Friday, May 13, 2016

A first look at the Sedgwick County Zoo elephants and a Friday Smile or six

On Wednesday,

my friend Sally, a Zoo member, and I as her guest, went to see the new elephant exhibit at the Sedgwick County Zoo.   Originally, I was going to rent a wheelchair for Sally, but she decided to buy a fancy walker.  It arrived just in time.  I was SO glad she did, because that freed me up to take photos.

Everything about this day made me smile, so I am also sharing this very long post with Annie at A Stitch in Time who hosts Friday Smiles.   This is week 169.

Although it's a first look for those of us fortunate enough to see the new elephant enclosure this week, it took nearly 4 years of negotiations, permit applications, and court injunctions to get the elephants here.  I read that the transfer from Dakar, Senegal to America, which, by itself, was a logistic puzzle that passed through many governments and agencies, took months to negotiate.  That was just the legal side.

On the research side, studies were conducted to see what works for elephants and what doesn't.  One study I read showed elephants have a tendency to have foot and joint problems if confined to concrete enclosures in captivity.  In fact, it's apparently the number one reason elephants die in captivity.  Another showed elephants tend to get lazy in captivity, so their feeding habits need to be timed in different locations.

I also learned that elephants are similar to humans socially, including how they communicate, care for their young, and show emotions.  It's been shown that these beauties are also self-aware, a cognitive function often foolishly attributed to mainly humans.  I'm not sure zoo patrons will see these attributes, but I'm sure their zoo keepers will.

I further learned behavioral abnormalities are common in elephants in captivity.  This includes repetitive swaying and rocking, as well as infanticide.  I sincerely hope our zoo is aware of these problems and will take measures to keep these beauties safe and well loved.

On the biological side, genetic tests were conducted once the elephants arrived, at which time it was learned the oldest female was the mother to the only male.   Additionally, biological samples such as blood and feces are routinely checked to monitor for tuberculosis, infertility, and the overall health of the animals.

After walking, taking many photos, and seeing animals of all kinds, we were eventually shown the way to the exhibit.  I immediately knew we were close, because this looked very similar to the photos I took on the tram when we were here a few weeks ago on my birthday.

At this entrance, which was blocked off because they wanted us following a certain path, a lady was showing an elephant tusk and talking about it.  For some reason, I thought it was demeaning, and didn't take any photos.  At another entrance further along, also blocked off, another zoo volunteer was showing a piece of elephant hide.

By the time we got here, we had been walking and taking photos for over an hour.  I was surprised how alert Sally was.  Usually by this time, she would have been limping, sitting every two minutes, and wanting to go home before the main event.

However, that new walker seemed to do the trick and she was ready and excited to see the elephants.

It was right about here that some woman asked to see my ticket.  I was taken back and told her I didn't get a ticket.  Sally laughed and said she had the ticket for both of us.

I made sure to photograph both the front

and back while Sally held the ticket she had to turn in.

I had seen this colorful piece next to the elephant exhibit the last time we were at the zoo, but I thought it was part of the gorilla exhibit, not a playground for children.

We had to keep on an exact path and our first view of the Elephants of the Zambezi River was this area that is cordoned off for boat rides.  I'm sure the little "island" is for the elephants, though.

We stopped at a resting spot where we could (someday) see the elephants in the largest pool in the country.

This day, though, there was no way to climb the platform and look through the telescope that is curiously not showing in my photo.

In fact, much of the area was unavailable to us.

At  least Sally was still in high spirits.  Without that walker, she would never have made it this far.

Here is more of the pool, which the elephants will be able to play and romp in soon.

I keep flipping back and forth between whether these animals should be caged like this, or allowed to roam free in protected wildlife preserves.  However, in the end, 17 African elephants are alive today because three American zoos cared enough about conservation to step in when these animals were to be culled for lack of food.  And my definition of culled means these animals would have been put to death if the Dallas, Omaha, and Wichita zoos hadn't stepped in to save them.
One thing is for sure.  They will soon be put on display for the entire area to observe them.

If you scroll back up to the article in the newspaper, you will see this is the area where the two new elephants were romping the day the photos were taken.

And there was my first look at the beautiful elephants, including Stephanie, our longtime resident elephant, who is in the foreground of this photo.

