One of the qualities that has made Rana easy to work with, from the very beginning, is that she emotes. At the hotel she wasn’t vocal, but she wore her emotions on her face. When working at other facilities, which are generally not set up to function safely around an elephant, it is always appreciated when an elephant helps you out. Rana liked to throw things at the hotel, but you had at least a few seconds of warning, in the form of a tightened, cranky face. She let you know it was coming, if you paid attention. Many Asian elephants (African elephants wear their emotions outwardly and exaggeratedly most of the time) will mask their emotions, especially if they do not know you- it is a learned behavior that has helped them survive in the past.
Since being at sanctuary, Rana’s desire to communicate has increased exponentially. Communication is something we work on encouraging from the very beginning and Rana is more than accommodating. We joke that she is teaching her humans to come when called, which has a touch of truth to it. Rana not only communicates clearly with her expressions, but she is very vocally expressive, generally at loud volumes. We can almost always tell when it’s her because of how loud the noise was, no matter which noise she makes.
Her second night here she learned if she bellowed, we came running. It was late at night and we heard the noise up at the house, ran to the four wheeler and zoomed down the hill to make sure she was ok. We arrived and she was alone, she had obviously been sleeping (the side of her face and body were damp) and something must have spooked her. We didn’t see anything or anyone and after being there for just a minute, she was back to being completely settled. This was her first lesson in calling her humans. On the way back to the house, we saw Arya, one of our rehabilitated and released tapirs, leaving the habitat- it may have been her first meeting with Rana. The second time we heard Rana bellowing was when we saw her on the drone, just before the Rana Rana dance party. She has done it a few times since, but the most recent was just the other morning.
Maia, Guida and Rana were all at the barn for breakfast and treatment. Maia and Guida stay in one stall together while Rana is in the stall next to them. Rana has been great with the dogs (and the roosters), but she must not have known one of them was outside of the stall behind her and when she spotted her, she let out one of her bellows along with some other choice noises. For most elephants this would be an exaggerated sound, saved for bigger occurrences, but we’re learning not so much with Rana.
The nice part about the whole scenario is that, for the first time since stepping back from their relationship with Rana, Maia went over to her in a comforting and concerned way. The interactions were still somewhat reserved, but a nice step forward. Maia came up to the gate between them and reached out in a non-aggressive way. Rana continued to make noises and backed up to Maia. Maia returned some noises and continued to check in with Rana, seeing if everything was ok. This went on for about five minutes, neither leaning into the gate for full body touching, but it was nice to see Maia interacting in what would be an appropriate manner for a herd mate. While all of this went on, Guida stayed on the opposite end, continuing to eat hay.
One of Rana’s other lovely noises is her squeak. In the mornings, after treatment, as she is leaving the barn, cutie bug has a tendency to squeak. Another time we’re pretty sure she feels she has trained her humans to act silly with her. You can see the squeak coming; there’s a little mini build up that you can see a bit in the video. She squishes up her face a touch, does a few very pronounced ‘happy flaps’, another nose scrunch and then a squeak. The sillier you get, the squeakier she gets, although in this video she’s just about ready for a nap. It’s funny how quickly she is wrapping her humans around her finger.
January 7, 2019