With Karissa here to focus on Lady and the new training areas along the fence line in the habitat, Lady has been enjoying afternoon watermelon (whoops, we meant training sessions) the past two weeks. As we recently mentioned in a post, Karissa is a protected contact and positive reinforcement trainer we have worked with on multiple occasions. She is in Brazil for a few weeks helping our team and has a little over a week remaining of her visit.
There are multiple water sources in the habitat that Lady can access. However, she has a “favorite” water trough she visits in the afternoons. Karissa keeps an eye out, and when Lady heads to that water trough, Karissa opens up the barn to see if Lady is interested in some Karissa time. Once Lady finishes drinking, she usually heads right towards Karissa, and the giant bucket of snacks.
The afternoon session is kept short – just 3-5 minutes long, so it does not interrupt Lady’s day. She seems to enjoy the afternoon sessions more than the morning ones– she appears more relaxed and focused. In the morning, Lady is calm, but it’s as if she is already thinking about what is next (foot soaks, bath, socialization). In the afternoon stand-alone training sessions, she seems more relaxed somehow.
Lady is in the process of learning to present her front feet. We use target training, which often uses a target pole (which you can see in the photo). The pole provides a mobile “target” for the elephant to touch. To move onto the next stage of training, Lady will have to rest her front feet fully on the bar, but she isn’t quite there yet.
It isn’t an inability that is keeping Lady from resting her foot on the bar (even Rana can do it with her left leg – which is the one with a fused elbow), but Lady isn’t quite mentally ready for it. It will take a new level of trust for her to “give” us her feet all the way. This behavior is something that most elephants, including Rana, struggled with, and Rana is very trusting.
Trust issues are pretty significant for Lady. And although she often wants to trust, it causes her to take things more slowly. And that’s just fine. To keep her trust, the first few times she gives us her foot, we need to demonstrate to Lady that we won’t do anything with it. It will be a big Lady party full of praise and reward her. Once Lady shows she is more comfortable with the scenario, we will begin to touch it gently and reward her. We will continue to do that (and nothing more) until she is entirely comfortable with that process. We move forward step by step, making sure she is comfortable with the last before moving onto the next.
Throughout this process, Lady continues to show us how intelligent she is. Her face shows her contemplation when she is deciding if she wants to give us what we are asking for, and it also shows when she is trying to understand what it is you want. Lady is also insecure, strong-willed, and looking for acceptance. Her desire to grow and our patience and understanding of her needs has helped her start to believe that she can trust us, that we accept her for who she is, and we will never hurt or punish her. We will always be on Lady Time for her. No matter what.
March 6, 2020