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12 Asian elephants have arrived at White Oak Conservation.
Stephanie Rutan / Via White Oak Conservation

Because of the heat wave, I went out for my walk at 5:30 this morning, while it was still pleasant. I saw a bluebird, a couple rabbits, and a snapping turtle that crossed a bridge and launched herself 20 feet into the river. That was her choice.

The subjects of today’s story went a long time without having choices like the ones snapping turtles, wild rabbits, and bluebirds enjoy. Having spent many years doing tricks in the circus, they now reside at a 135-acre sanctuary where staff say they can hide for days at a time. Life is not completely natural, but it’s better than the circus.

Cathy Free reports at the Washington Post, “For about two decades, elephants that performed with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus were sent to a reserve in central Florida when they became too old to balance on two legs and parade around arenas doing tricks and dancing for large crowds. …

“In recent weeks, the former circus elephants have begun moving to a 135-acre sanctuary, one that is not affiliated with the circus that for years was accused of mistreating and abusing the gentle giants.

“Three weeks after being let loose in the White Oak Conservation center in Yulee, Fla., the first group of elephants has been exploring the new surroundings, and staff members say they don’t see some of them for days at a time. When they do spy the large animals, they say, they are swimming in the deep end of a pond or having a dust bath, followed by a nap in the shade. They also snack on watermelon and banana buffets.

“Employees say it was an emotional moment to watch the elephants walk out of their barn together for the first time into the lush acreage.

“ ‘There was more than one wet eye that day,’ said Michelle Gadd, who leads the White Oak preserve for endangered and threatened species such as cheetahs, rhinos, okapi, zebras and condors. …

“Ringling Bros. retired all of its elephants in 2016, ending a 145-year tradition, after pushback from the public about the pachyderms being forced to perform. … A year-and-a-half after the elephants were retired, the circus closed shop because of declining ticket sales. …

“Philanthropists Mark and Kimbra Walter arranged to purchase all 32 of the former Ringling Bros. elephants and have them transported 200 miles from Central Florida to Yulee, outside Jacksonville. The Walters bought the 17,000-acre White Oak sanctuary in 2013, and have been expanding it since. …

“Eventually, the elephant portion of the refuge will cover 2,500 acres and feature nine linked areas with enough water holes, forests, grasslands and wetlands to support the entire herd, said Nick Newby, 41, who leads the elephant caretaker team and helped plan the habitat.

“ ‘We wanted it to be as natural as possible, and we wanted to consider the social dynamic as well,’ Newby said. ‘Elephants are very sociable animals, so we like to study them, see what their personalities are like and then try to mix and match them with other elephants they might like to cohabitate with.’ …

“For Newby, who has worked with elephants for 18 years (mostly in zoos), there was a sense of elation as he watched the animals wander through their new home.

“ ‘It’s all about the elephants, so to see them out there doing natural elephant behaviors like swimming, was exhilarating and rewarding,’ he said. …

“Asian and African elephants are endangered in the wild because of loss of habitat and illegal poaching, [Gadd] said. The World Wildlife Fund estimates that there are about 415,000 elephants in Africa, while less than 50,000 remain in Asia.

“Wildlife conservation studies have shown that between 15,000 and 20,000 elephants are held in zoos or are still used by safari companies and circuses around the world. …

“Plans haven’t yet been developed for the public to view the elephants from afar, but Newby said the ultimate goal would be for somebody to look through a pair of binoculars at the White Oak refuge and feel as though they were watching elephants in their natural habitat.

“ ‘The gentle giants at the sanctuary are ambassadors for elephants in the wild,’ he said. ‘It’s our duty to make sure that their future is better than their past, and that their tomorrows are better than their yesterdays.’ ”

More at the Post, here.

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Do you know about the “Great Animal Orchestra“? Rachel Donadio at the NY Times has the story.

“The bioacoustician and musician Bernie Krause has been recording soundscapes of the natural world since 1968, from coral reefs to elephant stamping grounds to the Amazonian rain forest.

“Now, Mr. Krause’s recordings have become part of an immersive new exhibition at the Cartier Foundation here called ‘The Great Animal Orchestra.’ Named after Mr. Krause’s 2012 book of the same title, the show opens on Saturday and runs through Jan. 8, [2017].

