Park Elephant Update

Posted at 9:05 am December 3, 2010 by Curtis Lehman

Have you been checking out the construction of our yard project, connecting the two large elephant yards at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park? Currently, our African elephant herd lives in one yard, and adult male Msholo lives in the other yard. It will, I hope, be completed very soon!

Our plan is to acclimate all the females and their calves to Msholo’s  “West Side” yard, keeping him separated by just a gate so they can physically and visually check each other out through the gate openings. We’ll keep the adult bulls separated. Physical introductions with Msholo will depend on what we observe and how comfortable the elephants are with the new yard or how they interact with Msholo through the gate. Msholo should know his original herd mates Umngani, Swazi, and Umoya, from their time in Swaziland, but back then the females didn’t have calves. We really don’t know what any of them are going to do, so plans will change. My best advice is to stay glued to Elephant Cam!

All the elephants are doing well. Babies are growing fast, and you can check their recent weights in the Meet the Elephants section. Macembe is still quite independent and still plops down anywhere to sleep. He hangs out with Mabu a lot. Emanti is playing more and more with Lutsandvo and Macembe and knows well enough to stay out of Swazi’s way. Musi and Lungile still do their “gate fighting” whenever possible, and Musi and Impunga still wrestle with each other. Khosi and Kami keep a watchful eye on their little brothers, and a fresh mud bog is always a big hit with everyone.

A day with Msholo is a physically exhausting day. Because he’s such a quick eater, we have to set in some form of difficult-to-get enrichment device with every flake of hay he gets so that it will keep him busy. Brian, one of our keepers, is a master at coming up with novel enrichment ideas and is constantly changing locations for Msholo’s food items. The amount of time and energy we put into enrichment for all of our elephants every day is truly amazing. I’ll go out on a limb and boast that as far as enrichment goes, we are the most dedicated group of elephant keepers on the planet!

We are expecting two more calves in 2011. Litsemba is due with calf #2 in January, and Umngani is due with Calf #3 in the fall. Mabu is well represented as a father, and three calves is more than enough with any one female, so we’d like to see if Msholo is viable as well. Way easier said than done!

Curtis Lehman is an animal care supervisor at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read his previous post, Park Elephant Answers.

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44 Responses to “Park Elephant Update”

  1. Don Stillwell says:

    One major item missing, estimated time of completion. Great blog, though.

  2. Karen says:

    Thank you for the update. I love watching the elephant cam especially when they go spashing in the pool. That is great that there will be 2 more elephants born next year.

  3. deb says:

    Could you please address the partnership with Park Reid Zoo and how it will affect the herd. Thanks.

    The San Diego Zoo responds: We do not have any information to share at this time.

  4. Pat says:

    Is Msholo back in his yard yet?

  5. Pat says:

    I love watching in early morning. Young ones are so playful. I had been wondering what the construction was all about – now I know. Looking forward to Jan. birth – where will that Mom be? Confined area? Noticed a white cross mark on adult & wondered what happened.

    Thanks for sharing this cam with all of us who can’t be there.

  6. Pat H says:

    Now that the camera is showing a wider shot, I see Msholo is not back in his yard yet. I thought maybe since the crates were gone construction was done. Guess not. Any date when construction will be done?

  7. Lizzie says:

    Thanks for the update, Curtis. I’m getting to know the Zoo elephants much better, now that I can tell them apart. The Zoo has these great signs that provide descriptions and pictures which help to identify each individual elephant. Every time I’m at the Park, I wish they had similar signs. Is there any way we could get such signage at the Park?

  8. Tom says:

    The new construction and landscaping looks great! As I watched the cam today, I noticed that most of the trailors and equipment are gone. So it looks like very soon all of us are in for a treat.

