Two Elephants and their New Home
For 30 years, the elephant cows Savana (44) and Tamara (43) had been accustomed to their enclosure in the Zoological Garden Pistoia in Italy. Finally in October 2015, they were given new outdoor facilities with much more space than before. In their new enclosure, the animals now enjoy sand piles, tree trunks, ponds, real trees and a whole range of other features for their behavioral enrichment.
However, there was one problem: In order to get from their indoor enclosure to the new, 8000-meter-large outdoor enclosure, the elephants had to walk along a short corridor and this seemed to be too much of a novelty for them. The animal care staff and the zoo director initially hoped that the two “ladies” would get used to the hallway and the new space with time and patience. Weeks and months passed but Savana and Tamara only briefly entered the corridor and continued to spend the majority of their time in their stall or in their old enclosure. Up until spring of 2017, the absolutely impassable border had become the threshold between the corridor and the new enclosure. The animals were not sufficiently tempted by the food placed at the entrance to the new enclosure because they were able to stretch out their trunks to full length and quickly retreat back to the stall - food in mouth. In the meantime, the keepers had tried every trick to encourage the elephants to visit the new enclosure but they were at their wit’s end.
In April 2017, the Pistoia Zoo asked Prof. Dr. Henning Wiesner and Dr. Julia Gräfin Maltzan for advice. Both know the zoo and the elephants well. After all, they have treated the animals frequently, for example, trimming and caring for their hooves. Wiesner and Maltzan traveled to Italy, took a look at the new enclosure, spoke with the keepers, and developed a new strategy: to keep the door between the stall and the old enclosure closed at all times, whereas the corridor from the stall to the new enclosure was to be kept open day and night. Food and water should be offered from now on exclusively in the new enclosure. The keepers should provide branches, fresh leaves and a cool shower in the extremely hot summer temperatures. At first the elephant cows were somewhat perplexed and persevered stubbornly for three days without daring to set foot in the new enclosure. But on the fourth evening, they finally entered the new enclosure! Initially they remained directly next to the corridor but it was clear in the meantime that the first and biggest step had been taken.
In the following days, Savana was the most courageous one. She dared to enter the enclosure, walked around on the grass, engaged in full-body care using sand and explored every corner before then returning to the stall. Tamara, on the other hand, who had originally been the first one to set foot in the new enclosure, was now more hesitant and only stayed in the new space for a few moments before she retreated again into the corridor. Her comfort zone is still primarily the old stall. She requires a bit more time to become familiar with everything but it is clear that for her, as well as for Savana, the Akademie’s ingenious management represented a significant improvement in their wellbeing. ■