Changing seasons at the Zambezi Elephant Center
It’s been a quiet week at the Zambezi Elephant Center. As summer (erroneously referred to as “the busy season”) winds down and the autumn air is just beginning to be felt in the darker parts of the early mornings, we animal care professionals can pause for a minute’s reflection on the passing season, and in so doing, are forced to appreciate how much easier it is to work during the hot months. Complain though we might about sweating completely through our shirts, the stinging insects, and the ubiquitous zookeeper tan lines that appear no matter how often we reapply sunblock, the fact cannot be denied that summer days are the best days at the Zoo.
During summer the elephants are always out basking in the sun, languidly foraging, or playing with enrichment until they decide to seek out a spot of shade or some indoor air conditioning; their time is theirs to spend however they choose. We have the luxury of letting them manage themselves while we do all their cooking and cleaning, and the relationship is mutually beneficial. Browse is in constant supply and the elephants get glutted on the piles of fresh, leafy tree limbs that we spread across all corners of their habitats. The mud wallow gets filled daily, either by us or by the rain, and Msholo is known for taking full advantage of the wallow, alternating between plastering the sticky wet mud across the landscape of his body, and rooting further down into the Earth in search of virgin clay. We fruitlessly wash him off, and Msholo inevitably returns to his wallow for a fresh mud drubbing. Kelly and Tara also utilize the wallow, but in a more reserved way; one could call their spa techniques ostentatious in comparison.
There is no concern on our end about the elephants’ comfort in summer, and by late June we ourselves are generally acclimated enough to the weather that we’re either impervious to the effects of the oppressive heat, or have been so thoroughly beaten down by it that there isn’t an ounce of feeling left in our dehydrated, sunburnt and fly bitten bodies. We drink a lot of Gatorade around here.
The meerkats enjoy summer as well, though the hotter afternoons sometimes put them in the mood for their air-conditioned dens. They’ve been known to take the day off from sentry duty to make a cuddle puddle inside for an extended siesta.
And our naked mole rats, being naturally blind and fossorial, living in a climate controlled environment with white noise and a constant routine, have no concept of the season and continue on as they always have: completely devoted to their Queen and disinterested in the happenings of the outside world.
And that’s the news from the Elephant Barn, where the people are dirty but our intentions are pure.
Swing Keeper, Mammals