Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Elephant Graveyard

First and foremost, Sabine has made a friend during breakfast:

This morning we have food duty. This involves food preparation for all the elephants that are fed in shifts at the feeding platform. There are various chores that are required and we start off with special preparations for the older ladies (70 years+). Right before we begin, Michelle, the ele food coordinator, explains to us the meaning behind the elephant graveyard.

There is a sort of romanticized myth that elephants go to die in a common place, a graveyard of sorts to be with their ancestors. This is not true. The reason is less emotional, more practical.  Elephants will go through 6 sets of teeth during their natural lifetime. The teeth fall out and are replaced in a conveyor like procession, from back to front until the last set fall out. They are still able to grind with the motions of their jaws but not nearly as effectively. Remember the poop story from earlier? Well, the less chewed food comes out in their poops. In their natural environment, these toothless elephants will move to a location where food is softer and easier for them to chew. Eventually they are unable to get enough nutrition (fiber is essentially missing from their diet) to sustain themselves and they starve to death in that location. As other elephants get older and in similar condition, they too go to that location, but because of the soft foods, not to be with their passed family members. As a result, a natural elephant graveyard forms.

The food preparation for these ladies begins by peeling the over ripe bananas and then squeezing them to mush. We go through about 300 bananas. We then add buckets of rice meal and corn meal to the bananas.

This is the important part of the mixture. The bananas are added for flavor, but the corn and rice are required for the fiber. Since they are no longer able to chew the grasses and hay, they depend on this alternate source of fiber. We roll the banana/corn/rice mixture into softball sized balls.


And my team (Imogen, me, Madeline and Dave) -- the other Group A are sorting bananas and stuff...

And then we get to feed the banana balls to the three older toothless eles. They wait as patiently as they can.

They accept them eagerly and I find the slurping and occassional farting rather endearing...

After we are done feeding, I take an opportunity to photograph these beauties. The sunken temples show their age, but their eyes retain their youth. I am completely drawn to elephants' eyes. It's hard to believe they are geriatric, their eyes are so youthful. Incredibly beautiful, delicate, full of emotion, very telling... I love looking at their eyes and watching them blink. I wonder what those eyes have seen...