If you think washing your dog is a challenge, imagine scrubbing down a 4.4 tonne Asian elephant. Luckily, Lucy and her team of devoted keepers know the drill.
“A daily bath is an important part of Lucy’s care routine,” explains zookeeper Paul Williams. “We clean sand or mud from her eyes and ears that she may have picked up lying down, wash off urine that splashes up on the inside her legs, and check her hind end and tail for feces. Bath time is also a stimulating activity where Lucy can interact and bond with her keepers.”
Using soft hand brushes and long-handled brushes, two keepers gently scrub the pachyderm with a mild aloe vera and oatmeal soap and skin conditioner, washing her legs, belly, back and face. Lucy stands patiently waiting for her special moment, when she is offered the hose to grab a drink and continue rinsing herself off. She particularly enjoys spraying her belly, occasionally dousing her keepers in the process.
“A visiting elephant veterinarian told us that Lucy has excellent skin condition for her age,” shares Williams. Spas have heralded for years the glowing benefits of mud. Lucy has three mud baths at her disposal so perhaps that’s another beauty secret.
“It is very important to regularly check and maintain her feet,” Williams states. He explains that the leading cause of mortality for elephants in the wild is from foot problems, usually an infection. With so much weight spread across their feet, it is essential that the grooves in the foot pads are free of rocks, the toenails are trim, and the cuticles are smooth and not overgrown.
“You can see when Lucy walks that she is careful where she places her feet to avoid sharp rocks, branches, and roots,” says Williams. “We check her feet at least twice a day, washing, scraping off mud, picking out small stones and debris, and checking for wounds.” An array of farrier horse tools and other special instruments for hoof stock are used to keep Lucy’s feet in top condition.
I am amazed by Lucy’s large vocabulary and understanding of the situation. After her Epsom salt foot bath, zookeeper Trevor Hickey asks Lucy to lift her right back leg, bend her knee and rest it on a custom-built steel stool. The stool supports her enormous leg – a task physically impossible for the keepers – while Hickey thoroughly examines and cleans each foot. At day’s end, an apple cider vinegar foot bath closes the pores and also acts as an antiseptic.
Next, Hickey asks Lucy to open her mouth so he can check for trapped food around a loose tooth. Elephants can replace their teeth six times in their lifetime so a daily dental check-up is part of the routine.
Lucy is weighed first thing in the morning and at the end of the day. She skillfully balances on two portable truck scales. The weights are recorded and tracked over the year.
Long walks through the zoo grounds – four to six hours a day – provide Lucy with the exercise she needs to manage her weight, provide stimulation and enrichment, and loosen her joints.
“Lucy browses on grasses and bushes, enjoys the smells and sights, and likes to visit her mud baths for a leisurely roll,” says Williams. “When temperatures drop to -20C with wind chill in the winter, we walk in a heated building called the Dome, so Lucy can still get her exercise on those extra cold days.”
Looking for a unique gift idea? Lucy is a world famous artist, check out her paintings!
DID YOU KNOW?
Lucy eats up to 45 kg of food and drinks up to 45 kg of water daily. She defecates 12 times a day, each weighing about 14 kg, and urinates one to two 19 litre pails.