Herewith our observations on her arrival:
- Diet: Technically one could debate whether she was on a diet! She certainly received food twice a day and the fact that bread formed part of her morning feeding session highlights the fact that she was malnourished. Her body condition index confirmed that she was unhealthy and her body was out of shape. How this contributed to her state of mind, we have no idea.
- Stereotypic behaviour: Thandora exhibited numerous stereotypic behaviours. These are behaviours that are repetitive in nature. Swaying, stopping in mid stride and holding a foot in the air for some moments before moving on are two specific behaviours, , amongst others, that were repeated incessantly.
- Self-directed behaviour: An understanding of self-directed behaviour in primates [Ellis, JJ, MacLarnon, AM, Heistermann, M and Semple, S (2011)]. The social correlates of self-directed behaviour and faecal glucocorticoid levels among adult male olive baboons (Papio hamadryas anubis) in Gashaka-Gumti National Park, Nigeria. African Zoology 46, 302-308], offers us the opportunity to draw conclusions from self directed behaviours exhibited by Thandora.
- Body Score Index: This is a score that basically compares Thandora’s body shape to that of a healthy elephant, allowing us to measure improved body shape and in so doing apply an ‘improvement score’ or a score that defines her body shape getting worse. Her score was poor on arrival at Gondwana.
- Social adaptation: Zero. She quite simply had no social skills.
During her time on Gondwana, we observed the following:
- Behaviour: Thandora showed a 7% reduction in her exhibition of stereotypic behaviours and self-directed behaviours per week. After six weeks in the release Boma and two weeks free-roaming, Thandora was only exhibiting normal natural elephant behaviour. The incidence of her exhibiting self directed behaviours or stereotypic behaviour had been reduced to zero occurences. Thandora’s grazing and browsing time had increased dramatically. On arrival at Gondwana, she had to learn how to browse and graze. Initially she was only able to maintain a grazing rate of seven minutes per hour. The rest of the time she simply stood around waiting for food, and this constituted almost 70% of her behaviour in the first few weeks. After eight weeks she was walking an average of four km’s per day and grazing and browsing on an on-going basis. She was constantly on the move with ‘standing’ making up a very small percentage of her daily behaviour.
- Body score Index: Thandora’s tone had improved dramatically over an eight week period. Her body score index had dramatically improved.
- Social adjustment: Each time Thandora came into contact with the females or males, her time with them improved dramatically, to the point where she spent three nights with Bully on one such meeting. Her first meeting with the cows only lasted 45 minutes.
This brief analysis simply serves to highlight that it is not difficult at all to assess the overall health of an animal. Thandora arrived a zoo elephant, standing and waiting for food, not knowing how to keep herself busy, head down in a moping position. She departed from our world a radically changed elephant. You could actually see how her mind was more active as she absorbed her new life and adjusted to her new surroundings rapidly. Thandora set the tone of her adjustment and as she slowly gained confidence we gave her the space to explore her new world.
There is no way anyone can say that Thandora was better off in the zoo environment she was in. Her physical, behavioural and cognitive improvement speaks for itself and the very fact that she could freely exhibit so many different natural behaviours is testimony to her improved health. Her passing was from toxic shock and could have happened anywhere. If the team managing her through the process at the time could have manipulated her body, moved her around and relieved her of her own weight in some way or other, we could have ‘waited-out’ the time it took for the toxins to pass through her body, as they do with smaller animals suffering similar diagnosis. She could simply not sustain her own body weight for the period of time required. Dr Brendan Tindall had stabilised her in a very short period of time and we realised that her body weight would be the ultimate cause of her death.
Thank you Gondwana for offering her the opportunity to be an elephant, to be free and not have to rely on us to deliver her food, water or any other form of stimulation she might have wanted. She could spray herself with water, swim, throw mud on herself, walk, graze, browse and sleep. Quite simply, she could just be an elephant.