Lady has a “Lady Limit,” which is what we have named her limit on new things and how much you can ask her to do. To her, this line is clear and set, although it shifts every day. Our job will forever be trying to figure out exactly where that line is.
With our other residents, we are comfortable trying new things. If they don’t work, we try something else; or we wait a few days and try again. With Lady’s trust issues, trial and error need to be approached differently. If we try something new and Lady doesn’t like it, or if it doesn’t work well, there is more potential for it to set things back with her. And with some elephants, a step backward puts you months back.
When working with Lady, we have to start slow (and stay a bit slow) when building up to anything new. As part of this process, she has been perfecting her “stink eye.”
We joke about it, but it’s worth mentioning that it’s a good thing she is giving a stink eye. It’s certainly not a great thing because it tells us she isn’t thrilled, but she is learning that all she needs to do is shoot us a dirty look, and we get the message. We are watching, listening, and respond accordingly.
This is all part of her learning to communicate again. Historically, she would hide her discomfort, displeasure, frustration, or combination of all three until she hit that limit. Then she would lash out and hit the bars seemingly without warning. Now we are demonstrating to her that showing her emotions on her face is enough to communicate her needs.
After years of trying to communicate and either being ignored or not understood, captive elephants tend to give up trying to communicate with humans, or they resort to extreme gestures to demonstrate their feelings. That’s why we are celebrating her “stink eye” – It’s part of the process of relearning to communicate in a much healthier way.
We want to get to a place where she doesn’t even have to give us the stink eye. We prefer to understand where her boundaries are and work around them, but it may always be part of her repertoire, just reserved for special occasions. 😉
Lady has a right to her concerns and clear boundaries. The concept of new hasn’t always been kind to her. To be clear, we aren’t asking for anything extreme. We are giving Lady basic medical care for the abscess on her face (which is clearing up nicely), overall body checks, bathing, scrubbing, tick picking, and working on her feet. The reality is she needs more. It is part of our job to try and extend her comfort level with things, encouraging progress, which facilitates more comprehensive care.
The hope is that Lady realizes she feels better after we do these things; and that she will understand that everything we do; we do for her. We want to ensure she has the best quality of life. For now, we are learning about her, how she communicates with her humans, and how to earn her trust.
Photo of Lady being her happy self.
February 1, 2020