Here is our first Mendoza Mail from Karissa in Argentina, where she is working with the #Mendoza4 –
It was at initial sight that I was quickly reminded how special they all are. Kenya with her clever eyes and enigmatic smile, Pocha with her gentle face and hesitant but inquisitive demeanor, Guillermina and her sassy, silly, confident self and Tamy with his strong-willed but at the same time, soft and very cheeky personality.
The first few days were spent reconnecting with the elephants, assessing their previously learned behaviors and addressing some minor behavioral issues with Pocha, Guillermina and Tamy. To prepare for quarantine, there were several modifications that had to be done to gates, walls and areas surrounding the enclosures which seemed to make Pocha, Guillermina and Tamy a bit reluctant to come down into the rooms where they need to be shifted for cleaning. These rooms are also where most of the training takes place, so we want them to be comfortable and confident in them. After roughly a week, things are looking very much like how I left them the last time I was here. I am always so impressed with how much these elephants can open their hearts and trust… and the special treats can’t hurt, right?
Branches, watermelon, bananas, a honey flavored popped corn (it tastes like Honey Smacks cereal) and of course, FrootLoops are the big hits with reinforcement so far, but each elephant has their own unique way of eating their favorite treats. Fruit Loops for example, they all love them but eat them in vastly different ways. Pocha cannot get them to her mouth fast enough, she collects a few handfuls in her trunk and then forcefully sprays them into her mouth often missing her mouth but hitting herself or us in the process- Flying FrootLoops! Guillermina- Oh Guillermina, she doesn’t always eat them this way, but when she does, it makes me LOL every time! She turns her trunk upside down, takes four or five handfuls then dumps and balances the fruit loops onto the underside of her trunk while she reaches out to gather more (imagine holding out your arm, someone places your favorite treats in your hand, then you dump and balance those treats on your forearm-same arm- and hold out your hand for more)! Tamy will hold up his trunk higher and rest the underside of his trunk on a bar (I envision it kind of like a waterslide) and he will hold it there for as long as you will continue putting FrootLoops in there, he then backs up and shoots them all into his mouth at once! Kenya eats them the most “normal”, she takes a few handfuls and eats them, however she seems to get a kick out of sharing her food with her humans. One handful for Kenya, one handful for us. She watches with such pleasure and curiosity that we are eating the same food as her!
So…a great start overall, with trials and errors, failures and successes and lots of different reinforcers. With the environment these elephants are in, it is hard to not feel bad, sad or angry for them at times. But they make it so easy to love them. And loving them exactly where they are on their journey is the best reinforcement we can possibly give them.
(We also wanted to add a note from Brazil – tomorrow is the last day to purchase our limited edition Pocha & Guillermina rescue shirts, tanks, sweatshirts, and hoodies. They have different styles, colors, inclusive-sizing, and they ship internationally! Here’s the link – https://float.org/collections/gse )