Thursday, December 30, 2010




I hope you have enjoyed the two previous elephant posts and photos. In 1998, eight years after my latest post, my daughter, Holly, did her school science experiment based on the question, "Do Elephants Really Never Forget?"


It took a while and a little work, but Zoo Atlanta agreed to help Holly do her science experiment by brushing peanut butter on one tusking post (a large wooden slab) and roasted peanut oil (which smelled the same as peanut butter) on another tusking post. The peanut butter was always on the same post. The question was, will the elephants remember where the food was as opposed to where only the good smell was? Then Holly was allowed to observe twice weekly, and take notes and photos.


The first time the posts were coated with the aromatic substances, the elephants were outside. As soon as they were brought into the barn, they began sniffing and searching for the delicious-smelling surprise. They visited the oiled post, snuffling and searching with their surprisingly adept trunk tips. Then they approached the tusking post with the peanut butter.



As they quickly ran their trunks up the post, they began picking tiny bits of peanut better off and putting it into their mouths. It was only a matter of seconds before all three elephants were gathered around the post hurriedly grabbing any peanut butter they could find, each trying to get her share (or more!).


The second time and all the times thereafter, the elephants rushed past the oiled post and converged on the post with bits of peanut butter. They definitely remembered!


We both enjoyed watching the elephants during this experiment. They had distinct personalities and were still young enough to be mischievous (they were about 15 years old). One day as we observed their behavior, one girl approached the big nylon garbage can used to hold their water. She put her trunk into the can and drank a little water. Then she grasped the top edge of the can and slowly and carefully laid it down on its side. Standing stock still, she watched the water flow out of the can and across the floor. After a few contemplative moments, she quickly jerked her head up, peered sharply around the barn, lifted the can upright, and hurried away to another part of the barn. Holly and I burst into laughter at the sheepishness of her retreat.


Another day, as the elephants excitedly rushed to the tusking post containing peanut butter, they began shoving each other. It was a little scary, watching such big animals struggling, and I hoped our peanut butter wouldn't be the cause of a fight or injuries. A female keeper, looking tiny compared to the elephants, poked her head through the door into the barn, saying, "Hey! Hey! Hey!" The girls immediately stopped pushing and quietly searched for their treat.


Soon I hope to visit Zoo Atlanta and get some photos with the elephants. Holly plans to go with me and we can judge how much they have grown, since she's about the same size as she was at 13. I wonder whether the girls will remember Holly? Is it true that "elephants never forget?"



Tuesday, December 28, 2010


My friend in Almond, NC made this for me, after reading my post "My Little Buddy" about raising a chipmunk. It's painted on wood, with "sparklies" on the peppermints. Even the hairs are separate and the idea is so charming. Look at the cheek puffed with candy! Thank you, Mary DeHart!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


BFFs - Zambesi Affectionately Rests Her Trunk Under Victoria's Ear

I hope you enjoyed the story of the Asian elephants, Coca II and Twinkles, written in 1984. Now I'd like to continue the series with excerpts from an item on Atlanta's African elephants. When I wrote the Asian story, I was barely pregnant with my daughter Holly. When I "interviewed" the three African girls, Holly went along in her stroller and was attended by my niece, Angie, who also helped photograph the elephants. This article appeared in the summer 1990 issue of "Georgia Journal."

Starlet, Zambesi and Victoria Eating Hay
(Now Called Kelly, Dottie, and Tara - Their Original Names)

. . . . . Calves of only 7 and 8 years old, Starlet O'Hara, Victoria and Zambesi are much smaller than mature African elephants, which stand 8 to 13 feet high at the shoulder and measure more than 18 feet long.

The young ladies of Atlanta range from Victoria (6 feet 5 inches tall and 3700 pounds) to Starlet (6 feet 2 inches tall and a mere 3200 pounds).

Being the biggest, Victoria is probably the oldest," estimates Jim Black, Lead Keeper. The 10-year veteran (with three years at Zoo Atlanta) said elephants mature at age 18 to 20, "but adults continue to grow, although very slowly. They grow until their death." Being females, keepers expect these Southern belles to peak at 10 feet tall.

