January 2019

I n early November, the Santa Barbara Zoo requested the assistance of Greg Vicino, Curator of Applied Animal Welfare for San Diego Zoo Global, to help in assessing Little Mac’s welfare following Sujatha’s passing. He spent two days observing Little Mac and is helping us develop a plan that will be the foundation for making the most informed and best possible decisions for her future.

Little Mac has continued to stay very active throughout the day, willingly engages with her keepers, and still sleeps, eats and interacts with enrichment very well. Greg was impressed with her overall health and her “behavioral repertoire” (how she maneuvers through and uses her environment).

The big question still remains: What will happen next for Little Mac?

Will she continue to do well in the home she has always known, with familiar keepers and routines?

Or will she do better in the company of other elephants at another AZA-accredited facility that can give her the quality care and attention she needs at this stage of her life?

For this decision, we are considering both her species’ natural history, such as Asian elephant herd structure and dynamics, and Little Mac as an individual elephant who had a strong kinship with just one other elephant for most of her life.

There is no guarantee if she were to move to and meet a new herd at a new facility, that she would adjust well to the change, or that the herd would be accepting of her.

With Little Mac’s very best interests in mind, we are conducting a scientific study beginning with behavioral observations to create a baseline of her normal daily routine and behaviors over six weeks of observations.

Following the baseline study, we will change her normal routines. We may increase the difficulty of training sessions, add more challenging forms of enrichment, and adjust feeding times, for example.

This gives us a better understanding of how she adapts to significant variations in her daily routine and helps us anticipate how she might cope with and adapt to significant changes in her life, such as a potential move to another facility and introduction to other elephants. This second phase could last two to five months, followed by an analysis of the data collected.

As an added benefit this exercise might also allow Little Mac to develop even more healthy strategies for coping with change, for interacting with her environment, and with behavioral enrichment challenges.

In the coming weeks you can expect to see Elephant Team and support personnel conducting observations and recording data on tablets and laptops near the Elephant exhibit. You might even notice changes in the exhibit.

If at any point in time, if we see changes in her behavior that are of concern, we will stop and reevaluate our process.

Be assured that the Elephant Team and Zoo management have what’s best for Little Mac as our highest priority. Regardless of the results of the study, our ultimate goal is to have Little Mac in a situation that will allow her to thrive.

Liz Beem

About Liz Beem

Liz is the Zoological & Elephant Program Manager at the Santa Barbara Zoo.

500 Ninos Drive, Santa Barbara, CA 93103