Lady has become much more rumbly in the past few weeks. Rumbles can mean a lot of different things, based on frequency and tone. Among wild elephants, rumbles communicate:
- and more.
Human ears can’t hear all rumbles, so we don’t always know when our elephants are rumbling. Usually, when we talk about – and hear – rumbles from the elephants, it’s when they are happy. We even call them “rumblebugs” as a term of endearment when they are extra rumbly.
Like her wild counterparts, Lady has been using her rumbles to communicate a range of emotions to her team. She’s been giving us “Hi, how are you?”, content, and silly rumbles. She even sometimes uses them to communicate that she is feeling a little nervous. Most notably, she has been using rumbles to communicate with Kat during footwork.
Just recently, Lady has also started to become somewhat of a ‘pleaser’; that is, she’s beginning to do things simply to make her humans happy. During footwork, sometimes she gets tired when holding a particular position – which is typical for elephants with joint, foot issues, or arthritis. We are very aware of each individual’s physical limits and don’t remotely push them. Maia will keep her foot up for 5 minutes, even when you tell her she’s good to put her foot down, or walk away to get something. She has been that way since we started footwork with her, but that’s not typical. In general, back feet are easier to hold in position, while the duration for front feet is shorter.
With Lady, not only are both front feet different, but we need to adjust on different days. After each small step in her care, we bridge (whistle), Lady puts her foot down and gets food rewards. We give her a moment before asking to present it again, often switching feet for comfort. Sometimes, if she feels she needs to put her foot down for some reason, rather than just taking it down, she will give a little rumble. It seems as if she is letting Kat know she is feeling tired or just needs a second. When she does it, Kat always immediately lets her know it’s OK to take a break. Kat does this by bridging, which is the training term for signaling that her behavior is completed, and gives her some treats.
This expressive behavior shows us how comfortable Lady is becoming with us, acknowledging her own needs, and her ability to communicate positively. It’s incredible that, after so many years of mistreatment and then not being understood, Lady is willing to reach out to her to humans and share her needs, knowing we will listen.
Photo of Lady with a carrot in her mouth.