Starlet Catches A Stick With Her Trunk

Asked why all the elephants in Atlanta are cows, Black answered, "Partly because females in the wild live in families and herds. Males don't." In captivity, mature bulls can be "difficult and dangerous to work with and have killed people," according to Black.

Although Zoo Atlanta's three brown-eyed beauties are female and youngsters, Black and other keepers exercise great caution with them.

Starlet Holds Her Foot Up for Black To Inspect It

"Elephants are curious, destructive, incredibly strong. You have to watch them, Black said. "They see something; they think, 'Will it break? Can I eat it?'" In a zoo where Black formerly worked, an adult female elephant ate three wooden pallets. In fact, a curious elephant's theme song could be "Let's Get Physical."

Elephants are "physical" with each other, he said. Even very young females. "They thump each other with their trunks -- hard!" At that moment, Black cocked his head, listening. Going to a steel door leading into the barn, he smiled as he looked inside.

Starlet and Zambesi shuffled around quietly, making a slight snuffling sound. They pushed each other with their trunks, butted with their heads, whirled this way and that swiftly and easily. The "sparring" is play, but also helps determine the "pecking order" of the group. Victoria, "cock of the walk" because of her larger size, peacefully ate hay in the corner. As soon as the combatants heard Black's voice at the door, they hurried over to investigate. Starlet's trunk tip slithered through the slot in the door, trying to grab the visitor's hand. "Move back, Goof," Black said affectionately. The elephants immediately backed away from the door. Victoria resumed her dinner. Starlet and Zambesi began Round 10.

Starlet And Zambesi Sparring

Even though Starlet and Zambesi don't escalate from a sparring match to an angry fight, they do occasionally get into minor scrapes. "I have seen one adult knock another down. That's why we can't relate to them as a person, but as a dominant elephant."

To achieve dominance when he is so small compared to his charges, a keeper uses an ankus (Indian name) or elephant hook. This is a tool with a wooden handle about two feet long with a metal point and hook on one end. The point is blunt, the hook a little sharper. "It is like a leash for a dog or a bridle for a horse," Black said. It helps the keeper communicate with an animal of tremendous size and strength.

Jim Black Using Elephant Hook Or Ankus

"I can use it like an elephant uses its tusks, to prod. An elephant would pay no attention to my hand pushing or pulling against it. The tip of the elephant stick concentrates pressure. Used properly, it doesn't hurt. I'd like to emphasize that positive reinforcement (such as praise and treats), not fear and pain, are important in training. This is especially true in African elephants."

Asked why the zoo picked African elephants instead of Asians like the others the zoo had in the past, Black replied, "This section of the zoo has an African theme, so we have African elephants." In June, 1989, the new elephant habitat opened, which is "like a chunk of East Africa," modeled after Tsavo National Park in Kenya.

Starlet Shows Her Agility

After a rain, the Georgia red clay can be kneaded into a paste for a comfortable wallow. Elephants love their mud baths, but they adore swimming. The new habitat features a 65,000-gallon pond, which the elephants use constantly in warm weather. For now, the keepers bathe them every day and scrub them with Ivory Liquid every other day. The baths of water, sand and mud protect elephants' skin from sun and insects. Their skin, though an inch thick, is tender. This is something they have in common with their Asian cousins.

Starlet Performing At Zoo Atlanta

Black said Asian and African elephants could be kept in the same habitat; socially they are similar. But there are differences: The smaller Asians measure eight to 10 feet at the shoulder and weigh about five and one-half tons. Also, the larger ears of the Africans resemble the continent of Africa in shape. The Africans have two finger-like appendages at the tip of their trunks; the Asians have one. In the Africans, both males and females have tusks; only male Asians have them.

"Intellectually, Asians are quicker to manipulate objects and get with things faster," Black said. "They are equally trainable, but Africans are more high-strung and temperamental. They won't take as much pressure. You have to be more patient. Caring for elephants is a lot like raising kids.

Gary Roesinger Making Snack of Apples and "Vitamin Sandwiches" for Three Growing Girls

"It's a lot of responsibility," he added. "Whey they're grown, they could be dangerous or big pussycats." Black admitted he "can't help" but return the affection his wards display toward him. "They nuzzle us with their trunks and rumble in a way that's like a purr." Sometimes, though, their affection has ulterior motives.

