Little Sundzu challenging an older elephant

Little Sundzu challenging an older elephant

Sundzu is the nickname of the youngest male calf at the San Diego Safari Park. His full name is Tsandzkile. Based on my observations of the park’s day cam, Sundzu can be self-possessed for his age of 9 months. Although he can often be found by the side of his mother (Litsemba) or nursing, he does explore independently and looks very intent when looking for food. He is very sociable and likes to hang out with the young male calves.

Although I feared he might develop insecurity due to being the smallest elephant and possibly losing majority of the pushing games the males engage in to measure their strength, Sundzu can hold his own. He initiates pushing matches and might even start one with a loud head butt. After watching a couple of the older calves pushing each other, Sundzu wanted to join in the play and tried pushing one of them (over twice his weight) against its trunk. The older elephant simply nodded its head a few times and humored Sundzu.

When most elephants are wrestling in the large pool, Sundzu can be seen usually watching and drinking from the sidelines. Maybe there is concern that he could get lost underneath the melee. But on dry land, when an older calf is laying on the ground (napping or resting), Sundzu will energetically run up to clamber on top of the other elephant. Sundzu is a scrappy young male, making up for his small size with a bold spirit.

Since starting this series of elephant posts, I’ve watched hours of elephant video from the San Diego Safari Park cam and also studied articles about elephants in the wild. Although I think it was generous for the Safari Park to take in the group of elephants, which were scheduled to be culled (organized shooting of elephants, typically in response to large populations within a limited amount of space and vegetation), I also feel that most enclosures are not suitable for elephants to be physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy. I believe the ideal situation is where elephants are returned to the wild due to their natural migratory patterns and their intelligence. I believe that the varied interactions with geography and other elephants that provide ideal stimulation and interaction are best found in nature.

Although I very much enjoy watching the elephants at the San Diego Safari Park and have learned a significant amount about elephants through this observation, I also have concerns. With the high pregnancy rate of the cows (female elephants) in the enclosure, how long will it be until they run out of space? I’m not even clear that the current enclosure provides ample space given the distances elephants would travel in the wild. There are 6 young male calves in the group currently. In the wild, they would gradually separate from the herd at about 13 years of age. But in captivity, I imagine they would be separated abruptly by being moved to other zoos or parks. What are the plans for the male calves when there will not be enough space to keep them with their mothers and families? Will their total life be a healthy and high quality life?