Monday, June 20, 2011

All I Really Needed To Know I Learned From Elephants

Elephants have always been my favorite animal, but when I was doing research for CHAINED I learned a lot of cool things about them I didn't know before.

This weekend I went to the Houston Zoo's Elephant Open House. I'd gone to the event before, but I always love getting a closer look at the elephants and watching how they interact with one another.

They seem to be really smart, so here are some lessons from the elephants!

Don't try to do it all yourself
Elephants are very protective of their calves, but they aren't frazzled moms trying to take care of everything alone. All the elephants in the herd help take care of the babies.

New baby elephant at Chester Zoo

Be loyal to your friends
Hapoor Dam Meet & Greet
Elephants develop lifelong friendships, and even remember friends they haven't seen for years. And your friends don't have to look like you, right? I think Maximus the Elephant Dog gets as much attention as the elephants do during the open house events. And when Bella the dog was recovering from a spinal cord injury in the office of the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennesee, her buddy Tarra hung around outside the office the whole time instead of wandering around the grounds as usual.

...and remember those who came before you
I find this fascinating--elephants are really interested in the bones of other elephants. If they come across elephant bones they'll often pick them up or touch them with their trunks. Researchers have given elephants the bones of other animals to see if they'll respond the same way, but they show interest in only the elephant bones. I'd love to know what they're thinking!

Discovery News

Eat what you'd like, but get plenty of exercise
Asian elephants in the wild eat about 650 pounds of food a day, but they're working for it by walking around almost all day long. Of course, food is readily available the zoo, so they don't have to go around looking for it. The Houston zoo elephants have a pretty big yard to walk around in (soon to be a much bigger yard), but since they're not walking for miles and miles each day, they eat about 100 pounds of food. (But somehow poop 150 pounds).

Make that long-distance call
Elephants use infrasonic communication to talk to elephants who are far away. Some of the sounds they make are too low for us to hear, but an elephant a couple of miles away will respond to these sounds that they hear or feel with their feet.

Take time out for yourself
Here's a lesson from the bulls, really. The female elephants stick together in a herd, but the male elephants keep to themselves most of the time. You don't have to run off to the jungle and live on leaves, but I think it's good to take a little time away from everyone and have some quiet time alone.

African bull elephant
Wear sunscreen
After a bath, an elephant usually rolls around in the dirt. It seems counterproductive, but they know what they're doing--the dirt protects them from bug bites and acts as a sunscreen. Plus, it looks like a lot of fun, which as elephants know, is also important.

Bath time joy
Speaking of bath time, here's a video I made of Tess and her daughter Tupelo at the open house. Remember to get plenty of water, everyone--it's hot out there!

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