Right now, the new elephants (shown above) are being kept separate from Stephanie, although they are allowed to touch each other through the fences.  Sally read that Stephanie has begun to bond with one of the new elephants and they seem to communicate with each other through the fences.

It appears that two of the young females have bonded.

Although I got a few wonderful photos of the elephants, even though they were very far away,

several of my photos ended up like this, where the fence became the focal image and I didn't get the elephants in view.  By leaving this photo smaller, you can actually tell there are two elephants in the background.  Had I enlarged it, the elephants become far more abstract.

Sally said she counted five of the six new elephants, but I was so busy just snapping photos, and trying to catch up since she left me behind, I didn't have a chance to count them.

This is the area Stephanie can roam in.  She is the lone elephant in the photo above.  For the time being, the six Zambezi elephants have about 2/3 of the area, and Stephanie has the rest.  One nice thing is how these beauties can be moved from one area to another, and they should all be playing together more than likely by opening day (May 27).

Even though Stephanie is marginally closer in the photo above, it is obvious how much larger she is than the others.

I was busy snapping away when a young boy knocked my camera nearly out of my hand.  I had planned to delete this photo, but thought Valerie might appreciate the bird, even though I have no idea what it is.

Inside their new home, the only concrete is on the outside of the fenced area.

This is when I begin to wonder if leaving them in cages during our cold winters for months at a time, is going to be healthy.  That certainly doesn't look like a place I would have (or want) to stay for three to four months out of 12.

I promise to get off my soapbox now, because I KNOW they are better off, but how much so will remain to be seen.

Back outside, I walked through what I thought might be one of the crates used to bring the elephants to the US.

However, because my monitor no longer shows color correctly, I can't read this (it's nothing but white on my monitor), so I'm not sure what is on the sign.  I do know Sally was so far ahead of me at this point, I didn't have time to stop and read it, but almost had to run to catch up to her.

A few more photos showing areas where people can stop and observe the elephants,

and a few more photos

of Stephanie

and our visit with the elephants was over.  I'm actually looking forward to seeing the elephants once the hoopla and large crowds have settled down.   I hope you enjoyed this first look with me to our latest zoo members.

Thanks beyond belief for visiting today.  I am SO glad you took time to join me.  The rest of Wednesday's zoo photos (~100) that do not include the elephants, will be ready as soon as I get them marked and sorted from the ones I showed today.  And don't forget to visit or join Annie where everyone will put a smile on your face to start the weekend out happy!

25 thoughtful remarks:

Lynn Holland said...

What a fabulous blog post and fantastic visit for you.
The facts about elephants are really interesting.
I read Mark Shand's book about them a few years ago, I might have to dig it out and read it again now.
Lynn xx

Valerie-Jael said...

What a fun day you had with Sally and the elephants. Glad the walker helped her to stay happy and keep moooooving. You were lucky to get a preview of that wonderful new enclosure, and I am sure you will be going back again and reporting the progress! Had to laugh about the play area being for kids and not for apes! By the way, that astonishing boat you saw on my blog is the ferry, which crosses the Rhine every few minutes to bring passengers, cars, bikes etc from one side to the other. It's a rather old one, and they regularly redo all the paintings to keep it in good trim! Have a lovely day, hugs, Valerie

Annie said...

A beautiful post. They certainly seem to have thought carefully about the elephants needs and there is bound to be good and bad point about captive animals but I always try to focus on just how much we can learn from it all and how good it is to be able to see animals that would otherwise only be seen in pictures. Thank you for sharing Elizabeth.
Annie x

Barb said...

Thank you for sharing your wonderful photos Elizabeth. It looks as if you had a great day and Sally was certainly on a roll with her new walker.

It was very interesting to read all the facts about the elephants and I look forward to seeing photos of them all living together.

We are watching a series of programmes about a rescue centre here in the UK for primates. The team are all very dedicated to the animals and have also had lengthy problems with red tape when trying save animals and bring them to the UK.

Have a happy week. Barbxx

Lisca said...

