At least one zoo animal was where she was supposed to be this week: Bozie, the National Zoo’s newest Asian elephant, arrived at her enclosure promptly at 10 a.m. this morning for her official introduction to the public.
Bozie, age 37, was born in Sri Lanka but has lived in zoos since she was a year old. She was given to the National Zoo after her companion at the Baton Rouge Zoo died in March. Here she joins a herd of three other elephants: 65-year-old Ambika, 38-year-old Shanthi, and twelve-year-old Kandula, Shanthi’s son.
Members of the media and elementary schoolers from the zoo’s Fonz program crowded in the Elephant Community Center to get a good look at the newest addition to the herd. Trouble is, the elephant in the room becomes a lot less obvious when she’s one of three. Visitors spent a good part of their morning turning to one another asking, “Which one is Bozie?”
For those who need to brush up on their elephant identification tactics, Bozie is the heaviest of the three females, with short legs and a broad, flat head. According to Asian Elephant Curator Tony Barthel, she’s also the most vocal of the zoo’s herd, prone to squeaking, honking and chirping.
Though Bozie’s been in D.C. since mid-May, she was only introduced to Ambika and Shanthi on Monday, after a 30-day quarantine. (She still hasn’t been allowed to interact with the male elephant, Kandula. “We need to understand Bozie’s reproductive cycle first,” says Barthel. “We don’t want any unintended consequences.”) Barthel says the elephants’ first meeting had him on pins and needles.
“There was a bit of tussling, shoving, some jostling back and forth, even some gentle kicking,” he says. “My biggest worry was, what if they just didn’t like her?”
Turns out the standard elephant enclosure is not all that different from a high school cafeteria — the site of complex social interactions and careful re-configuring of hierarchies.
“[Bozie] started out trying to be a lot more dominant,” says Elephant Manager Marie Galloway. “But Ambika [the oldest elephant] wasn’t really having that.”
Luckily, this meeting didn’t require any Mean Girls-style interventions from zookeepers.
“Later in the evening she came up to Ambika and kind of apologized, flapping her ears and making herself really small,” Galloway says. “It’s kind of like she was saying, ‘I’m sorry I was such a brat.'”
That the elephants are getting along is good news for the zoo, which is hoping to expand its herd even further in coming years. Zoo director Dennis Kelly says he’s aiming for a herd of 8-10 elephants “in the foreseeable future.”
Here’s hoping there are some really tight locks on those enclosures.
Photo by Abby Wood, courtesy National Zoo.