African Elephants

RIVERBANKS ZOO (WJBF) – Elephants are one of the most well-known and well-liked creatures in the animal kingdom, so this week's in Wild Encounters, Micah goes behind the scenes to take a look at their training.  Here's a look at his conversation with Riverbanks Zoo Mammal Keeper, Alyson Goodwin.

Micah: We're back with another edition of Wild Encounters and one of the most famous animals in the animal kingdom, of course, the elephant. And I'm also back with Alyson who is here once again to tell us all about his elephant, so tell us who we have behind us.

Alyson: Well, we have Belle right now. Belle is actually our youngest elephant. We have African elephants, not Asian elephants, but Belle is our youngest. She's about 37 years old.

Micah: And at 37 years old, what are we weighing in at for a large animal?

Alyson: Belle here is just short of about 8000 pounds. She's actually our smallest.

Micah: So just a light, small 8000 pounds but very intelligent animals and we have training going on and feeding them, so what kind of food goes into this training and also what is the training for?

Alyson: So, we do training in order to special behaviors with them. When we're training, we're not just doing a show, we're doing stuff like checking their body, checking their feet, making sure they don't have any cuts, any scrapes, making sure they're moving well. So training's actually an exercise program. Also, it's good for their minds. So we're exercising their mind, making them learn new things. Elephants are very intelligent so we can definitely kind of challenge them a little bit. So when we're training, we're actually using some special treats. We're using carrots, apples, sweet potatoes, celery, green peppers, lettuce, a variety, so we like to mix it up and we'll use different rewards for different behaviors.

Micah: An animal that's coming in at a bottom out 8000 pounds probably eats a little bit of food every day. How much do they eat on a regular basis?

Alyson: Just a little bit. Between all three elephants that we have, we actually use about 400 pounds of hay and straw, so individually, each elephant gets about 100 pounds. Beyond that, we use about six pounds of produce cut up and mixed and then they each also get grain. They get about five pounds of grain a day.

Micah: So just over a hundred pounds of food. I'm sure you and I could take that down, no problem, right? So, a lot of food for a really intelligent, cool animal and folks at home can come out here and do a behind-the-scenes experience and have this same kind of interaction, correct?

Alyson: Yeah, so folks can actually come right to this area and what we do is we run through a training session with them and we actually let them throw some food to the elephants and take pictures with the elephant behind them, so it's a really cool experience and great to see them close up and a great chance to ask a keeper any questions you might have about an elephant.

Micah: So you at home can have your own Wild Encounter coming down here to Riverbanks Zoo with one of the coolest animals in the animal kingdom, so thank you Belle for sticking around and we'll see you next time.


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