Monday, June 29, 2015

A Short Story About an Elephant

Gerry and I have annual passes to the San Diego Zoo and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.  Some mornings we love to go to the zoo and begin our day with a coffee and danish.  Then we'll begin to walk and let our feet take us where they want.  
One morning, we took a path we hadn't explored yet, and before we knew it, we were about to enter the newly-expanded Elephant Odyssey exhibit. We saw a bull elephant walking over the pedestrian tunnel.  He was a big one - so majestic and powerful. We watched him walk around the play yard a little bit, and swat a few toys with his massive trunk.  A leader of the elephant herd, we soon learned that this beautiful creature had experienced something awful that changed his demeanor, and to this day has zookeepers scratching their heads.  
This is Ranchipur, a 50-year old bull elephant.  He is the male of the group, weighing in at around 12,000 pounds.  You can't miss him because he is the largest in the group and has beautiful large tusks.  Often rambunctious, Ranchipur loves playing with his enrichment toys and dipping his hay in water before eating it.  He also loves to go to the Elephant Care Center where he receives daily care until one day ....................
No one is certain what happened, but one day Ranchipur refused to go through the Elephant Care Center.  What the zookeepers remember as odd behavior for Ranchipur was the day he approached two female elephants who stood on the other side of the fence at the edge of the play yard (steel barriers, actually), and something caused Ranchipur to suddenly turn around and bolt.  
Well, Ranchi (that's what the zookeepers call him) wouldn't go into the Care Center after that runaway incident in the play yard.  For months now, to coax Ranchi into the Care Center, the zookeepers have to sweet-talk him to take a few steps at a time to reach for a treat from their hand.  The goal is to get him from play yard to the end of the Care Center.
The crowd of five people at the beginning of Ranchi's journey turned into a crowd of maybe 30 people.  Needless to say, we were enthralled by this reluctant dance of Ranchi's. We felt for him, poor guy!  I just wanted to hug him and whisper in his ear, "It's okay, sweet baby. You can do this."

From play yard to the main gate, from main gate to the entrance of the Care Center, then through a few holding cells which held buckets of his favorite snacks, all the way to the end of the fortified structure, it took approximately 45 minutes for Ranchi to make that journey.  

The elephants go to the Elephant Care Center daily for food, wellness checks and beauty treatments.  Well, not really, but they get nice rubdowns and get their soles and nails cut back.  With a grooved knife, files and rasps the nails and the soles of the feet are brought to a healthy and natural form.

The zookeepers were hoping on this day that Ranchi would want to come out of the structure for a well-deserved spa day, but he wouldn't have it.  
The zookeepers say they will not force Ranchi to exit the holding cell.  They want him to come out when he's ready - no pressure. When Ranchi had had enough of this routine, he simply turned around in the holding cell, and the dance was repeated, in reverse. Ranchi leaving the Care Center didn't take as long as when he went in.  He appeared to be happy to leave!
The zookeepers say it could be months before Ranchipur is totally comfortable around the other elephants again, and when he's able to enter the Care Center on his own free will.  Hopefully, they'll solve the mystery of Ranchipur's strange behavior, too.  
There are so many things happening at the zoo this summer.  I hope you'll take the time to visit for a few hours.  I think it's the best zoo in the world!

Thanks for reading!

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