From left to right: Ruth, Brittany, and Belle spend time together in their outdoor habitat.
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Keepers continue introductions with all three elephants, Brittany, Ruth and Belle, in the outdoor habitat. For now, the elephants are managed as two separate groups outside – Brittany and Ruth together and Belle separately.
Currently, depending on the day and time, the elephants are either inside in the open 360-degree format, or one in the outdoor habitat, one in holding and one inside the Elephant Care Center for training. So, while the outdoor introductions take place there isn’t a definite schedule for the elephants on any given day.
If visitors don’t see them all outside, it’s because keepers are giving them (mainly newcomer Belle), enough time to be with the other elephants. Even though the weather might be nice, all three cannot be outside together, so keepers are balancing socialization needs as well as needs for time outside. Keepers have been working hard to get all three acclimated as a group to the outside. Even though they can interact between the bollards when Belle is in in the holding or demonstration area, and Ruth and Brittany are outside, the social experience they have together as a group is optimal.
The process for having all three outside together is much like it was when they were introduced inside the Elephant Care Center. Keepers will look for a lot of the same behaviors and signs of when to separate them. It begins with smaller amounts of time and then increases when keepers see things progressing positively. Also, keepers will be placed throughout the outdoor area (from the public vantage points) as well as inside if it becomes necessary to quickly close or open a door.
Keepers say the elephants seem to have found their roles during the winter months when they were in the open 360-degree format in the Elephant Care Center. After much training, they came to live well with each other in this format even when they weren’t engaged in training sessions. However, they were always separated from each other overnight.
Brittany has become comfortable enough to eat her hay, although she does spend a lot of time in stall #3 where she can choose to move one of two ways if she sees Belle coming toward her. Keepers also see Ruth pushing her boundaries with Belle by backing her way into a stall and trying to steal food from her. Typically, Belle only allows Ruth to back into a stall, and immediately when food is stolen, Ruth is warned and goes about her day. All three do seem to enjoy time interacting and touching each other between the bars; especially when they are separated but side by side one another. Belle is considered the dominant elephant.
Keepers are pleased to see the elephants continuing to display more socially appropriate behaviors. The touching, or tactiles, between the three is the behavior that has increased the most. Although the tactiles between Brittany and Ruth seem unchanged, Brittany has started to show her dominance over Ruth a bit more in her decreased tolerance of Ruth when she’s trying to steal food from her.