November 21, 2014 5 Comments
The National Elephant Center opened its doors to elephants in May 2013 in Fellsmere, Florida (only 4 miles south of our home). The center provides both short and long-term care for elephants in need, and is dedicated to advancing elephant care in North America. An open house was held recently, which was a real treat since visitors are not usually permitted. The next open house will be held in summer 2015 (for members only – join at http://www.nationalelephantcenter.org/).
African elephants are the world’s largest land mammal (the biggest on record measured 13 feet tall at the shoulder and weighed 12 tons). Elephants are very intelligent and have excellent memories. They are social creatures that exhibit a wide range of emotion. Their soft feet and 7-foot trunks are exquisitely sensitive, and can be used to detect subsonic rumbles from elephants several miles away. Their hearing is excellent too; they can even flap their ears during hot weather to stay cool.
Trunks play a vital role in the life of elephants. A trunk is so strong that it can push over a big tree, and so delicate that it can pick up a small berry. The trunk is essentially an elongated nose and upper lip that is used for smell, taste, and even as a breathing snorkel underwater. The trunk is also used for eating and drinking. For eating, elephants use their trunks to pick up food and bring it to their mouths. For drinking, elephants use their trunks to suck up water and squirt it in their mouths. The trunk can also be used to spray water or dust onto the skin to protect it from sunburn and biting insects. Trunks can even be used to trumpet alarm calls to the herd. But most endearingly, trunks are twined together during greetings or used for caresses (elephant “hugs”). Mother elephants use their trunks to stay in constant touch with their babies – helping them, bathing them, and even picking them up to go over obstacles. A baby elephant sometimes follows its mother by using its trunk to hold onto her tail. Baby elephants have to learn how to control their trunks, and can only make little squeaks with it when they are small. And just as human babies get comfort from sucking their thumbs, elephant babies get comfort from sucking their trunks – too cute!
Currently the center has two elephants living on the 225 acre site. Twenty acres are now fenced, and the hurricane-proof barn can hold up to 9 elephants. Over the long term the facility could be expanded to hold up to 70 of these magnificent animals (it is even possible that rhinoceros could be added to the mix). Elephants at the sanctuary are free to forage and roam on the land, which includes a watering hole and mud wallow. Their natural diet is supplemented with nutritious pellets and fruit. Every day an elephant eats 165-330 pounds of food, and drinks 20-50 gallons of water.
Keepers tell a wonderful story about the first time the elephants found the abandoned orange grove on sanctuary land. The matriarch female pulled down her first orange and tasted it. She got a look of utter joy on her face, and then started gobbling down oranges as fast as she could. Orange season just started here again in Florida, so the elephants are happy!
Elephants are taught to come over to the vet daily at the barn for health inspection, and when they do so, they are given a special treat. We were told that an elephant’s idea of utter bliss is to eat a big mouthful of soft marshmallows. Me too! A news video by NBC’s Today Show about the National Elephant Center is at: http://www.today.com/video/today/53380016#53380016 A touching story by the PBS show “Nature” about elephant emotion is at: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/echo-an-elephant-to-remember-elephant-emotions/4489/