March 1, 2019

Jake and Chuck Meet the Boys

One Journey Ends and Another Begins in Toyota Elephant Passage

 

Last week, Jake and Chuck, our newest Asian elephant residents, went through the final stages of introductions with the rest of Denver Zoo’s elephant bachelors, Groucho, Bodhi and Billy. This marked the end of a months-long process of getting them comfortable in their new home and acquainted with the other boys, which started two weeks ago in smaller groups so our animal care team could carefully assess each elephant’s demeanor. Then it all came to a dramatic conclusion when all five male elephants shared the same habitat for the very first time, recreating the same social experiences they would have in the forests of Asia, and offering the elephants—and guests—the chance to experience new grouping variations in Toyota Elephant Passage.

“This is the part that gets really exciting,” said Maura Davis, Assistant Curator of Elephants. “Now we’re watching each elephant’s behavior to gauge their relationships with one another to help determine how we can put them together going forward. That means there will be days when we’ll have all five in the same habitat together, and days when you might see smaller groups or just one elephant alone. It is important for bull elephants to get their solo time, especially if they’re older. Groucho is an older guy and definitely still needs his alone time!”

Now that we’re home to the largest bachelor herd of Asian elephants in North America, we will be able to conduct groundbreaking research on sociality in male Asian elephants, the results of which could have implications for the wellness of elephants in human care and the wild. Once considered to be solitary, it is now known that bull Asian elephants are more social than previously thought. Recent data confirms that Asian bulls often associate in small bachelor groups in the wild. Yet, only three of the 33 facilities accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums currently housing Asian elephants routinely house any bulls together.

With no formal studies to date on the management of all-male groups (bachelor herds) in zoos, we are working to fill knowledge gaps surrounding social aspects and reproduction of these intelligent and social creatures. Our staff, led by Director of Animal Welfare and Research Sharon Joseph and Research Manager Dr. Anneke Moresco, will collaborate with a research physiologist and expert in elephant hormones at the world-renowned Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute for this important study. The team has also teamed up with Dr. Amy Schreier (Regis University) to tackle the behavior monitoring aspect of the project.

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