Arna And Gigi Get With The Program At Taronga Western Plains Zoo
Tuesday 11th March 2008

Update May 2008

As part of the settling-in process, the Zoo’s elephant keepers have moved  Arna and Gigi  into a paddock  adjacent to Burma, who arrived at  the Zoo in 2005 from Taronga . The three Asian Elephants can still see each other and make physical contact during the day, both on exhibit and in their barn, but are housed separately at night. 

11 March 2008

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Photo: Shallon McReaddie

Taronga Western Plains Zoo is home to three Asian Elephants and two African Elephants, all of who are in their twilight years.

Because all the Elephants at Taronga Western Plains Zoo are in their later years, keepers have a number of special programs in place to assist in keeping the Elephants both mentally and physically active.

Keepers regularly walk the African Elephants out of their exhibit to stimulate their senses as it allows them to explore a new environment and graze.

Enrichment items such as tyres suspended in their enclosure are another way in which keepers provide these animals with regular challenges that promote their health and well being.

As part of this special care program the former circus elephants Arna and Gigi are making good progress as they learn to join the program for Taronga Western Plains Zoo's older elephants.

Since leaving Stardust Circus to settle at the Zoo, keepers have been working closely with Arna and Gigi who are both in their 50s, to build a relationship with the pair and teach them how to be weighed on scales and present their feet for elephant pedicures.

Already Gigi is responding to the keepers' requests and presents her feet on the fence rails where the keepers can check her feet and toenails.

The Zoo's Senior veterinarian, Dr Benn Bryant, said: "Keepers have made great progress with Gigi, giving her food rewards as she shows her feet, allowing keepers to clip and file her toe nails."

These are part of the program of basic behaviours which the Zoo's keepers and veterinarians use very successfully to care for the two African Elephants, Cuddles and Yum Yum, and the Asian Elephant, Burma, which were already at Taronga Western Plains Zoo.

Dr Bryant said: "The next step once the elephants learn basic behaviours such as being weighed and presenting their feet will be encouraging them to present their ears to allow vets to take blood and to open their mouths for regular health and dental checks. 

"These behaviours are very important as they allow us to monitor the animals' health particularly as they are all quite old. When we can detect the slightest of changes in their weight, teeth, skin or toe nails, these early indicators of illness can be acted on very quickly and effectively."

"We have a conditioning program for both African and Asian Elephants that teaches them behaviours that promote their health, so the five elephants at the Zoo they have a high quality of life, particularly for such old animals. Caring for the world's largest land mammals can be challenging, especially as they get older when they are prone to degenerative diseases similar to those older humans suffer. "

"Currently we treat both the Asian and African Elephants at the Zoo for degenerative joint diseases using nutritional supplements such as Glucosamine.  These diseases are common with older animals," said Dr Bryant.

"Giving medicine to an elephant can be quite difficult, because they know what they like and if it doesn't taste good they won't eat it, not unlike children.  Therefore, we try to use medicines that taste good to make this process easier for both the animal and the keepers," said Dr Bryant.

Taronga Western Plains Zoo open every day of the year from 9.00am to 4.00pm (exit gates close at 5.00pm). For more information contact 02 6881 1400 or visit www.zoo.nsw.gov.au.