Show TONS of love on World Elephant Day

Posted August 12, 2019

Sabu (Photo: Mark Dumont)Guest blogger: Hannah Mason, Special Projects Volunteer

It’s World Elephant Day, so let’s send TONS of love to the Asian elephants that call the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden home.

If you visit the Elephant Reserve at the Zoo right now, you’ll see four elephants:

  • Sabu’s the male. He’s both the biggest and the youngest elephant in Cincinnati, at 31 years old and 10,500 pounds!
  • Jati is the smallest of the four elephants and is Sabu’s breeding partner.  She’s 32 years old, and 7,900 pounds.
  • Schottzie is a big girl, at 9,500 pounds. She’s 45 years old.
  • Mai Thai is the oldest elephant, at 48. She’s about 8,000 pounds, which is an average size for an Asian elephant.

Mai Thai, Schottzie, and Jati (Photo: Lisa Hubbard)I recently caught up with head elephant keeper Cecil Jackson, who told me that each of the elephants he works with have different personality traits, just like us. “They understand what’s going on,” he says. He laughs: “They can be friendly one minute and pushy the next. Just like us.” And they like to have some fun, too — water and sand are two of their favorite things. Cecil says the sand is not only fun to roll around in, but also protects the elephants’ skin from sunburn in the summertime.

Animals that big must eat TONS of food, right? According to Cecil, the elephants are fed about 125 pounds of food every day at the Zoo! Their diets consist of mostly hay and grain, but it’s supplemented with produce, alfalfa cubes and horse treats, which Cecil says are used for training. “The training is to be able to move the elephants around, for cleaning the habitat, giving them a bath, foot care, taking blood and other ways we care for them,” Cecil says.

You can catch these guys in person at the Zoo’s Elephant Reserve right now. And if you’re there today, take a selfie and post with the hashtag #TONSoflove to join in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) World Elephant Day celebration.

The current elephant habitat was recently expanded and gives the herd the option to go outside any time, day and night. It also allows Sabu to be out with the females. The yard expansion is a big improvement and an intermediate step toward our goal to build and move the elephants to a new, five-acre habitat called Elephant Trek. Funds to build Elephant Trek are being raised through our More Home to Roam capital campaign. It will be the ultimate environment for elephants, with naturalistic trees, mud wallows, grasses, pools, streams, and other elements designed to give a multi-generational herd everything it needs to thrive. Cecil says it should hold up to eight or nine elephants, including space for some potential new baby elephants! More home to roam, more sand and water to play in, more elephants, and more babies–what’s not to love?

And it’s not just about a cool new habitat and cute baby elephants and amazing animals here at your local Zoo (though those are all also true). After talking to Cecil, I realized how important the Cincinnati Zoo, its breeding program, and its partnerships with the AZA and other wildlife organizations are to elephant conservation in the wild, and that they really do make a difference.

According to the AZA, there are only 40,000 Asian elephants in the wild today. That’s not very many — to put it into perspective, there are 400,000 African elephants in the wild (and more than 300,000 people just here in Cincinnati). Listed as an endangered species, the Southeast Asian forest habitat of Asian elephants has been steadily decreasing over the centuries as humans move in and trees are cut down, fragmenting and isolating elephant groups. Once an expansive range of 9 million km2 a few centuries ago, the elephants’ range is now estimated at about 500,000 km2 across 13 countries, with about half of all Asian elephants living in India. Along with habitat loss, elephants are also poached for tusks, meat and leather.

So, what can we do about it? Sometimes, it feels like one person or one family can’t do much to impact animals across the world, but you can! Here are some ideas:

  • Donating to the More Home to Roamcampaign helps the Zoo build a better home for elephants and other animals.
  • Purchasing an elephant paintingsupports the International Elephant Foundation.
  • And simply visiting the Zoo and posting a selfie with our friends Sabu, Jati, Schottzie and Mai Thai supports the AZA’s conservation initiatives and spreads tons of love for these awesome creatures, and awareness for how we can help.