On Friday 23 August 2019, a 51-year-old Asian elephant cow from the zoo in Kolmarden, Sweden, will arrive at Royal Burgers’ Zoo. This elderly female will keep the 53-year-old elephant cow already in Arnhem company. The Arnhem elephant has been living alone since her previous elderly female companion was euthanised on Wednesday 24 April 2019.
Because older elephant cows often have a very dominant character and personality because of their high intelligence, introductions are not easy. The introduction is best done step-by-step. First, the animals will only see and smell each other nearby. If this goes well, the animals are allowed trunk contact and other exchanges from two separate enclosures. If this is satisfactory, the actual introduction is carefully planned.
'Protected contact’ method
The zookeepers at Burgers’ Zoo work according to the so-called ‘protected contact’ method with the elephants. This means that at all times, there is a fence between the elephant and the zookeepers. Elephants are very gentle animals, but with their body weight of approximately 3000 to 3,500 kilos for cows, they can easily—even by accident—crush a human between themselves and a fence or wall. They can also deliver rock-hard blows with their trunks.
Unique role in the European breeding programme
Burgers’ Zoo plays a unique role in the European breeding programme for Asian elephants. The Arnhem zoo takes care of older, often very dominant, elephant cows, so that other zoos can keep their breeding herds productive. In elephants, family herds of females with their young are run by a dominant, older elephant cow, with which the females have a genetic relationship. This dominant cow has a lot of influence on the behaviour of the other members of the herd and can, for example, prevent mating between males and younger elephant cows in her herd. Adult males live mainly solitary and roam between the different herds of cows with young.