A lot has happened since the last post, culminating in an 8 hour visit to Roger Williams Park Zoo. We had such amazing cooperation from the zoo staff that I was truly humbled. These folks took a lot of time out of their work day to answer questions, and show us around. And I could ask basically anything that I wanted to. I tried to include questions that I thought the general concerned public would want to know, both good and bad, about elephants in this zoo. I don't play hardball as a rule, but I did include queries on zoo studies about longevity, health care, etc. And was encouraged by the answers. As a matter of fact, my original premise about the evolution of our consciousness regarding exotic species really seems to be borne out in conversation.
Take the elephant's feet, for example. We've learned that elephants hear through their feet as well as their ears- though different types and frequencies of sound. One of the most distressing practices of zoo care in the past has been the fact that these animals have had to stay on concrete and their feet deteriorated and they've been unprotected from traffic sounds, etc. In RWPZ, though, this has all changed. The elephants are never on concrete and with the sand room, rubberized floors, and outside dirt, along with regular foot care, they're in pretty good shape.
These elephants aren't on chains, except in unpredictable situations where their safety and that of the keepers might be jeopardized. Procedures are done in the public area where people can watch to see that the animals aren't being abused. The name of the game, actually, is transparency, which was really heartening.
The staff had obviously done a lot of planning, because they had scheduled activities that would really help us understand the elephant's day- including bathing, mani/pedi, feeding, trunk wash for TB testing, and "enrichment" activities- ie, playtime.
The most interesting of these, to me, was painting. The pachyderms are learning to paint pictures on canvas (they can already do murals) with tempera paints (the kind kids use in case they eat it). Right now, it's mostly trunk painting, but they're learning to wield brushes, too, like their Thai brethren. "Why?" you may ask. It all has to do with keeping their minds occupied. These babes are smart, and can and do get bored. The more challenges, the more lively their minds, and the healthier they stay. So though this is a small piece of the whole picture, they seem to like it. As Jen, their keeper, pointed out, "You can tell they're really engaged by the way their ears go forward and they concentrate." Just like me!
So now, most of the primary shooting is done. It's time to review and transcribe tapes, work on the script and a more complete treatment, and figure out what needs to go where.
More as things progress.