The elephant calf is finding his groove with the rhythm and routine of his new world. He’s got the “Nurse, Nap, Play, Repeat” sequence down, and now he’s learning new sounds and the flow of things at the Zoo.
While the calf and mom continue to bond, there are two other “b’s” he’s learning: behaviors and boundaries. As you will recall from the last Mikki and calf blog, mom and calf are walking and exploring the yard every morning before we open. We’ve begun adding “new noises” to the morning routine. In fact, some volunteer Zoo educators got to be day players in production of “crowd noise” a few days ago. After all, the Zoo isn’t necessarily quiet, so sound has to be factored into this calf’s acclimation process. We want him to experience it in controlled doses now so he can get used to it.
Our volunteer Zoo educators were asked to clap, sing, shout at one another and generally make noise around the elephant yard walkway. We also invited contractors to ride by the exhibit to help get him accustomed to the sounds of vehicles, gators and golf carts. When the calf notices something (sound or activity), he looks to mom Mikki for cues. If she shows no sign of concern or of protecting him, he then looks to the staff (his extended herd) to gauge their response. This is one way he will learn what is out of the ordinary and what is routine in his habitat, learning the rhythm and routine of everyday life at the Zoo.
Calf-proofing the Outdoor Exhibit Area
The calf’s human care team are making exhibit yard preparations so that the calf’s ever-growing fan club can meet him as soon as he and mom show that they are ready. We are essentially calf-proofing the yard, much like you would baby-proof your home (only our baby is a nearly 300 lbs. calf).
One modification you will notice is the yellow-flagged cattle farm fencing around the outdoor pool. Much like invisible fencing you might place around your yard for an adventuresome dog, the fencing will provide important physical boundaries to keep him safe until he’s ready for the big new challenge of the pool. Similar agriculture fencing is used in the remnant wild in Africa to protect crops, farmland and farmers from an elephant herd.
Moving In and Out of the Yard
For you sports fans out there, you will see a well-orchestrated “play,” being executed by the elephant care team as they currently move mom and calf in and out of the exhibit yard. The goal of this routine is to train the calf how to move purposely and safely with (and behind) Mikki, from the bedroom to the yard and back again. Just like training an excited puppy not to bolt out of the open door ahead of you into traffic, this process helps train the calf how to move successfully through his new environment.
When the elephant crew of five prepares the two of them to go into the yard, they place a rope around the calf (the same one used to help him stand up and walk in his first moments of life), and they guide him, following Mikki from the stall to the opening to the yard. With repetition, he will learn to use this path, letting Mikki go out first. This way, he is not bounding through her legs and risking tripping or other hazards. Because AZA elephant management standards require that an elephant two years of age or older be tethered by two legs whenever keepers are sharing space with them, Mikki also has ropes placed on her front two feet and held by keepers while she exits the barn.
After the elephants and crew enter the yard in the correct order, keepers untether Mikki and the calf and place the required barrier between the indoor barn and the free-moving elephants in the yard. One team exits to the perimeter to observe, while the other team stays in the doorway. We could draw the play in “Xs” and “Os” on a chalkboard, but we think you get the picture. The team reverses the play when they reenter the barn, Mikki first, then followed by the calf (ready to dash in for a quiet meal and nap). Once this routine is solidly in place, mom and calf will not need the escorts.
In the upcoming weeks, we will tell you more about the milestones our calf can look forward to on his journey to adulthood. Also, exciting news about our naming contest is coming soon. You won’t want to miss it! You can follow updates about Mikki and her calf here and on the Zoo’s social channels on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. #Mikkiandcalf #Mikkisjourney.
Elephant viewing reminder: You can also see daily updates on viewing select animals like elephant Punch at LouisvilleZoo.org/today.
Did you know? In Africa, elephants are at significant risk due to poaching and loss of habitat. Elephant habitat is disappearing due to human development, agriculture, logging and mining. Learn what you can do to help at 96elephants.org.