Roesinger Feeds A "Vitamin Sandwich" To A Willing Starlet While Black Watches and Victoria Waits Her Turn

Keeper Heidi Forrest recalled the time Zambesi turned pick pocket. "I had some carrots in my pocket and Zambesi got all cuddly, while her trunk reached around me, feeling for and taking the carrots. It was so funny, I let her get away with it." When asked if the animals ever offered gifts, Black said, "If they want what you are eating, they might do a trade act -- give you some hay for your food. They're like two-year-olds." Like little children, they are mischievous, funny and endearing.

"They run through the barn. They trumpet and throw their balls and tire and other toys when they are tired of being cooped up inside," Ms. Forrest said.

Note Starlet's "Africa-Shaped" Ears

Black added, "They always seem to get into mud before a show and when they flip 15- to 20-pound ears covered in mud, it really splatters in your face. They also seem to delight in tracking mud on the floor just as you finish mopping it." Still, some of their antics amuse rather than exasperate.

"Starlet acts goofy," Black said. "Sometimes when we feed them, she puts a large amount of hay on her head and just walks around looking ridiculous. And they're wild in mud and water. They will sit in the water on their haunches, like a dog, and splash around themselves in a complete circle with their trunks." They also like mud wrestling. "One will be rolling around in the mud and another will straddle it. They scream and thrash around, then the third one joins in and sits on the first one's head." Their play remains relatively gentle, however, for the three seem to truly care for each other.

Like first graders holding hands, Victoria and Zambesi stand close, with Zambesi's trunk nestled under Victoria's huge ear. When separated by a building which blocks the infrasound rumble (too low for humans to hear) with which they communicate 80 per-cent of the time, the "best friends" become frantic, Ms. Forrest said. They must be scolded and appeased with treats until they are in touch once more. Their dependence upon their keepers also manifests itself in touching ways.

Starlet Sitting Tall On A Drum

Although discipline might be viewed by the pachydermal eye as a poke with the prod, the elephants allow the pricks of blood tests and "shots" as long as comforting words, like "good girl" and "it's okay," are offered -- along with an apple afterwards. When training becomes confusing, an errant lass might "do something they know, something else to try to please us," Ms. Forrest said. This desire to please is apparent in the skills exhibited during the elephant shows staged thrice daily.

Starlet Stands On Two Feet

Starlet performed almost flawlessly on the unseasonably warm January afternoon of this interview. She bowed, stood on a drum on two feet, lay down, lifted her feet for inspection, held up her trunk, nodded, walked in a circle, and caught three sticks in her trunk as Black tossed them. Then she unfurled a sign reading "The End" before bowing to appreciative applause. Later, when I entered their barn for photographs, I appreciated even more Black's control over the three huge, rambunctious youngsters.

Coca II 1984

Years ago, I "interviewed" Twinkles and Coca, the two Asian elephants that preceded the current stars of the zoo. I visited with the adolescent Twinkles in her enclosure. On just my short acquaintance with both Africans and Asians, I agree Asians are more "laid back" as Ms. Forrest said.

Twinkles With Head Keeper Ed Myers 1984

The three Africans were well behaved but, like toddlers, unpredictable. Compared with Twinkles, they were more active, more pushy about trying to investigate me. Twinkles stood quietly, just eying me and slowly edging closer. The terrific trio prowled around, surrounding me and closing in quickly. Standing there inhaling the fresh smell of hay, I felt like a bug with three curious lads crowding around with magnifying glasses in hand. However, they obeyed Black readily, wheeling away lightly on their tree-trunk legs when told to "back off." Meanwhile, I was curious about them, too.

Starlet Laying Down On The Job

More wrinkled than the Asians, the Africans' skin felt coarse and the black hairs scattered across it were wiry. The end of Victoria's trunk snuffled along my arm, leaving a moist trail. She let me pat her trunk, turning her eye down to look at me. I noticed Victoria has blue circling her brown irises. Awed by the elephants' size and strength, but enchanted, I wanted to stay longer with them. However, my allotted time with them was running out.

Unfortunately, time may be running out for all elephants. The Asians are endangered through loss of habitat. With less space available, they overuse their resources, much like humans. The Africans are hunted for their tusks. For a few trinkets made of ivory, men kill an eight-ton creature and leave it to rot. Worse, elephants seem to have a concept of death.