  9. Don Stillwell says:

    Watch the naming of Emanti, the last baby elephant calf born at the Park on May 12, 2010. It’s very interesting and exciting to watch. Select the word “blogs” and click on “Park Elephant Answers.” Go to comment #35 and beside Moderators note are red lettered words, “Here’s the direct link to the video.” Cllick on the red letters. Several videos are listed on the right side of the screen. Click on “Elephant Calf Named” and watch and listen to Curtis Lehman narrate the unveiling of EMANTI, the name given to the last elephant calf born at the Park on 5-12-2010.
    The video is exciting to watch and shows how much Curtis enjoys his job as an Elephant Keeper/Supervisor. gets you to the blogs.

    Moderator’s note: Here’s the direct link to the naming video…

  10. Donna says:

    I noticed a few of the elephants heading over into the other yard but didn’t get to see how they were reacting to it due to the cam operator turning the cam back toward the main yard. I hope they like it so that introductions between Msholo and the girls can move forward soon.

  11. Tom says:

    How exciting to watch the females explore their new space!

  12. Portlandian says:

    Is Lungile possibly expecting as well? And how do you tell if an elephant is pregnant or not?

    Moderator’s note: Hormone levels can be monitored via fecal samples.

  13. Elizabeth says:

    The elephants don’t seem to notice the missing crates or new, opened gate. Usually wouldn’t they be curious about such major changes?

  14. Elizabeth says:

    I take that back – just didn’t see them near the gate on the webcam but have since seen film of the elephants going back and forth. Glorious day!!

  15. Don Stillwell says:

    HISTORY WAS MADE AT THE PARK YESTERDAY. For the first time since the Asian elephants were moved to the Elephant Odyssey at the Zoo and Msholo was moved into that yard, Mabu’s family and Moose were given an opportunity to cross through the completed walkway connecting the two yards together to eat browse, hay, and treats that were spread throughout the yard. Moose was the first one to cross, followed shortly by Lungile. If one looked carefully at the far end they could occasionally see Msholo through the gate. While I was at the Park, I got video of Moose, Lungile, Swazi and Mackembay, Ndlula and Lutsandvo all spent differing lengths of time in the yard. Moose was in heaven! All that food. In fact, both Moose and Lungile crossed back and forth several times carrying browse, there was none in the Mabu side, perhaps to brag about the goodies over there, and then they would return. I have edited the video and hope to have copies for the keepers in a few days. The video of 23 minutes shows this historical event, plus a portion of 3 visits in November and 12-3-2010 when the crates were being moved out of the area. Many thanks to eyeryone helping to make this possible!

  16. George Middlton says:

    I was at the [ark yesterday and Nidula and children, plus Lungile where going back and forth through the open gates. Others could, but didn;t seem curious enough. Mishlo was kept in the upper yard, as was Mabu on his side. Sorry I missed you Don.

  17. Don Stillwell says:

    Have copies of DVD mentioned in #11. Will bring them with me on Tuesday. Great job yesterday!

  18. Donna says:

    Re: 16

    Don is there anyway you can post the video on a site and let us adoring ellie lovers see it since for a good portion of us, our only way of viewing is via the ele cam due to where we live.

  19. Tom says:

    Musi and Lungile were the first to croos over today as well. Musi went right away.

  20. Karen says:

    How fun to watch them exploring the new yard! They seem to love it. How can we watch the video? I hope it will be posted!

  21. Elizabeth says:

    Pleased to see Msholo out. He must realize that he’s had company.

  22. Don Stillwell says:

    At one time this afternoon, it looked like nearly the entire herd from Mabu’s side were in the field on Msholo’s side. I would say about 10. They were all called back by the keepers and the gates were shut. Later we saw Msholo walking through his yard and hopefully he got some food that was left behind by the Moms and kids. Finally a chance for much needed exercise. Hope Mabu got a chance to go out in his yard also because he was kept in his yard when the gates were open. To George (#15) I’ll be back on Tuesday after 11:00 a.m.

  23. Calvin says:

    Has it been decided yet as two which two females and there calves will be heading off to Reid Park Zoo?

