- Female African elephant (also known as Kenia, Shakira)
- Age: 32 years old
- Body Condition: A little on the chunky side
- History: No listed history on her
- Current location: Mendoza Ecoparque, Argentina
- Personality: Guarded and defensive
- Health: issue with tusk growing improperly, no other known health issues, no testing done
- Factoid: She once chased a reporter out of her habitat who was standing next to her while doing a story
Status of her relocation:
- Agreement with zoo to send to ESB
- Habitat partially built (external barn structure complete-inside stalls funded- fencing needs funds raised)
- All licenses needed
- Must go through 30 day quarantine
- No training done for necessary testing
Next door from the Asian elephants, about 100 meters away is Kenya, the lone African elephant. She too comes with a history of stone throwing and demonstrative behavior. On our first visit to the zoo, as we approached she walked around the corner and into her concrete barn, out of sight. When she emerged she walked over and stood face to face with one of her only companions, an elephant painted into a mural on the concrete wall. She appeared calm but distant. We had been warned that she had been struggling for a few weeks, anxious, pacing and pushing against this wall.
Her yard is a semicircle of hard packed earth. Not dirt or sand, more like a crushed limestone that is virtually impossible to dig and dust with. No logs, no toys, just a few weeds, alfalfa hay and her elephant mural. With the zoo being closed while preparations are made to transform the zoo into an Eco-Park, Kenya does not even have the public as a distraction from her sterility and monotony.
She’s big, imposing with her dramatic and beautiful African ears and wearing a few too many pounds. Her eyes are sparkling, radiant, they speak nothing of her reputation. Scott walked to the back area behind her mural, where she has a concrete shelter that has a gate that is welded shut. This will be her exit to sanctuary, but for now this is where he can get a closer look.
She flips her trunk towards another member of our team clearly saying ‘Back away’. We listen and she responds with a wonderfully sweet self-petting. It’s a gentle flip, flip, flip with her trunk, that she repeats several times, occasionally against her ear, other times the side of her leg or neck and against the inner part of the trunk. Scott responds with praise for being a good girl, for showing us her sweet, vulnerable side and for her acknowledgment that we listened when she asked us to back away.
Elephants, even in this environment, want to communicate. They want to be heard and they want to listen. When we respond to the subtle cues, they communicate further, deeper and they immediately start working towards trust. Due to the depth of inner suffering in captivity, this can take years and it’s rarely a linear process; it’s an ebb and flow of opening hearts and insecurity, then opening a little more. Today, just one day is not enough but at the very least she will see that we are listening.
Often when we visit new elephants, we are the silent observers. That said, if there is one lesson that we carry closest to our hearts, it’s to follow your intuition. Yesterday, when these precious four opened their hearts through vocal and physical communication, my body responded without premeditation, joining them to let them know that we are here and we are listening.