Starlet Entertains Afternoon Crowds

Gary Roesinger, elephant keeper, told of Starlet's dismay and confusion after Coca's death. "She kept looking around, moving rapidly from place to place." The keeper shook his dark head sadly as he made sandwiches of bread pressed tightly around vitamin supplements. Black said, "They are grief-stricken when another elephant dies. To see a mother with a dead baby is heart-rending. She will stand by it for hours, trying to pick it up." He guessed Starlet, Victoria and Zambesi are the "left overs" of culls (the killing of whole herds of elephants when their numbers get too great).

These three were fortunate to have survived. While they must have suffered grief caused by the death of their families, together they have formed a new family. Intelligent, sensitive, social, flexible, the world's largest land animals continue to amaze and delight us.

Starlet Unfurls Sign Reading "The End"

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


Back in the mid-1980s I "interviewed" the two Asian elephants at The Atlanta Zoo. Their keepers were so gracious and the elephants so charming, that I still love their story and want to share it with you.

Coca II Grande Dame of The Atlanta Zoo Circa Mid-1980s

The largest ones weigh over eight tons -- that's about four Lincolns (80s editions) with a couple of Hondas thrown in. At one time they lived on every continent except Australia. They've been hunted by primitives and sophisticates, used as war machines by Hannibal, as executioners by Romans, as industrial workers by Indians, and as entertainers by Americans. They are the world's largest land animals -- elephants.

Coca, "Atlanta's Red Elephant" Strolls Around Her Yard On A Beautiful April Day

Two of these behemoths, with their distinct and endearing personalities, delight Atlantans daily as the Atlanta Zoo. Being Asian elephants, however, they are smaller than the Africans.

Asian bulls stand a mere nine feet at the shoulder and weigh a measly six tons (only three Lincolns). Cows are more diminutive, standing seven feet and weighing a willowy five tons or so. Coca II, grande dame in Atlanta, weighs 7,000 pounds. And, according to Atlanta Zoo Senior Keeper Ed Myers, she is the world's only red elephant.

"Coca loves to work the Georgia red clay into a paste to wallow in," Keeper Fred Alvey added during an interview at the zoo in April. Normally a giant gray prune, Coca ranges from deep red when she's covered with wet mud to pale pink when the clay dries to dust. There aren't many pink elephants around, but one usually can be found shortly after an Atlanta downpour.

On pretty days, Coca strolls with queenly dignity around her outdoor enclosure, haughtily holding court for her admirers, who occasionally bring her tasty edibles, such as peanuts or bread. If she's feeling playful, she may pinch the hand offering a treat with the surprisingly strong tip of her trunk.

Coca's playfulness causes her keepers to treat her with great respect and caution. "While Coca can be gentle and charming with guests," Alvey said, "if you turn your back, she might sneak up and try to grab you with her trunk. She wants to sling you around, which could be dangerous." She seems to get a kick out of deliberately pushing her keepers into dung, snatching their tools, and "rattailing" them with her trunk.

"She'll stand around pretending she's not paying any attention to you as you work," Myers said. "then suddenly you'll see her trunk flying at you. It's like a power pole; it looks bigger than it is. I stay far enough away to jump clear if I see it coming at me."

Twinkles and Ed Myers Inside The Elephant Barn

"Although Coca is mischievous, she obeys commands more quickly than Twinkles," Alvey said. Myers, who has taken care of the elephants for 31 years, added, "Coca and Twinkles are trained and can do a routine. They can kneel, stand on two feet, sit, lay down. When we had four elephants, we had two shows every day. It's hard to have an elephant show with only one elephant, but Coca and Twinkles won't work together."

Twinkles, at 13, would like to be friends with Coca, Myers said. But the domineering female, in her prime at 40, won't accept the bobby-soxer. "She pushes Twinkles around and butts her," Myers said. "When we had four elephants, Alice, the dominant one, kept the other three straight." Now there is no elephant to protect Twinkles, so her keepers keep her and Coca apart. Coca roams outside in the morning and is shut in the barn in the afternoon. Twinkles is allowed out in the afternoon, but she is timid and doesn't venture outside for long or go far. "She stands in the doorway peeping out," Alvey said. Possibly she will be more assertive when she grows up.

