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Update on Elephant, Belle

May 2020

African Elephant Belle

After arriving at MCZ last November, Belle has settled into her new surroundings, and in the latter part of December, she started introductions to resident elephant Ruth. Between Ruth and Brittany, Ruth is the less dominant elephant; both Brittany and Belle are dominant animals.

The introductions between Ruth and Belle progressed through the next few months and the keepers were happy with the relationship building between the two elephants and continuing trust between the keepers and the elephants.

Elephant Care Center
Elephant Care Center:
stall layouts for introductions.
Click image for a closer look.

After slowing down the introduction process between Belle and Ruth, keepers began introducing Belle and Brittany. Intros began a couple of months ago in the Elephant Care Center (ECC) with Belle in stall #1 and Brittany and Ruth together in stalls #3 and #4, diagonally across from Belle.

Keepers saw some fighting between Brittany and Belle, so they put a “pause” on this setup and process. After time passed, the same setup was prepared, with elephants diagonally across from each other, and the negative interaction lessened between the two dominant animals, Belle and Brittany.

For at least one daily training session, keepers set-up this diagonal formation in order to build confidence in the elephants and a relationship between the elephants and keepers while in this diagonal setup. Keepers rewarded the elephants only when they displayed positive behaviors the keepers wanted to encourage.

African Elephant BelleKeepers also worked to be able to separate any one elephant from the group at any time. This is done for future setups that would involve the elephants separated both side by side or diagonally from one another during introductions. Keepers feel confident they can separate the elephants if necessary (due to negative interactions), even if there are possible distractions.

Setups between all 3 animals, across the hallway, have also taken place (again separated by bars) for short periods of time, and keepers reward only for the behaviors they want to encourage. Within this setup, Brittany and Ruth have been instructed to separate, and they’ve followed direction from their keepers.

Within the next month, keepers hope to move toward having all 3 elephants roaming in the 360-degree layout in the Elephant Care Center. All elephants have had access separate of one another, to roam the ECC, which can be setup as an “open circle” where the elephants can roam freely throughout.

To date, keepers have setup all 3 elephants having access to each other in side by side stalls with bollards separating them. Keepers engage Ruth and Brittany in a training session in stall #5, and then eventually give access to stall #4, all while the elephants are engaged in the training. The same process is done with Belle, however she starts in stall #2, then given access to stall #3, as keepers continue working with all 3 elephants, rewarding them for positive behaviors.

When all 3 elephants are paying attention, they’re released to interact with each other as they choose, again through bars separating them. Keepers closely monitor the situation and reward positive interactions and then instruct them to return to training with their keepers. These procedures are done to prepare them for success with eventual in-stall introductions – and keepers continue to work with the elephants to separate no matter what else might be going on.

In the side by side setup, keepers have seen Brittany and Belle working through their relationship with one another with both dominant and subordinate behaviors. The negative interactions are becoming less frequent. Brittany appears more unsettled than Belle side by side and prefers not to engage with keepers through this setup. Keepers feel this could be a good scenario, as Brittany's lessening interest in fighting may carry over to a lessening interest in establishing her dominance over Belle.

Check back in the next couple of months for further updates!