As we are in the rainy season process of doing footwork on all of the elephants at sanctuary, we had a good session with Mara a few days ago. We also got a funny reminder of just how smart elephants can be, especially when it comes to food.
Normally, when working on an elephant’s feet, we keep a crate of food relatively close by. That way, the person who is assisting the caregiver working on the feet can offer rewards along the way. Sometimes that means that after 30 seconds or a minute of trimming, we stop and give the elephant a nice reward for cooperating. They will also get little bits of food during the session, just to keep them focused more on the person in front of them, holding their nose or talking to them, rather than the work being done on their feet.
While working with Ingo on Mara’s back feet, Scott brought the crate of food a little closer than he normally would, because he wanted to stay engaged with Mara. Ingo asked him to look at something, so when Scott walked back toward Mara’s back feet, she grabbed the crate and pulled it close. She then proceeded to stand there with her foot resting on the gate for about 10 minutes, while also slowly snacking on the food. Once the food was gone, her foot came down from the bars of the chute. Of course, this is not how we normally provide reinforcement to elephants, but nobody was going to take Mara’s crate of food from her at that moment, and she was actually quite stellar.
Afterward, Scott and Ingo went back to the normal protocol for footwork, where they had control over the reward system, which reinforces the elephants when they do what is needed. Even though Mara was cooperative during her mini-feast, she could have taken her foot down and simply continued to eat, without participating in the session. Luckily, she was otherwise really charming, and the afternoon went well for all three.
Photo of Mara demonstrating her delicate snacking technique
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Cintia Abney saysFebruary 3, 2022 at 2:13 pm
Such a smart girl!! Does she still trade twigs for food? So adorable 🥰
Sara saysFebruary 3, 2022 at 2:27 pm
She gets plenty of food without having to make trades these days. In fact, she demands it!
Suzanne Eaton saysFebruary 3, 2022 at 2:23 pm
Mara, you are smart and you are beautiful with such a great personality! Love you to the moon and back. Thank you for sharing .
Katie Howard saysFebruary 3, 2022 at 2:23 pm
That Mara! Silly girl 🤣
I love these vignettes you share with us! Brings us into the daily life at Sanctuary 🤗
Patricia saysFebruary 3, 2022 at 2:27 pm
Holy smoke, I sure love you, Mara! What a smart cookie and adorable girl you are. xoxo
Alana saysFebruary 3, 2022 at 3:32 pm
Mara’s Luck Day! She’s a Smarty.
Wim saysFebruary 3, 2022 at 5:09 pm
Good job Miss Mara. You’re very accomplished with your Latin knowledge.
Quid pro quo. 🙏🐘💚
Debbie Sides saysFebruary 3, 2022 at 6:29 pm
That is the cutest thing putting her foot on the crate😄 She is such a funny girl!
Lori DeHoog saysFebruary 3, 2022 at 6:49 pm
I think Mara was the teacher by getting her own “treat” teaching you to not put it so close next time. P.S. I am an animal trainer of 40 years teasing you a little.
Sara saysFebruary 3, 2022 at 10:40 pm
Gentle teasing between caregivers is allowed. 😉
Lynne Russert saysFebruary 3, 2022 at 6:52 pm
LOL, she got one over on you!!! Very smart girl!!😆😆😆
Andy saysFebruary 3, 2022 at 7:07 pm
How very clever and cute too.
Bonnie saysFebruary 3, 2022 at 7:35 pm
She’s a little stinkers
Pauline saysFebruary 3, 2022 at 8:42 pm
Sweet Mara. I am so happy they took her from our zoo to your sanctuary!!!
Sara saysFebruary 3, 2022 at 10:39 pm
We know how loved she was there, but are proud to give her a happy home here.
Pauline saysFebruary 4, 2022 at 8:37 am
Pauline saysFebruary 4, 2022 at 8:38 am
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