Now she is "like any adolescent," according to Alvey. "She behaves like a human teenager, with their vices and virtues. She's generous -- gives you a carrot if she likes you. Affectionate -- drapes her trunk over your shoulder and sticks her tongue out to be rubbed, that's her favorite caress. She can be pig headed -- if want her to move and she doesn't want to, she has a tantrum: squeals, spins in a circle and doesn't move away. She is impatient -- if her food is late, she kicks the door, trumpets and screams."

Myers Feeds Twinkles An Apple

When I slipped inside Twinkles' barn to take pictures, Myers called, "Come here, baby." The 4,500-pound "baby" quickly moved her silent mass to the doorway, reaching out with her trunk to investigate me and nuzzle Myers. "A caged elephant is like a child," said Myers as he patted Twinkles' trunk. "It must be looked after."

Viewed from the distance necessitated by bars and glass installed in the barn, Twinkles doesn't look very big. But standing next to her, she seems huge. She wanted to cuddle, edging tree-trunk legs closer to me, turning her brown eye down to have a good look. I stroked Twinkles' hairy trunk and, when she lifted it and opened her mouth, I popped in a few apples. Twinkles reciprocated by posing for pictures, doing a few tricks, and, always, pressing and pressing nearer, while I, always, backed nervously away.

But Twinkles remained a perfect lady, apparently only wanting attention. She likes for Myers to throw a Frisbee, which she doesn't catch, but chases. She likes to play with a basketball, though she tries to stand on it, so it doesn't last long. Both elephants love to be hosed down and scrubbed. (Note: There was no elephant pool then.)

It is unfortunate that Coca will not accept Twinkles. In the wild, elephants are social and cooperative, even surrounding and protecting an injured companion and supporting it while leading it to safety. They live in herds of 15 to 20 cows with their young, led by a dominant female. Junior bulls hang around the edge of the herd; and a large bull oversees all from a distance, sometimes having a small bull to act as scout. When calves are born, after a gestation of 20 months for a female and 22 months for a male, they weigh about 200 pounds and stand at three feet. The herd surrounds the mother while she is calving. The mother and other cows blow dust on the newborn to dry it. Within two hours, the baby stands and suckles, and joins the herd. If danger threatens, the mother seeks another female to help protect her calf. If mom is killed, another cow, even if she has offspring of her own, adopts the infant.

Coca Strides Away

Coca and Twinkles were infants when they joined the Atlanta Zoo -- both were two years old. They have grown to love their keepers over the years, staying close and following them when possible.

When Alvey joined Myers and Coca at the outdoor enclosure, Coca patted him with her trunk and left a splotch of red mud on his shirt.

"You knew what you were doing, didn't you?" Alvey said, grinning. He grabbed a handful of grass to wipe some of the mud off. Coca felt through the grass until the tip of her trunk found and fondled Alvey's rubber boot. Then, as though she feared she had shown too much familiarity, Coca blew a long noisy blast through her trunk, gathered her bulk, and majestically strode away.

Beth Back in The 1980s

Monday, November 15, 2010


The Rescued Chipmunk Pup

Recently, in beautiful warm weather, I released my latest little "visitor" into the wild. Rick at Cochran Mill Nature Center supervised my feeding and caring for my little buddy, a chipmunk pup brought to us after a cat attack.

Sadly, many animals do not survive a cat scratch or bite, but this little fellow wasn't injured, except for a kink in his tail. He was also pretty mature: compeletly furred and with his eyes and ears open. Of course, he still had the infantile proportions that make babies so cute -- a large head, big soft eyes, and little body.

Rick Examines The Chipmunk

From the start, my little buddy was wiggly and resistant to handling. He surprised me with his strength and agility. He climbed with his little feet and twisted his back until he almost popped out of my hand. I soon had to swaddle him while I fed him puppy formula from a syringe. He never suckled, but lapped quickly with his tiny tongue, which flickered at an astounding pace, along with his little heart which I felt thumping against my fingers. Even at rest, he breathed so quickly that I thought he was scared. Turns out chipmunks are just speedy little creatures.

