Noah's News Blog

The Playful Side of Elephants

Having a sense of humour and a fun side is usually something considered unique to human beings. However, new research has discovered that elephants also tease each other and have a light-hearted side to their personalities too; elements that are important when it comes to developing physical and social skills – both of which are crucial for survival.

An article this week on Nature World News has released details from a study conducted by Professor Phyllis Lee and Dr. Cynthia Moss. They studied a group of playful elephants from birth to adulthood for a staggering 35-year period in a Kenyan National Park.

The pair discovered that elephants play in numerous ways, and that the sense of humour between male and female elephants differs greatly. As you might expect, young elephants play the most, but this childish innocence carries through to adulthood; both male and female elephants love to play well into their 40s and 50s (they typically live up to 70).

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Elephants have a very creative side; they use whatever they can get their trunk around to play with – from plants and sticks to bones and stones. One of the most recognised playful traits among them is the famous “floppy run,” where they trot with their jumbo ears swinging from side to side, snorting and trumpeting as they go.

But even from a very young age, males and females have very different playing and teasing tactics. According to the study, males are likely to engage in wrestling games, while females will thrash through vegetation. Lee and Moss believe that males play in order to become more relaxed around strangers, and it also gives them a chance to size-up their mating competition. Females, however, “use play as one of the many mechanisms for sustaining their social, protective and leadership roles within families.”

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There is a significant link between the traits of leadership and playfulness, but the researchers also found that there is a long-term association between play and survival.

We certainly love watching our African elephants, Buta, Janu and M’Changa playing and getting up to mischief in Elephant Eden. And there’s certainly room to play; with 20 acres to explore, they have access to a vast, enriched environment. Elephant Eden has been described as a ‘five star destination for elephants’.

Unfortunately, African elephant numbers have dramatically fallen in recent years from millions to just 300,000, due to the ivory trade. Sadly, the species is classified at the moment as “vulnerable” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (ICUN) Red List.

We are privileged to be able to provide a home for our African elephants here at Noah’s Ark and do all we can in terms of conservation to protect numbers, both in natural habitats and in captivity.

Why not come and visit our elephants  to see them in action, or book yourself onto a once-in-a-lifetime Keeper Experience to work alongside our Elephant Keepers for a morning? You won’t be disappointed!

India’s Tiger Population Increases by a Third

India is home to around 70% of the world’s tigers but, in the past, their habitat has been threatened by poaching and uncontrolled development. However, the future is looking bright, according to official figures released this week: the number of tigers in India has risen by 30% in the last three years!

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Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar revealed that the tiger population in India had increased from 1,706 in 2011 to 2,226 in 2014. In 2008, the same census figures showed a tiger population of just 1,411. According to Mr Javadekar, the numerous government initiatives to streamline tiger conservation were behind the rise in numbers, describing the results as a “huge success story”.

He added: “While the tiger population is falling in the world, it is rising in India. This is great news”. He also commented that India would be willing to donate tiger cubs to the international community and play a major role in tiger conservation across the world.

The new census involved almost 10,000 camera traps, capturing photographs of almost 80% of the tigers counted in the survey.

Wildlife campaigners have been expressing their worries over falling numbers of tigers for many years, and the tiger conservation practices that have proven to be such a success in India could be adopted elsewhere.

According to Sharon Guynup, who writes for the National Geographic: “the tiger community is thrilled to finally hear some good news”. Here at Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm, we couldn’t agree more.

We know the risks wild tigers in India face: they are poached for their fur, bones and teeth and are hunted by farmers when they pose a threat to livestock. To hear that India’s tiger population has increased by so much over the past few years is wonderful news, and a great high on which to start the New Year.

Our tigers, Tiana and Khan are truly majestic animals. Although not as wild as those roaming the Indian countryside we think its important to care for all tigers well, and we have a welfare and educational responsibility in looking after ours here at the zoo.

Visiting school groups (LINK) benefit from the educational opportunity to see these incredible big cats up close and learn about the animals biology and ecology.

Unfortunately, the natural habitat of tigers in India – tropical evergreen forests and grass jungles – has virtually disappeared outside reserves in India. Many end up foraging in areas with a human population, which leads to fatalities. Just this month, a 24-year-old man was killed by a tiger in Madhya Pradesh, on the outskirts of a national park.

We are committed to conservation and our Bengal Tigers have a wonderful life here at Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm. So, if you want to get up-close to these truly mesmerising creatures, as well as our other amazing animals, come and pay us a visit. We look forward to seeing you soon!




Could Nature’s Viagra Turn Rhino Romance Into Babies?

Our special white rhinos have been with us since 2005, when they arrived as juveniles. Over the years they have become rather fond of each other and – and now that they have reached sexual maturity – it’s looking like their rhino romance might result in babies! The future here at Noah’s Ark looks bright; white rhinos have been given the status of ‘near threatened’ in the wild, so the fact they could become first-time parents here is fantastic news.

And what’s giving them a helping hand? Why, Viagra and the science of poo, of course!

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Their new-found interest in each other has meant that 14-year-old Rumba, who previously bossed male Rumbull (also 14) around, has had to become submissive to her now bigger partner, who has begun showing signs of dominance towards her. Our experienced rhino keepers here at Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm have been keeping a close eye on the pair, monitoring them and conducting research into rhino mating, with the hope that the giant duo may conceive naturally in their own time.

However, to help the rhino romance on its way, we have decided to turn to nature… in the form of dietary supplements with baby-making enhancers, and the study of dung!

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One supplement senior rhino keeper, Emma Green, is considering using a special feed pellet high in b-carotene. It’s organic and is thought to have other benefits, including reducing cancer risk in some mammals. The use of the supplement to improve fertility in mammals has been the subject of various scientific studies.

Emma has worked with our two rhinos on a daily basis for the past three years, so knows their behaviour inside out. Emma and our other keepers have been in touch with keepers at other parks for advice. We often find that the best animal management techniques come from the people who spend the most amount of time with the animals – keepers and researchers.

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Emma also knows the rhino’s bowl movements too… and she is now taking regular dung samples from Rumba and sending them off for analysis of oestrogen levels to give further insight into her fertility and assess the chance of pregnancy.

Emma has said: “I’ve got to know Rumba and Rumbull’s habits well over the past few years as I work so closely with them. There’s a noticeable change in their behaviour recently; sure signs of reaching sexual maturity. It’s interesting in particular watching Rumbull as he becomes more dominant. We hope they choose to breed when they’re ready, and then we will have another mouth to feed!”

However, rhino breeding is notoriously complex and hard to predict; successful births in captivity are relatively rare. Rhinos experience one of the longest pregnancies in the animal kingdom at 15 months. The only animal with a longer gestation period is the elephant (taking a staggering 22 months!).

We are all patiently waiting to hear the patter of not-so-tiny-feet… watch this space!

If you want to get to know our rhinos a little better in the mean time, why not book onto our Big Zoo Animal Keeper Experience? You’ll get to meet them, clean and feed them in a completely unique morning working with our friendly Keepers! A once-in-a-lifetime experience.