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Update on Belle

January 2020

African Elephant Belle

After arriving at MCZ last November, Belle is settling into her new surroundings, and has started introductions to resident elephant Ruth.

From the time she arrived, Belle continued eating and drinking normally, and keepers consistently trained with her, through positive reinforcement, slowly transitioning her from Riverbanks Zoo’s instructions to ours.

African Elephant Belle
Belle enjoys dusting herself with sand.

Belle has now completely transitioned from Riverbanks’ hay and pellets to MCZ’s varieties.

Zookeepers comment that she enjoys getting baths, drinking from the hose and dusting herself.

She’s become well acclimated to the outdoor yard, as she’s had access to the area when it’s free of snow and ice.

Introductions of Ruth and Belle began Dec. 22 after Belle completed her quarantine period; Ruth is being introduced to Belle first, as Ruth is the less dominant elephant (Brittany and Belle are both dominant).

The first step in the introduction process involved placing Ruth and Belle in separate stalls across the “hallway” from each other so they could easily see each other through the bars, but not touch.

Brittany and Belle have been placed across the hallway in separate stalls diagonally from each other – seeing one another, but not able to touch.  This is the first step in their introduction process.

More than ten introductions have taken place since Jan. 9 and keepers report it’s going as planned; the longest time period Ruth and Belle have been together during any one introduction is about 2 hours.

African Elephant Belle
Food is placed high in barrels for Belle to reach, similar to how elephants in the wild reach into tree branches for food.

To make Ruth as comfortable as possible, the entire Elephant Care Center (ECC) is open and available for both her and Belle to walk in the same space during the introductions, and they are not “locked in” any of the stalls at any time during the intros. Brittany must be in the outdoor exhibit for the introductions of Ruth and Belle inside the ECC.

Because Brittany needs to be outside for the introductions of Ruth and Belle to occur, and winter weather is a factor, keepers will wait until spring to begin introductions of Brittany and Belle. This will allow for longer and more consistent times that Ruth can be outside, while introductions of Brittany and Belle take place inside the ECC.

Generally, the elephants can go outside when the temperatures are 35 degrees and warmer, and the yard is clear of snow and ice.  Elephants are monitored more closely by keepers when temperatures are 35+. The yard is equipped with heaters, and food is also place in the yard.

When Brittany can be outside and introductions are taking place, visitors can see Belle in the ECC with Ruth. The ECC is open for visitors during the introductions; usually taking place during public hours.  Visitors can see Belle when both Ruth and Brittany are outside (weather dependent), as Belle then has access to the entire ECC.

Pumps have been added to the outdoor pool to keep the water circulating and free of ice. Pool steps that are not covered with water are difficult and unsafe for the elephants to navigate.

Visitors may see keepers caring for Belle’s feet more often than Brittany and Ruth. Belle has a history of foot issues, so the keepers are monitoring them more closely and may be working on her feet more often than Brittany and Ruth.

We’ll share further updates in the coming months!

Video: Milwaukee County Zoo's African Elephant Belle Gets a Bath

Belle gets a warm water bath every few days with elephant soap and a good scrub from her keepers.