“At its heart is a work by the London-based collective United Visual Artists, who have transformed Mr. Krause’s recordings of the natural world into 3-D renderings. Imagine stepping into a soundproofed black-box theater whose walls spring to life with what look like overlapping electrocardiograms, representing different species’ sounds. …

“The installation includes recordings Mr. Krause made in Algonquin Park in Ontario, where he found himself caught between two packs of wolves; in the Yukon Delta, a subarctic area in Alaska, where birds from different continents converge; and in the Central African Republic, where he heard monkeys. He also captured the cacophony of the Amazon, and whales off Alaska and Hawaii. …

“Mr. Krause is a polymathic musician who performed with the folk group the Weavers and helped introduce the Moog synthesizer to pop music — including songs by the Doors and Van Morrison — and film scores. He hears natural sounds with a studio producer’s ear.”

Read more here about Krause and his efforts to get the word out on the disappearing habitats of his featured animals.

This article inspires me to pay better attention to the music of the natural world on my morning walks. So much beauty goes right over my head.

Photo: Tim Chapman
Bernie Krause on St. Vincent Island, Fla., in 2001.
 

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Never underestimate the wisdom of the pachyderm. Here’s one that would make an undetectable spy.

Jeffrey Gettleman writes at the NY Times, “Elephant experts in Kenya were excited recently by some rare good news: An elephant had crossed into Somalia — and survived.

“Somalia, one of the world’s most war-torn nations, used to be home to thousands of elephants, but they were wiped out during the 1980s and ’90s as the country descended into chaos.

“For the first time in decades, researchers said, there is now anecdotal evidence that a small elephant population still exists in Somalia, a finding based on the unusual migration of one big bull named Morgan who journeyed stealthily across the Kenya-Somalia border, most likely to look for a mate.

“Fitted with a GPS tracking collar, Morgan was found to have traveled more than 130 miles, demonstrating an uncanny sense of direction — and self-preservation. He moved mostly by night. During the day, he rested in thick bush.

“ ‘This is extreme behavior adapted to survive the worst known predator on Earth: man,’ said Iain Douglas-Hamilton, one of the scientists closely monitoring Morgan. ‘His behavior was a bit like an S.A.S. patrol: Hide by day, keep out of sight and, at night, travel fast,’ he added, referring to the British special forces. …

“He surmised that Morgan, who is in his mid-30s, had made a similar journey years ago and that a faint memory of the route was lodged somewhere deep in his elephant brain.” More here.

As you no doubt learned in childhood: Elephants never forget.

Photo: Save the Elephants, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Morgan, a male bull in his 30s, was fitted with a tracking collar in Kenya’s coastal Tana River delta around December.

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Time for another animal story. Edie Freedman has a surprising one about elephants, African farmers, and bees at a new-to-me website called O’Reilly.

“Although elephant populations have increased since the 1970s, the human population has grown even more quickly,” she writes “cutting the elephants’ habitat up into farms and roads. The elephants’ key migratory routes have been cut off in many places. As result, they regularly break through fences, where they eat and destroy crops. When the farmers confront elephants on their property, things don’t generally end well for either party.

“Lucy King, a researcher working with Save the Elephants, has spent many years investigating the problems involved in crop protection. Her goal is to find long-term solutions that reduce the frequency of human-elephant conflicts—and that can be financed and managed by local farmers.

“As Ms. King looked into the elephants’ habits for any clues to keeping them out of fields planted with crops, she noticed that they tended to avoid acacia trees with active nests of African bees. Elephants, it so happens, are afraid of the bees, and will move away from an area and warn other elephants if they hear bees buzzing nearby.

“And so the beehive fence was invented. The fences are simple, inexpensive, and easy for the farmers to build and maintain. … The hives are hung at chest height, which makes it easy for the farmer to harvest the honey, while also making them highly visible to the elephants.

“The hives, connected by wires,  are hung every 10 meters around the perimeter of a field. The farmers leave wide pathways between their crops so elephants can move past the fences along their migratory routes. If an elephant makes contact with one of the hives or the connecting wires, the beehives all along the fence will swing and release the bees.”

More here.

What a terrific solution! Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Photo: oreilly.com

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