|Story (c) copyright C.Browning 2002|
|September 17, 2002:
I did something tonight that I haven't done in months: went to an Audubon meeting. Jessica Scallan is an elephant keeper at the Tulsa Zoo in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and gave a presentation before the Tulsa Audubon Society this evening about what a day-in-the-life of the zoo's 3 resident Asian elephants is like, for elephants AND for keepers. She told about the dwindling supply of breeding elephants in the zoos in this country (let alone in the wild)---in fact, the one and only male elephant in Tulsa (the other two are females) is also the ONLY male elephant in the whole USA whose semen is viable for impregnating other Asian elephants!! Talk about stud-muffin, I tell ya! Very interesting talk. This little gal---well, if not little, she IS young and cute, blonde and bubbly as a cheerleader---is obviously excited by her job, and she giggled and blushed and presented herself---and the elephants---very well. I enjoyed it immensely.
One thing she talked about is that Tulsa Zoo will probably resort to artificial insemination of its younger female elephant since her social skills (the elephant's, not the keeper's) leave a lot to be desired as far as elephant society is concerned. Y'see, Sooky (the younger female elephant) tends to be the more dominant of the two female elephants, even tho' she's at least 20 years younger than the other female (Gunda). From time to time, they've tried to put Sooky in the enclosure with the male elephant (named Sneezy, by the way, and he weighs 11,000 pounds!) but everytime they do, Sooky tries to dominate him.... and bull elephants do NOT like such behavior in their women. Jessica told how for a time, Sooky will try to hog all the food, kick and butt Sneezy out of her way whenever he tries to get close to her or get between her and the food, back him into a corner, and generally push her weight around. Sneezy, always the gentleman, offers to feed her his grain, tries to ply her with bananas and carrots, showing what a nice guy he really is but all she does is take the food and behave badly. After a few days of this, Sneezy figures he's had enough of being "Mr. Nice Guy" and decides to just go for the gusto, trying time-and-again to maneuver Sooky into a compromising position.... so far, without success. Jessica said one of the funniest behaviors they've observed is when Sneezy starts chasing Sooky around the pond in his enclosure. Round-and-round-and-round they go, a dirty gray blur; "just like NASCAR elephants," is how Jessica described it. The audience---including me---roared!!
Near the end of her very spirited talk, Jessica told us how the veterinary bill for the zoo for each artificial insemination is $5,000, not counting what it costs to keep the pregnant elephant (assuming she conceives) and house the baby when it's born. When she asked for questions, I asked if Tulsa Zoo would receive that $5,000 per artificial insemination fee---because it would seem to be a gold mine for the zoo if "our" male elephant is the only fertile male in the country. No, the $5,000 goes to the veterinarian team that does the A.I. procedure. Then another person asked, "just how do you go about collecting the semen?" Oh, honey.... we all giggled!! Well, first they lead the bull into a restraining shute, sort of like one you'd put cattle in if you were going to vaccinate or brand 'em. They tie up the bull's hind legs, one to each side of the shute so it can't kick the keepers, and also tie up its tail which she said is very strong; one whip of that tail upside the keeper's head could do some serious injury. Someone else asked if the elephant fights this whole shute-and-tie-down procedure, but Jessica said, "oh no, he KNOWS what's comin' next and he gets really excited about it!!!!!" Yeah, I'll bet!!!!!!!!!!!!! (Typical male....) By this time, we were nearly wettin' our pants with laughter.
The process of getting semen from the bull elephant involves 3 keepers: the pumper, the pumper's assistant, and the commander. They work standing on a platform beside/behind the shute that's about 4' wide and 8' long, like the size of a folding conference table, since the bull elephant is 12' tall at his highest point (the top of his back), so they wouldn't be able to reach his rear end if they stood on the ground. The pumper gets the best job, and Jessica said this job usually goes to the keeper with the longest arm, who at the moment is one of the two men she works with. Once the bull is fully tied up/tied down, the pumper---wearing gloves with sleeves that reach all the way up to and wrap around and across his shoulders---reaches up into the bull's rectum and removes the "bolls," balls of elephant poop that sit in a sort of pocket near the exit-end of the bull's rectum, the pocket being a sort of U-shape with "arms" that extend straight out from either arm of the open end of the U---the drop-down loop of the U-shape is where the poop gathers before the animal expels it. So after the pumper removes all the bolls, he then reaches back into the bull's rectum and begins massaging with his fist the curve where the U-shape drops down into the loop and in due course, the elephant ejaculates. They catch the semen in a device they fashioned from a broomstick with a large marine net (like you'd use to strain the water in a swimming pool) stuck on the end of it, inside which they've taped a large plastic bag (like a tall kitchen garbage bag). She said sometimes he ejaculates right away, and sometimes he urinates a few times first, but sooner or later, they catch the semen, pour it into some kind of container, and transport it to the lab where it's only good for 24 hours. Science hasn't yet developed a system for successfully freezing bull elephant semen so if someone wanted to take some semen from Sneezy back to their own zoo, they'd have to book an airline flight, come straight to the zoo for the semen-gathering procedure, and then jump on a plane and meet the veterinary team at their own zoo who would then deposit the semen into an eager young cow elephant before the expiration of that 24-hour period. They'd then have to wait 17 weeks before testing to see if she had conceived, and if not, they'd have to do the whole procedure all over again.
And I'm willing to bet Sneezy would be more than happy to oblige.
By the way, the pumper's assistant helps the pumper. And the commander.... well, elephants seem to like a real up-beat attitude in their keepers, and Jessica says they often sound like cheerleaders, encouraging the animals to do the behaviors they've been trained for, like presenting a foot for nail-filing and the like, and then praising the elephant, like "oh, Sooky, what a good elephant you are! Good job, Sooky!!!" Well, the commander cheerleads ("good job, Sneezy! oh, what a good elephant you are!!" or maybe, "My, what a BIG elephant you are!!") while the pumper and his assistant remove the bolls, massage the bull's "sensitive spot," and wait for the end result.
Now, aren't you glad you asked?? NASCAR elephants!!!!!!!!!!! You heard it here first!! [hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha
|Notice the difference between the iron bars of Sneezy's enclosure (above) and the cables that separate the two female elephants
from their keepers (right). This should give you an idea about
the relative size and strength of male and female Asian elephants.