The three youngest elephants of HuayPakoot (Pbee Mai, Mario, and LuLu) are still too young to spend the night in the forest alone and for a majority of the day they have their mahouts with them. There’s a good amount of time where the young elephants have nothing to do and, if they are not eating, they will display a stereotypical, usually, rocking behaviour; Mario and LuLu more so than Pbee Mai but all three calves do it to a certain extent. This stereotypical behaviour is addictive and it’s quite possible Pbee Mai, Mario and LuLu will display this behaviour for the rest of their lives. Because of this sad possibility, the GVI staff and volunteers decided to try enrichment projects for the 3 young, juvenile elephants that spend the night in the village.
Environmental enrichment is the process of providing stimulating environments for animals in order for them to demonstrate their typical/natural species behaviour; it can include the introduction of food related items; like puzzle feeders and hidden food and to get the food the animals have to work and use natural foraging behaviours.
What we’ve provided for the young elephants are puzzle feeders. GVI purchased three large, blue barrels and each barrel has a different pattern of holes drilled into the sides. The purpose of the holes are for the elephants to figure out a way to maneuver their trunks in through the holes as a way to reach their food; instead of having food set out right in front of them. One of the barrels has rope twisted around the top of the barrel and the rope serves the same purpose as the holes drilled in the sides. As of now, only two calves have a barrel each day; one of the barrels is being saved to be filled with popcorn.
Eventually, we want to add more, and different, types of enrichments for the calves to use while in the village. What is beneficial about this new project is volunteers have the opportunity to come up with ideas that could potentially make a difference on Pbee Mai, Mario and LuLu and an unexpected benefit of the enrichment for the calves is the extra interaction we as volunteers get with them. We want to collect data on our enrichment projects; watching the calves 3 hours a week, 1 hour a day, to see if the enrichments are making any sort of a difference.