Lady has become much more comfortable with her caregivers, and they’ve become more attuned to what she needs when receiving treatment. Still, we know that there are times when an elephant prefers one caregiver over another. For this reason, Kat has stepped back a bit to allow Lady to adjust to working with others. But she steps back in temporarily when trimming is needed on a sensitive area or something in her foot condition has shifted.
On a recent day when Scott was doing some trimming on Lady’s feet, Kat came down to the barn to lend a hand. Scott called Mateus over to show him the technique he was using for the trimming. Even though Lady’s feet aren’t normal, per se, observing helps Mateus see how feet should be handled in certain situations. Because Mateus does Lady’s foot care, she didn’t seem to mind his presence during the treatment. Around the same time, Shirlei was walking by, so Scott asked her if she would also like to see Lady’s feet; watching things up close is part of the learning process.
Lady is accustomed to Shirlei and responds well to her in most situations. But now there were four people looking at Lady’s feet and that changed the dynamic a bit. Lady gave Kat her nose and Kat asked for her foot – but Lady just put out her ears. So Kat asked for something different instead – for Lady to lean her head down. She did so and Kat bridged her and Lady got her reward. Kat asked again for Lady’s foot and Lady once again put her ears out. Lady just didn’t seem comfortable working with so many people around, so we stepped back and told her: it’s okay – we get the message.
Shirlei and Mateus went back to other things, and then Kat asked Lady for her foot so they could continue treatment; Lady presented her foot right away. When Lady, or any elephant you are working with in a non-emergency situation, doesn’t want to do something, it is important to show you are listening.
There was no urgency to the situation, so if Lady decided she didn’t want to continue, we could easily have waited until she was ready. It is important to let an elephant know that we hear them, we understand what they are communicating, and there is no problem. This is particularly important with elephants who have experienced trauma and, in Lady’s case, lingering trauma and discomfort in her feet. Things change from day-to-day, so Lady may react positively to more observers in the future, but each day and each individual is different – and respect is always a must.
Photo of Lady enjoying some fresh grass