Elephants are magnificent creatures and have many facets. One of those facets is their intelligence level. Elephants are one of the smartest animals on the planet, which enables us to create a respectable relationship with them. As trainers, we are given the opportunity to observe their intelligence on a daily basis through volunteer-type training where they have the freedom to choose to participate. This training enables us, as their caretakers, to mentally and physically stimulate them. Every day, each elephant gets personal attention and, in turn, we create a bond and trust with the animal.
Our training is all based on positive reinforcement. We make each interaction—whether it is shifting into or out of the barn, moving from one part of the barn to another or getting a bath--as positive and rewarding as possible. All behaviors are natural movements for the elephants and help us better care for them. These training movements allow us to view every part of each elephant--from the tip of its trunk to the tip of its tail. We also encourage medical behaviors that allow us to monitor their health, in similar ways that humans get wellness checkups. We take the health of our elephants very seriously and monitor blood levels, blood pressure and other important levels every week in order to prevent disease or detect early abnormalities. Training is great exercise for the elephants as well.
In addition, our elephants understand more than 60 verbal cue behaviors which, when demonstrated, helps us keep them fit and flexible. Elephants are already large animals so keeping them at a healthy weight is very important.
We are very proud of the elephant program at the Zoo and we care for them as part of our own family. We strive to connect our guests to these gentle giants, and hope to inspire you to care about them and seek ways to support elephant conservation so future generations will be able to enjoy them, too!
– Debbie Bastin, animal caretaker