Branches can be more than a nutritious snack!
Wild elephants will forage for an average of 18 hours a day, eating 200-300 lbs of food (90-136 kg). In a captive environment, elephant diets typically consist of hay, supplemented with fruits and vegetables. Pocha, Guillermina, Tamy, and Kenya’s diets are no exception. Ideally, we provide them with as much vegetation and natural browse (trees, bark, and shrubs) as possible for enrichment and nutrition.
Access to suitable browse is a big obstacle at Ecoparque Mendoza. Trees are everywhere, but not all of them are safe or palatable for the elephants. There is so much to do; just finding the time to search for suitable branches can be challenging. Tools are precious commodities within the park, ours being limited to a machete we guard closely, so it doesn’t mysteriously “walk away.” Branches are often high off the ground and unreachable. Luckily Esteban, elephant caretaker of 23 years, has creatively fashioned hooks out of old construction material he found lying around. We use these to pull branches down to a chopping level. We also don’t want to go around killing trees, so we need to be careful not to cut too much from one tree.
Despite this, it’s worth the extra effort to see how excited the elephants are to receive it. If they don’t devour it immediately, they will throw it around, wear it on their backs, or find something uniquely charming to do.
One day, I heard someone sweeping in the front holding area. I found this strange, since I knew the elephants were in there. Not a good time to clean! I came around the corner to find Pocha was the culprit, using a piece of browse she’d saved! (She’d eaten the rest.) I only caught the end of it on video, but she circled the enclosure, ‘sweeping’ the entire area with her branch. Esteban looks at me and says, “Pocha está limpiando.” (“Pocha is cleaning.”) I’m not sure if cleaning was her goal or intention; perhaps she liked the sound it made. Whatever her reasons, she looks pretty darn cute!
How wonderful will it be when Pocha and Guillermina get to Elephant Sanctuary Brazil and have all the branches, trees, and grass they can dream of?