Bambi’s African Elephant-Like Behaviors


We recently mentioned how Bambi walks and moves more reminiscent of an African elephant than an Asian elephant.

There’s another thing she does that reminds us of the African elephants we have worked with – and it’s the way she eats.

When we go out to “drop hay” for the girls, we don’t usually leave their hay in one spot. We will leave piles of hay, with one or two fruits on top, in a few locations in the area they are currently in. It encourages the elephants to move around a bit while they eat like they do when they graze. Usually, the elephants will investigate each pile immediately, eat the fruit, and have one bite of hay. Once all the fruit is gone, they usually circle back and start eating the remaining hay. We typically do two flakes of hay per pile, so it will take them at least an hour or two to eat everything. It makes sense to eat the “good stuff” first and eat the less exciting hay later. If there are any fruits that they feel “meh” about, they may leave it to eat it on their second visit as well.

Bambi approaches the piles more like an African elephant. That is, she runs to the first pile and eats all the fruit. Then she shoves an entire flake of hay in her mouth. Before she chews it, she grabs the remaining flake of hay and runs to the next pile to repeat. African elephants have tusks, so when they take a “to go” flake, they usually stash it between their trunk and their tusks for a hands-free (or trunk-free) traveling system. There is nothing funnier than Bambi shoving as much hay as physically possible in her mouth, gathering up everything she can carry, and hustling to her next pile. She is charming and hysterical.

Photo of Bambi.



  1. REPLY
    Marcia says

    Video, please?

    • REPLY
      Kat Blais says

      kat was by herself feeding the girls and, for safety reasons, if we are alone and on a four-wheeler with the girls, we don’t take video.

  2. REPLY
    JoAnn Merriman Eaton says

    Bambi!! Keep on keeping on being your own person, FREE to be YOU. I would love to see this on video. I have imagined so many times how her senses must be on overload….exploring….luscious greens…..water…..delicious food….sunshine. Like a kid loose at a carnival. LOVE her.

  3. REPLY
    Gala says

    I remember video of her at the zoo dragging her food back to her corner from the crate. How silly she must look with so much hay hanging out of her mouth!

  4. REPLY
    Toni says

    I so appreciate these updates, pictures and videos! Do you suppose Bambi spent significant time in the past around African elephants and got some imprinting?
    The elephant sanctuaries I follow separate Asian and African elephants, as GSE intends to do with Kenya, Kuky and Pupy, but I’m not sure why. I did not see an explanation in the (wonderful!) learning section of website. Perhaps you can address, Scott, or point to a learning resource? Thanks for all ~

    • REPLY
      EleComposer says

      The biggest issue with keeping African and Asian elephants together is essentially they speak a different language. Behavior that is play for an African elephant is aggression to an Asian elephant. This is generally the root of most problems between the two species. Even when an African elephant tries to be social with Asian elephants, it is often met with refusal or aggression. If the two species do have a physical altercation, the Asian elephants are at a disadvantage due to both physical stature and lack of tusks. These uneven fights can have severe consequences.

      Aside from the possibility of elephants getting hurt, it creates a tense atmosphere. The Africans move quickly, put on displays and behave in a way that is unsettling to Asians. There are two main goals of sanctuary that this goes against. The first (and easy one) is replicating a life that is as close to nature as possible. The two would never be together in the wild and allowing them a more natural life allows them to display more natural behaviors and return more to what their species is supposed to be. The other is that sanctuary is about creating a safe space where elephants feel comfortable enough, for the first time in their lives, to be vulnerable, allowing them to work through significant emotional issues they’ve had for decades and finally begin to heal. This ‘safe space’ is cultivated in many ways, but if elephants are on edge due to their companions, they would not be in a place to let their guard down and work through issues as readily. Sanctuary is supposed to be the first time in their lives that it is all about them, and this means making decisions for the most scared and most damaged elephants.

  5. REPLY
    Julie says

    Our funny, beautiful Bambi. I think there is one Asian elephant in the TES herd who reportedly acts like an African elephant, but that has been explained by her history of being “housed” with African elephants (I think it is Minnie), but this is something new entirely. Fascinating!

    • REPLY
      Kat Blais says

      Minnie is a bit of a wild-child, but she was in the circus with the other Hawthorn elephants that are left in the smaller Asian habitat. Dulary and Winkie both spent years with African elephants, but both passed years ago. The one common feature we saw with the two of them was that they were more physical and confrontational- they didn’t get along with each other either. It’s the difference in social nature of Africans and Asians. What is play to an African is aggression to an Asian. There wasn’t anyone else who spent years with African elephants. —-In case you didn’t know, Scott, our founder, co-founded the elephant sanctuary in TN and i (kat) worked there for almost 10 years, which is why the info on the girls at TES.

