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Asian Elephants

Learn more about the family herd and make an elephant craft.

Learning Goal

Have you “herd” the news about the ABQ BioPark’s elephants? In today’s lesson we learn about how the BioPark is at the forefront of elephant care and leading the way for other facilities with a multi-generational herd of Asian elephants and a unique rotating habitat system. 

Introduction to Asian Elephants

Thorn Elephant BioPark Connect

Imagine a 7,000 pound animal with a small swinging tail and large flapping ears lumbering towards you through the jungle. Are you feeling impressed? Intimidated? In awe? You are not alone, that’s how most people feel when approached by an elephant. Elephants are the world’s largest land mammal and are especially extraordinary because of the long and flexible trunks on their face. An elephant’s trunk is actually their upper lip and nose and allows them to do some amazing things. Their trunks are prehensile and can grab and manipulate objects just like human hands can. Since trunks are noses they are also used to smell and breathe. If an elephant wants to take a quick dip in the water they can even use their trunks as a snorkel, sticking them above the surface for some air. While elephants cannot drink water through their trunks they can scoop up water to drain into their mouth or spray over themselves for a nice cool shower! Trunks are also an important communication tool: elephant use their trunks to touch other elephants and trumpet loudly.

There are two main species of elephant, African and Asian. The slightly smaller Asian elephant is what you'll find at the ABQ BioPark. Unlike larger African elephants who roam open savanna, Asian elephants more commonly inhabit forested regions of India, Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos. Wild Asian elephants spend the majority of their time foraging for food.

Elephants are crepuscular, meaning they are active at dawn and dusk and spend that time in groups with other elephants, eating and searching for food. They need to spend so much time doing this because elephants usually consume several hundred pounds of food each day. Despite their large size and huge tusks, elephants are not predators and are completely herbivorous. This means they eat only eating plants such as roots, grasses, bark and fruit.

Humans and elephants are similar in many ways. They are both mammals who form deep social bonds, live in family groups and have intricate forms of communication. Elephants, like humans, display many emotions including compassion, altruism and even grief/sadness when a member of the herd passes away. They also learn from each other and pass down knowledge, teaching the younger elephants of a herd how to survive. The more research that is done about elephants the more we learn about their intelligence and self-awareness. 

Asian Elephants at the BioPark 

The ABQ BioPark is regarded as being at the forefront of elephant research and care because of two main factors: the large rotating habitat system and the multi-generational family structure of the herd.

The BioPark elephant herd rotates through three unique yards. Each has different elements including hanging food/treats, water fountains and ponds, and many rocks, logs, and tree stumps on which the elephants can climb, move and create new terrain. The construction of the large rotation system at the BioPark was an inspiration to other elephant-care facilities, which have since implemented this design. Having different spaces for the elephants to travel through allows them to participate in the same natural behaviors as wild elephants: getting exercise and enrichment, and encountering new items. 

Water Enrichment Elephants BioPark Connect

The rotating habitat system also enables staff to clean one yard and provide additional enrichment items while the elephants are in other yards. The elephants get items like pumpkins, fruits or vegetables, balls, hanging clumps of hay, and even popcorn with different spices on top. The BioPark's elephants stay cool by utilizing water and having dust-baths. The herd has a pond where they can submerge themselves along with piles of sand and dirt placed throughout their habitat. 

Successful breeding and raising of calves at the BioPark is a testament to the elephant herd's health and quality of life. Rozie, Jazmine, and Thorn have all been born at the ABQ BioPark and grew up here with their mothers. Family is important to elephants and females usually live together in the same group, which is run by a matriarch, for their whole lives. It is vital for younger elephants to grow up with adults and families around. 

Elephant Herd BioPark Connect 

The BioPark's herd is multigenerational, with children, mothers, aunts and grandmothers all residing together: grandmother Alice; “Auntie Irene,” who is also the matriarch or leader of the group; mother Rozie; and two children, sister Jazmine and brother Thorn. Adult males go off to group-up with other males and find females. Albert is the current resident male and role-model for baby Thorn, will watch him and learn as he grows up.

