Smashing fun for elephants

ZSL Whipsnade Zoo’s herd of Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) enjoyed a special surprise for World Elephant Day (Thursday 12 August), when zookeepers gave them two colourful, giant pinatas, custom-made for the elephants, filled with biodegradable confetti and their favourite treats. 

To celebrate World Elephant Day, elephant keepers attached the two, 1m tall pinatas to a tall tree in their spacious enclosure. Together the pinatas spelled the number “90”, a nod to the number of years the UK’s largest Zoo has been open. 

When 22-year-old Karishma pulled on the apples dangling underneath, the pinatas released a cloud of colourful confetti as well as an array of the elephants’ favourite snacks, including banana, apple and home-made, nutritious, elephant biscuits. The whole herd enjoyed scooping up the scattered treats with their trunks and munching on them, as well as the “tasty” pinata itself, which had been carefully created from food-safe materials. 

Zoological Manager of ZSL Whipsnade Zoo, Matthew Webb said: “World Elephant Day is a wonderful opportunity to remind everyone that these incredible, intelligent animals need our protection and support more than ever. 

“Our herd of Endangered Asian elephants always enjoy investigating new things, and it took Karishma no time at all to work out that if she pulled on the apple that was attached to the string under the pinata, something exciting would happen.” 

As well as supporting ZSL’s conservation work with Asian elephants in Thailand, ZSL Whipsnade Zoo and its herd of elephants are contributing to the HEAT (Human-Elephant Alert Technologies) project, through which ZSL researchers, working with zookeepers and the Arribada Initiative, have created the world’s largest collection of elephant thermal images, and are using it to develop an early warning system to decrease the human-elephant conflict that threatens Asian elephants in the wild. 

Matthew Webb continued: “I hope that elephants like Karishma celebrating World Elephant Day alongside the humans that love and admire them, right across the globe, moves people to support the protection of elephants from human-elephant conflict, habitat loss and poaching.” 

Asian elephants are classified as Endangered by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and their populations are in decline. The species is also listed on ZSL's EDGE (Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered) list, meaning there is an urgent need to increase conservation action and funding. 

Those wishing to support the protection of elephants and other threatened species can donate to ZSL’s conservation projects or book tickets for ZSL Whipsnade Zoo. 

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