It’s summer, and everyone likes a day out at the beach – even an elephant.
But taking a large and sometimes truculent elephant to the seaside is tricky. So animal staff at Paignton Zoo decided that, if you can’t take your elephant to the beach, then you bring the beach to your elephant…
Which is why lorry-loads of sand all the way from Instow in North Devon has been arriving at Paignton Zoo.
In fact, an astonishing 80 tonnes of sand has been delivered in five big truck loads – but then, the numbers are always big when you’re talking about Duchess the African elephant. The matriarch of Paignton Zoo is 49 years old, weighs around 4 tonnes, eats about 60 kilos of food a day and drinks between 100 and 300 litres of water. As a result, she produces nearly a tonne of dung a week…
Senior Head Keeper of Mammals Rob Rouse explained: “Sand is good for Duchess’ feet, helping to improve the health of the soles, nails and skin of the foot and so decreasing the need for active foot care by her keepers. The sand also provides enrichment through an ever-changing environment. The first time she encountered the sand, she was throwing it all over the place!”
However, not just any old sand would do for Duchess. Rob: “We had to get the right particulate value to allow for drainage and to reduce the likelihood of the sand compacting over time. We took advice from colleagues in other zoos and tried samples from different beaches before choosing Instow!”
Her keepers want to create an ever-changing sandscape which they – or she – can pile up and push about. They know they’re taking on extra work raking, brushing, digging and rotavating the sand – they’ve also had to build a low retaining wall to hold the sand in place. But she’s worth it.
“We hope to borrow the gardeners’ powered cultivator,” says Rob. “Though I suspect that we’ll eventually have to buy our own!” Paignton Zoo is a registered charity. For more information go to www.paigntonzoo.org.uk or ring 01803 697500.
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