt on the other side, then tossing it into the air with her trunk held high as she wheeled around to find another toy. Debbie joined the fray, walking quickly down the fence to see what Minnie had found, then turned to greet Ronnie with happy noises.

Their caregiver waited until the excitement and play tapered off, then went out to deliver their morning hay. However, upon driving into the Night Yard, all three Girls geared up their excitement once again. Debbie and Ronnie sniffed and touched each other all over, then they both sprinted across the grass toward the 4-wheeler, ears sticking out and tails moving the whole way. Their caregiver dropped little bites of hay along as she drove. Debbie would stop to grab the bite, Ronnie would get some, and then they would take off again in a playful sprint behind the path of the 4-wheeler. This continued all the way into the Night Yard extension. Debbie joined in the trumpeting—not just her usual squeaks—as Minnie caught up to everyone on the 40 side of the fence, and settled in to munch on her own hay. The caregiver put out the bale for Deb and Ron, then moved off to open gates as the ladies grabbed big mouthfuls of hay in the morning sunshine.

Debbie, Ronnie and Minnie return to the barn earlier in the afternoon. How long they stay outside depends on the weather, of course, so caregivers have switched to the winter routine of making sure the barn is prepped and ready so the Girls can be let in at a moment's notice. Many times they surprise us, and we find them still napping in the pasture and enjoying the fresh air much longer than you might expect. Hopefully winter will be kind, and the colder days which inspire the Girls to spend time in the barn are few and far between.

Toy Engineering:
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. Two large holes are cut into the ends, slightly off-center, through which a pvc tube is passed. In this way, the ball or barrel always is positioned with the same side down, and the holes for food are on the top. Nothing comes out if the toy just hangs there. The Ladies can certainly smell the popcorn that awaits inside, and each individual finds her own way to get the treats.

Winkie shows her mechanical way of thinking, as she immediately searches the barrel carefully with her trunk, finds the holes, then places her "finger" (appendage at the end of their trunk) in the hole and gently pulls down. Sissy and Winkie's barrel was placed lower than the others, because of Sissy's inability to hold her trunk up. This allows her to use her head to bump the barrel into submission. However, she seems to approve of its other function more—as a back and rump scratcher.

Tarra likes to place her trunk firmly underneath and shake the food out, and as always, she shares with Bella. One evening, Tarra repeatedly shook the popcorn out, only to return to eating her hay while Bella cleaned the floor of those puffy little morsels.

Shirley is fairly gentle, as she lays her trunk on top of the barrel, then pulls it down and gets a pretty big spin out of it. She also doesn't eat her goodies right away, but just coyly smiles, spins the barrel again and again, and takes breaks every few minutes to snack.


Dulary and Misty have the enrichment ball. Initially, it seemed more fun for Dulary to beat-up on the ball. Being a smart girl, she quickly realized that more food came out when she used Shirley's technique versus trying to force the food out. Misty usually watches Dulary and helps her clean up the floor afterwards. Misty also seems to appreciate the sets of toys which are hung on a lower chain. The chain is covered in fire hose and has a variety of items on it. There are some straps—good for scratching those itchy places; heavy duty pvc tubes—good for noise; a small tire—good for chewing and running trunks all along the inside; and finally, a fire hose cube, which can hide more treats and also seems to be very chewy!

All of the enrichment toys are interchangeable, and the lower chains allow for regular changing of items as the Girls run quite a durability test on these. We have more donated enrichment items on the way, but for now, they remain in the hands of the postal service as they find their way to Hohenwald.

In Africa, Tange and Flora have been making the most of the sunny days despite their cool temperatures. Sometimes, after Flora has finished eating her morning hay, she will disappear deep into the woods. These are the times that Tange knows to give Flora her space, and she will go off on her own as well. But as soon as Flora is ready to emerge from the trees, Tange is not far behind.
This week we were delighted to see Tange and Flora playing another game of tag. They took advantage of their spacious yard and chased each other around for a while. Tange didn't miss a step as she let Flora back her up in between two huge mud holes. They were head to head, with their tusks interlocked moving as one. Flora took a moment to balance on some pine logs that were in the yard, and then returned to getting down and dirty with Tange in the mud. After a while, Flora decided that she'd had enough. Tange, having a lot of silliness left in her, took off full speed out into the clearing and started playing with a three-foot tall cedar tree, bouncing it back and forth like a punching bag. Then she found another one to tear out of the ground and toss over her head onto her back as a finale.

It is so nice to see Flora express herself in such a playful manner, and especially with Tange, who is always looking for a chance to be silly.

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