    The San Diego Zoo responds: We do not have any information to share at this time.

  24. Vickie says:

    Re: Reid Park Zoo, hoping it’s an unfounded rumor. I’ll be very disappointed if true. I don’t know if I’ll be able to continue to support the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park.

  25. Cynthia says:

    From the National Geographic Website: It is typical for several bulls to form a bachelor band. It is in this band that the group will traverse landscapes in search of food, water, and receptive females with whom to mate. This band is not close-knit like the female-headed herd. The males frequently split to travel alone, or to join other bands. As a result, elephant bulls do not place a high value on forming close relationships with other elephants. There are instances of male elephants that have formed a friendship with another male, but these remain fluid relationships, with no real sense of commitment.

    Given this, could you put the two bulls together? I know they couldn’t be together during munsth.

  26. Christina says:

    awww now msholo wont be so lonely ^_^

  27. Don Stillwell says:

    Heard the Mabu family (less Mabu) were in the Msholo yard at 1:50 p.m. today. Anything interesting about the visit that us curious elephant watchers would be interested in?

  28. Colin says:


    Im from the uk and have just started viewing the cam over the last several months and i love it. I wondered what the construction was all about.

    I love watching the little ones play, anyway keep up the good work.

  29. deb says:

    Video of Tina and Jewel

    #24 Vickie, Reid Park refers to it on their website and their employees have posted online confirming.

  30. Elizabeth says:

    Beautiful view this morning. Must be cold since you can see the steam coming from the elephants trunks and Emanti has been getting warm by standing under his mother. Good to see Msholo out.

  31. cindy in KC says:

    715 pdt- watching a younger ellie try to roll a log with their tusk and trunk and ‘talking’ to it as if to say

    ‘stay’ when it rolls back a bit. how cute! 🙂

  32. Elizabeth says:

    That was so funny – Punga giving a log rolling demonstration to two of his brothers.

  33. Don Stillwell says:

    The camera has been on Swazi and Mackembay for quite a while. Mackembay has tusks. Is this unusual for an 8 month old? I noticed one of the 3 little ones in the yard a couple of weeks ago and could see the little tiny tusks.

  34. Michelle from Buffalo, NY says:

    When the elle’s go in the “new yard” will we lose the cam?

    Moderator’s note: The Cam can be pointed to the new yard, as it is right now 😉

  35. Julia says:

    I’m watching on live cam new place they have elephants! and I really like!

    They are so adorable!! I love them!

    And all caregivers a hug from Uruguay Montevideo by the dedication to them !!!

  36. cindy in KC says:

    wow! why do the cam pics and colors seem so much better and brighter today ? New system, HD,

    awesome! 🙂

  37. Michelle from Buffalo, NY says:

    I’m sorry I’m a little confused-when the herd is in the new yard, where is Msholo? In the old yard?

    Moderator’s note: Msholo is also in the “new yard,” which, of course, is not new to him, but he is separated from the rest of the herd by a gate at this time.

  38. Dianna from Ohio says:

    I don’t think I’ve seen this mentioned in prior posts, but there is a new video from Curtis on the new digs…. The babies are loving it…

    Moderator’s note: Here’s the link…

  39. Don Stillwell says:

    Thanks for the link. I was watching them shooting the video yesterday. Excellent job.

  40. Elizabeth says:

    Mabu is not pleased this morning.

  41. Tom says:

    This morning, Mabu looked like he wanted to join the girls in west exhibit.

  42. cindy in KC says:

    must be close to ‘rush’ time- seeing a lot of swaying back and forth, head shaking and trunk waving. Ready to start the race! 🙂

  43. Don Stillwell says:

    Was watching early this morning before 8 a.m. and saw Mackembay’s tiny white tusks. (Swazi’s baby.)

  44. Pat H says:

    Is Msholo in an area where he can see the visitors to his yard. How is he reacting?

    Moderator’s note: Yes, he can see and communicate with his “visitors.”