  6. REPLY
    Toni says

    Thanks! Very clear. Raises another question for me – is this healthy segregation followed by zoos, circuses, etc? Has one species of elephant been preferred for those settings?

    • REPLY
      Kat Blais says

      If I understand your question, yes, most zoos do not keep African and Asian elephants together. It used to be done, but is rarely seen nowadays. Asian elephants are mostly used in circuses because they are thought to be more easily controlled. As for zoos, it depends on what species is available. African elephants tend not to breed well in captivity, so they are forced to find loopholes in the law to import them into zoos. Asian elephants were more common to be taken from the wild and shipped to zoos around the world. I believe the majority of elephants in zoos still leans in the favor of Asian elephants.

  7. REPLY
    Katharine Odell says

    Where do you get the hay and fruit from? Any local farmers?

    • REPLY
      Kat Blais says

      The hay comes from far away, we can’t find anything of high quality closer. We did try a couple of farms in the area, but it’s nothing we would be comfortable feeding our elephants. All of the leafy greens come from the local community garden. We also get some other produce from local farmers in our ‘neighborhood’, like the bananas, watermelons (in season), sugarcane, and some others. We had an on-site garden last year as well, but it isn’t up and running yet this year.

  8. REPLY
    Barb says

    Excellent explanation about differences between African and Asian elephants and why they are not typically sharing the same spaces.

  9. REPLY
    Wim says

    Must be a magical gift being African inside and looking Asian from the outside. She’s a very special individual. Maybe just all happiness and freedom. ???

  10. REPLY
    Renee' Killian-Zeiger says

    Every time I read about Bambi, I always think back to some weeks ago and watching the Zoo videos and how she seemed so despondent and scared. These videos and stories of Bambi do not even remotely seem like the same Ellie! I know this is what can happen when the eles get to sanctuary….this just seems as if Bambi had been waiting for this! Almost as if she knew once she felt safe it was “On like Donkey Kong”! ??. The visuals you portray of Bambi’s all or nothing speed and her need to be into and all over every the same time must be EXHAUSTING for Bambi at the end of the day. One would love to think she is like a child that exhausts itself playing a just conks out at night. So happy the Bambi LOVES her new Sanctuary life!! Can’t wait for more eles to become part of your “Herd”.

    P.S. I love all the eles….Lady is still my fav!

  11. REPLY

    hahahahahaha! encantadora e histérica! muito maravilhosa!

  12. REPLY
    Susan says

    Love the info on the difference between the two types of elephants. I had no idea how different they were to each other until I started following Sanctuary and had the opportunity to read up on all the pertinent info that you provide for us. I am looking forward to a before and now picture of darling Bambi showing how much she has physically changed since arriving. I am always so amazed at how their skin looks!! She must feel SOOO good now having the opportunity to scratch, and soak, and play!!! Love and hugs! ❤️?❤️?❤️?❤️?❤️?❤️???

  13. REPLY
    Terry says

    Bambi has brought such lightheartedness to sanctuary! Her excitement and wonder is so child like, innocent, and so joyful!. Maybe it is not even African Elephant but Bamb elephant being overjoyed with knowing she alone will be eating her food and no other…avoiding any competition and loving it!!! ❤❤❤

  14. REPLY
    Bertica Valdes Suarez says

    That Bambi’s behavior is nothing short of exuberant is proof of how very special this mission of yours (Kat and Scott) is. Few people have the heart, and the drive, AND the brains to make it happen, to erase heartache for these girls like you do. I am thankful and impressed everyday.

  15. REPLY
    Charlotte Hansen says

    Thank you for the great explanation regarding Asian and African elephants! And thank you to the person that asked about it for us all!! I so love these updates–a very bright spot in my day!

  16. REPLY
    Carey says

    How interesting to learn of the different eating habits, Asian and African. Grinning ear to ear picturing Bambi approaching the matter of eating with her usual gusto. Renee echoes my thoughts of her transformation, and that she has had the chance of a life with you. You are doing what we are unable to, it feels good to be able to support your work and witness these amazing creatures becoming so expressive and witnessing their personalities develop. Like Bertica I am also thankful and impressed every day.

  17. REPLY

    Thank you so much for explaining to us all the differences between the 2 species of ellies. I had been wondering about it myself.

    Sweet Bambi-drastic, living her best life in Sanctuary & seeming to be making up for lost time; childlike & endearing to all of us. I’m forever grateful that The Gray Ladies are in the care of the best hoomans who KNOW how best to take care of them & let each one live as they wish. Thank you all so much for these daily blogs. I’ll be the broken record & say that they make me SMILE & make my day.

Post a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.