What a great post! It looks as if a great deal of thought has gone into designing this enclosure. It looks really great to me. I'm sure the elephants will enjoy it, as they can roam about. I understand your mixed feelings though. I'm sure they are going to be much better off than being culled or poached or killed any old way.
In northern Spain we visited an elephant enclosure which was huge. We were parked on the other side and could see the elephants without having to buy a ticket. We sat there all morning watching them roam around and interact with each other. There was also a little one, which was looked after by two females. I never found out which one was the actual mother.
I'm glad Sally got on well with her walker. My mum would not want to be without hers. She loves it.
Thanks for sharing all those wonderful photos.

Denise Price said...

It was fun to see these photos; thanks for sharing them. We don't have elephants at any of the zoos in MN--I think it's because our climate is all wrong for them.

It looks like you had a nice day out with gorgeous weather. Hope you'll have a nice weekend, too!

My name is Erika. said...

This is a great post. I love reading about and seeing your photos. Elephants are very cool creatures. I went to hear E O Wilson speak a year or so ago. He started off as the "ant" man and then moved onto bigger ecological pictures. One thing he said in the speech was about there are 17 groups of social animals on earth. Us being one. And definitely elephants.I have tried to find what they are but can't find the list anyplace. People have been very egocentric and think we are the only living thing with "emotions and memories and thoughts" but now they are proving it more and more that animals can do all of those things. Especially social mammals. Thanks for sharing. It made my day taking a little visit to the zoo. Happy almost weekend.

Anonymous said...

Looks like a truly beautiful zoo with lots of roaming room for the animals. I don't like to think of those majestic creatures in cages, I'll get up on the soap box with you, but, they certainly seemed to have tried to create a wonderful and safe space for them. I do find zoos depressing because I am sure the animals just want to be out in the wild, so I don't often go, but this one is really different. Toronto has a zoo like this - really big places for the animals to graze and run. I suppose if we have to pen them up, then at least we think about their needs. My pups certainly don't mind their big fenced in yard, or their 2 nice meals a day. Or the sofa, or the dog pillows, so.....xox

My name is Erika. said...

Your weekend sounds like mine! Both my yard and house are a mess. I am going to pull out my EO Wilson books and go back and see if he mentions what they are too. Its such a cool and interesting topic to me. Hope I'm not being too geeky. (which I thought of after I hit publish. :)

Caterina Giglio said...

oh E, I am sure the facility is wonderful and they were saved from being culled as you so delicately put it, but I not a zoo person, at all and I find the whole thing distasteful, that said, I am amazed at the work going in to the project... but winter lasts a long time where you live and how boring for them trapped inside... thank you for sharing it though, it is good to know what is going on... x

Felix the Crafty Cat said...

It all looks wonderful. I know we would sooner see them in the wild but we are loosing so many elephants every year now that it is important to have a captive breeding program and it looks as though the zoo have spent a lot of money and time trying to get it right. Have a great weekend, Angela x

Helen said...

the new enclosure looks as if it will keep them happy - apart from the winter when it will be sad they are stuck inside; and I hope your elephants will all be happy and thrive together! What a good buy that walker is for Sally, you'd never normally get so much time to photograph, even if you did get left behind! Thanks for catching up with the Kew posts - and no, I won't be going tomorrow, I have some boring chores to get done at home, and next weekend I'm busy too... but for sure I will go early when i do!!

Elizabeth said...

Brilliant post, Elizabeth. I learned so much about elephants, and living in captivity, I didn't know. The last time I saw one was as a child visiting Edinburgh Zoo where it was possible for children to have a ride on one. I think it is safe to say that our zookeepers know more about all that is good for an elephant and transporting screaming children won't be one of them. Thanks for sharing. Elizabeth xx

Meggymay said...

Oh my, Thank you for sharing your fantastic day at the zoo with us. The photos are great and it looks like the elephants have a spacious and safe haven to live in. I have enjoyed my visit with you today to read your post.

Yvonne xx

pearshapedcrafting said...

What great photos -thanks to Sally's walker! So pleased that it works so well for her - it sounds as though she was enjoying the freedom it gave her! Look forward to seeing more elephant photos -the outdoor parts look brilliant! Have a great weekend. Hugs, Chrisx

Rita said...

At least it looks like they have done their homework and tried to provide the best environment that they could. They are definitely better off alive if there are people who care and are trying to keep them happy and healthy. A zoo might not be their choice. But when you consider the option...

