Elephants are very intelligent animals and this is reflected in the high level of care and attention they receive at Taronga Zoo. One of the more challenging tasks the elephant keepers face every day is enriching the lives of Taronga’s four Asian Elephants. ‘Enrichment’ can be anything that is physically or mentally stimulating to an individual or group and is something that every department at Taronga Zoo work tirelessly to provide for their animals on a daily basis. The elephants at Taronga are occupied by many different forms of enrichment ranging from toys and feeding devices to learning new behaviours or interacting with other elephants.
There are certain times of the year when the keepers get to have more fun than usual when creating enrichment items and one such time is Halloween. This year was no exception as the elephant keepers fashioned and hung two new Halloween themed enrichment items for the female elephants to enjoy in their yard, a scarecrow and a Halloween style head. Elephants are naturally intrigued by new things in their environment especially when they replace older, more familiar objects. Upon being given access to their new festive enrichment the females vocalised their surprise with loud roars at which point they huddled together for security and inspected their new enrichment items as a close-knit unit. This was deemed as a successful endeavour by the elephant keepers as the female elephants herding instincts overcame their individual curiosity and they exhibited a collectively wary stance when exploring their new enrichment.
An important form of enrichment to an animal with strong herding instincts is social enrichment and one of the most stimulating experiences for a herd of elephants is the arrival of a new calf. The birth of a calf is a momentous time for a herd as well as the keepers that care for them, as was recently experienced by the elephant team at Taronga Western Plains Zoo when Sabai arrived in early November. Sabai is the half brother of Taronga Zoo’s youngest Elephant Tukta, sharing the same father, Gung, Taronga’s resident male. While Tukta is unlikely to meet her new half-sibling anytime soon she will no doubt be extremely enriched upon the arrival of her forthcoming sibling in May 2017 when her mother Pak Boon is expected to give birth to her second calf.
By Elephant Keeper Johny Wade