The rotating habitat system and multigenerational herd at the ABQ BioPark have inspired zoos across the country. The BioPark ensures that the elephant’s bodies and minds are active, by doing cutting-edge research that they are then able to share with other facilities. This promotes quality of life and conservation of elephants, as they are endangered in the wild.

Asian Elephant Conservation

Elephant Herd with Rhonda BioPark Connect

The Asian elephant is classified as endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Its population has declined by an estimated 50 percent over the past 75 years, and there are currently an estimated 20,000 to 40,000 Asian elephants living in the wild.

Asian elephants face many threats in the wild. Although they are so large and have tusks to defend themselves against carnivores like tigers, they are unable to stop the influence of humans. Habitat loss is a problem for elephants, as they need to roam large spaces to search for water, food, and other elephant groups. Over the past 100 years elephant range has shrunk to roughly 15 percent of what it once was. Deforestation, agricultural development, growing human populations and increased construction of cities and roads cause conflict and hungry elephants raid crops when necessary. 

Poaching or hunting of Asian elephants for their ivory tusks, skin and meat is also a substantial threat. The  ivory tusk market is so large that more and more male elephants are starting to be born tusk-less. This genetic variation has grown because tusk-less males can reproduce more frequently than before when they had to compete with tusked males.

Between habitat loss, conflict with humans, poaching, natural predators and natural diseases, which all elephants can contract, wild elephants face many challenges.

You can support elephant populations by:

  • Visiting them at the ABQ BioPark or other Associations of Zoos and Aquariums-accredited facilities
  • Donating or volunteering time in elephant conservation
  • Avoiding the purchase of ivory, elephant rides, or other tourism-based “adventures with elephants” in which the elephants are treated inhumanely
  • Supporting organizations actively doing elephant conservation work, protecting habitats and creating wildlife refuges for them, which monitor for the breach of poachers
  • Learning more about the interesting world of elephants, the threats they face, and how to help--by learning more and spreading awareness, you can be a voice for elephants

Activity Name

Make a Member of the Herd

Elephant Craft BioPark Connect

Activity Description

Are you up to the “tusk” of making this elephant craft?

Materials

  • A toilet paper tube (or more to create your own family herd) 
  • A few sheets of white or colored paper
  • Markers, crayons or pencils
  • Glue
  • Scissors

 Optional materials

  • Paint
  • Googly eyes

Directions

  1. Draw two outlines of half-ovals for the outer ears. These should be about 2 inches long.
  2. Draw two outlines of slightly smaller half-ovals for the inner ears. These should be about 1.5 inches long.
  3. Draw the outline of a rectangle about 1 inch wide and 4 inches long.
  4. Cut out the 5 shapes and color them as you like with markers, crayons or paint.
  5. Take your paper tube and color this as well.
  6. Fold the rectangle so that it has about 6 creases. This will be your elephant trunk.
  7. Glue the inner ear pieces on top of the larger outer ear pieces. Then glue the edges of the ears onto the upper portions of the paper tube.
  8. Glue the last crease of the rectangle trunk in the middle of the tube between the ears so that it sticks out.
  9. Draw on a mouth and eyes with markers, cut them out with paper or use googly eyes.
  10. Your elephant is complete!

Additional Resources 

Sources

https://www.kob.com/albuquerque-news/former-zoo-employee-leaves-behind-lasting-legacy/5709308/

https://www.abqjournal.com/1450590/keeper-taught-elephants-in-zoo-to-live-as-if-wild.html

https://www.cabq.gov/culturalservices/biopark/zoo/exhibits/asia/elephants/elephants

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/a/asian-elephant/

https://kids.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/asian-elephant/

https://blog.nationalgeographic.org/2016/07/26/elephants-are-social-like-humans-and-should-be-treated-that-way-expert-urges/

http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20141101-male-elephants-have-a-sweet-side

https://wwf.panda.org/knowledge_hub/endangered_species/elephants/asian_elephants/