I'll be excited to hear and see more after the elephants have been there for a while and all have gotten used to each other and their surroundings. :)

Sandra Cox said...

Sounds like a wondrous day and it looks like they are going to have a nice place to live.

AiyanaKalyna said...

First I am so happy for Sally. I was laughing about how she was so far ahead of you. I am really happy for her and that the walker is giving her so much freedom. I have said before I have worked very seriously with elephant conservation. This is a very important subject for me. These are my babies. I love African elephants with a ferocity and highly protective of them. Even though I would prefer them to be in protected areas in their own country I do think it's a good thing our country was able to take a few of them to also protect and hopefully start a small breeding program for them. Elephants are becoming more endangered every day with worn torn areas of Africa. I am not happy zoo lady just had to show a tusk and hide. Honestly, I would probably blew up about that. I know she was just trying to educate about elephants and conservation. Elephant tusks are extremely illegal in this country and should not be here at all. What is next a rhino horn! I think the elephant living areas are nice, not what I would have set up but they are still nice. I don't like the cement either. Honestly, African elephants are going to think many of those play things are quite stupid and insulting to their intelligence. We have Asian elephants here. They love the cold and like to play in the snow and ice. I know Asians are better adapt to this kind of weather but it does get cold and snowy in Africa too. I have research data of African elephants throwing snowballs at each other. It is so cute when they did it. Thank you so much for sharing. I know I keep saying I will get a blog post up. I have been very ill.

sheila 77 said...

Gosh, Elizabeth, I had to go back and see if I was still on the same day. What a fabulous range of photographs, all so clear and giving us a lovely long and fascinating tour of the zoo area. That was interesting to read about the elephants, the enclosures and your thoughts on them. Zoos seem to be a necessity now, to ensure we try to keep some species alive and many zoos do seem to keep the animals as best they can, as they are doing here.
And that's a lovely photo to end with.

Neet said...

You certainly put the new place through its paces Elizabeth. I know how you feel about the "is it - isn't it" as I was the same when I visited an elephant camp in Thailand a good few years ago. Fine, they were in their usual habitat but they were chained by a foot when the visitors were not there. The one thing I did like was seeing them in the water bathing with the men who looked after them.
I guess we have to be thankful that the zoos and places that are like the one you showed us are at least caring about the animals they have. Not like some of the zoos that are featured on tv as being cruel by being certainly undesirable places for magnificent animals.
Hugs, Neet
(and chin tickles for your two)

froebelsternchen said...

It seems it was a fantastic day at the zoo - thanks a lot for sharing Elizabeth!

mamapez5 said...

Sorry I am late visiting but I am glad I did. Your elephants do have a very beautiful enclosure with space to roam and water to play in. I am very torn as I don't like to see any animals taken out of their natural environment and chained, but if it is the only way to stop poachers from wiping out the species, then there is some justification for it. It looks as though you had a really lovely day, and it was good your friend had the ability to enjoy it with you. Kate x

Divers and Sundry said...

Thanks for the link :) It's hard to catch up. I love the look of the roaming space, but not so much the cold-weather cages. It's so hard to know what to do... how to balance their needs.

Kim Collister Studio said...

Thanks Elizabeth for visiting my blog and reading about Tarra and the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee. Your Zoo seems to have dedicated a really nice place for the elephants and although I don't think it is an ideal place for them, you are right...they are alive and protected and it does give people the opportunity to learn about them and to see what absolutely beautiful loving creatures they are. I wish all Elephant could be sent to a Sanctuary where they could live out their lives in a natural habitat without cages and peering eyes all the time, but God Bless who protect them and hopefully these Zoos will be first with the Elephants in mind and money as some of the Elephants that are rescued from Sanctuaries come from Zoos where they were not treated well. Your Zoo looks like they put a lot into it and I know the Dallas Zoo well and they are also very committed.
Thank you for posting this and visiting mine as well. I plan to keep updates on Tarra and her friends so check back again soon.

Kim Collister Studio said...

Sorry, correcting my above post where it said Elephants that are rescued "from" sanctuaries, should have said, Elephants that are rescued and sent to sanctuaries.
I didn't want anyone to think that Elephants are rescued from Sanctuaries!
My brain goes faster than my typing! :)