In the 47 years that I have been blessed to be around elephants, they never cease to amaze me. They demonstrate every day that they are not only intelligent, but highly evolved, sentient beings who are able to communicate and understand others far beyond anything I have ever experienced.
Tonight’s “feed” was like any other: prepare diets, load the ATV with hay, fill grain buckets and head out to the habitat in search of Bo and Tarra. Usually, Bo is close to the barn for the night feed. Tonight, he was inside. I’m always looking for an opportunity to share some quality time with him, so instead of leading him out into the habitat as usual, I decided to stop at the barn and give him his supplement filled apples, just him and me.
As I handed Bo his apples my glove slipped off along with the apple and both went directly into his mouth. I said “Oh dear,” but just as quickly as the glove disappeared into his mouth, he spat it out. I knew eating that small glove would not hurt him but nevertheless I was relieved that he spit it out.
Glancing at the glove on the ground right underneath Bo, I knew what would happen next.
You see, Bo has a playful habit, one shared by many elephants, of smashing, chewing and absconding with any non-food item in reach. Buckets, feed bags, even gloves make for great, although short-lived, toys. So, I figured that my glove was a goner.
I hoped that he would ignore the glove long enough for me to distract him into the next stall with hay. But he was too quick. Before I could do or say anything Bo reached down, gingerly picked up the glove and with precision handed it directly to me.
Yes, I know, Bo has probably done something like this a million times. He performed for decades. Picking up an object and handing it to a trainer is a common trained behavior. But not with me, not here, not when he was not asked to pick it up. Bo made the decision to not chew it, tear it up or toss it over his back. Bo made the decision to hand it to me. His decision.
All I could do was laugh and thank him. After praising him profusely, I walked away feeling blessed that he was willing to show me this side of him. Cooperation is a choice, and that was the choice he made.