As we have mentioned previously, Rana has a papilloma near her eye (the white spot that is visible in photos). We treat it every other day with topical preparations and a medical cold laser. Since Rana and Mara are somewhat inseparable, we are using Rana’s every-other-day eye treatment as a chance to work with Mara one-on-one. We need to build trust between our team and Mara. Trust works both ways – we need to learn to trust her, and she needs to learn to trust us. We also need to learn to communicate with each other.
Each elephant is different, and, of course, each elephant also finds each human different too. As Mara learns about us, we learn about her. There is a tremendous amount of growth that goes both ways with each new arrival.
As part of this, we worked on target touches with her the other day. We used a target pole (looks like a large q-tip; see photo of one below) and asked Mara to touch it with specific body parts. This is a very medically useful behavior. For example, she can touch her foot to it, and we can inspect her foot, or she can touch her ear to it, which is where we will eventually draw blood for check-ups. Using a target like this is a way of showing her what we would like her to do. Target training also earns her treats, which she enjoys. Mara has already been trained in these methods by her caregivers at the EcoParque in Argentina, but because her stall only allowed for touching whatever part of her body was stuck through a treatment door, things here are much different.
Mara did terrifically – she is highly intelligent and wants to please. She’s also a little insecure in general, and the insecurity showed itself in training. When we would hold up the target, she would get about an inch from it, and then look at us and say, “ERRR?” We would tell her she was right and doing a good job, and she would touch it, then we would whistle (a sign she has earned a treat). It was the cutest little “ERRR?” noise. She only did this the first 6-8 times, and then she got a little more confident and stopped.
Of course, Rana and Mara are inseparable, so when Mara, “ERRRs?” Rana must look at her friend to make sure Mara is okay. In general, Mara is very chatty. The other morning during training/treatment, Mara squeaked, and Rana blew loudly in response. Mara heard Rana’s blowing noise and got worried. Even though they are 10-15 feet (3-4 meters) apart, and in clear view of each other on the same side of the fence, Mara had to check on her friend. They had a mini party, and then went back to their respective spots by the fence. They are both getting better about staying in their spots – which is a sign of trust as well.
These morning treatment/training sessions take longer with their little check-ins. Still, it’s essential that they can reassure each other that the other is fine – it’s part of trust-building, both in each other and their trust in us.
June 2, 2020
photo: Kat working with a target pole with Lady.