Rick Gives My Little Buddy His First Meal

We gave the little guy real food, only suplementing with the formula. He liked pecans, dandelion greens, mashed cooked sweet potatoes,and wax worms, which he ate like an ice cream cone, holding them in his teeny "hands" and nibbling daintily.
Eating A Wax Worm

We offered him acorns, sunflower seeds, fruit, etc. Some of these things he moved around in his habitat and some he carried away and hid in his house. It's hard to say what he actually ate. Before long, I gave up trying to "nurse" him, as he struggled to turn his head away and practically screamed, "Please, lady! I'd rather do it myself!" So I fixed formula with a little cereal and he lapped it out of a bowl.
The Chipmunk Keeps a Close Eye on the Enemy - Hobbs the Cat

One day I offered him an earthworm which he watched from high atop his limb, then worked his way cautiously down to the worm's level. As he approached it, the worm twisted around and moved toward the chipmunk, who turned and fled!

The Little Guy Enjoys A Higher Viewpoint on His Limb

When I had time in the mornings, I liked to sit at my table and watch my little buddy. (I was told it is bad luck to name our fosterlings, so I didn't call him Buddy.) He was the cutest little chipmunk ever! Okay, he looked like all other chipmunks, I guess, but he is the only one I have ever had the opportunity to observe closely. He was brown-turning-russet with black and cream racing stripes on his sides. His face had cream eye-liner with a soft black stripe in the middle. Compared to squirrels, he had Cinderella feet -- so tiny his wicked step-sisters would be envious! And then he had the delicate ears, the twitchy whiskers, the chipmunk cheeks!

He Loved to Dart Through His Toilet Paper Roll

As I watched, he quietly slipped out of his house and scrabbled aorund searching for food. As he grew and matured, he became quicker, flitting back and forth, around, up and down. He was like a squirrel on speed! Often, he wandered around his habitat, as if he were casing the joint. He stood on his back legs and felt along the glass wall like a mime pretending to be in a box. He looked up and jumped, trying to figure out some way to escape.

I had to be very careful to keep him confined. I didn't want to try to catch a lightening ball in this house, especially with 2 dogs and a cat! Actually, he's pretty safe from the dogs, but, as he knows, a cat is fast and deadly.

"HMMM. . . I Wonder What's Out There?"

The little rascal delighted in zipping through his toilet paper roll and streaking into his house, which he barricaded with wood chips at each end when he went to sleep.

He didn't mind if I sat quietly at the table reading and watching him. Even photos didn't bother him. He ignored the flash -- I guess he was used to being a star!

Beginning to Look Grown UP!

Soon it was time to release my little buddy. I would like to keep him safe here and watch him like fish in an aquarium, but he deserves to experience real life. I realize that he probably won't live as long in the wild as he would in captivity. The average adult lifespan is 2 years.

We released him in the woods, so I won't have to worry about people hurting him, but owls, hawks, snakes, coyotes and other predatory mammals find his kind tasty. Rick said he has seen many other chipmunks in this area (some released by Rick), so maybe he'll be safe here.

Let Me Out, Please, I'm Ready!

Chipmunks live alone in burrows, which I read are clean and tidy, as the little guys have "refuse tunnels" where they put feces and debris. They don't really hibernate, but live on caches of food they have hidden and come outside on warm sunny days. Living in the Atlanta area, I guess local chipmunks come out quite a bit throughout the winter.

When we reased him, my little buddy moved a few inches away, then froze sitting up on his haunches for quite a while, little hands folded at his waist. He seemed to listen and observe this new world. Then he began to scratch around a little, then froze again. When we made a noise, he scampered to a boulder and darted under it, stopping just inside the cavity to peer back out. We left him there and went back to work. I was a little sad.

My Little Buddy Just Before Release - Isn't He Handsome Now!

But in spite of the struggle and risks my little buddy will face in nature, he deserves to enjoy the freedom and dignity of a chipmunk's life. As time passes, I hope that Rick will report seeing a little fellow with a kinked tail frolicking amid the autumn leaves and the spring flowers.

Later Note: I returned to the area where I released my little buddy. He met me with cries of joy and introduced me to his wife and pride of young. Then we sat on a big rock and sang "Born Free" for hours! All right, none of this happened, or ever would. It's just my fantasy, but it's difficult to send one's loved ones into the world and let go. Just ask my daughter!

My Little Buddy Eating His Wax Worm