Jackson Zoo elephants leave for TN in early Nov. - MSNewsNow.com - Jackson, MS

Jackson Zoo elephants leave for TN in early Nov.

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By GARY PETTUS
The Clarion-Ledger

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - When hungry, Rosier and Juno could each make quick work of an oak tree branch, bamboo stalks, a pitchfork handle, peanut butter sandwiches and a 55-gallon tank of frozen Popsicles.

When the light is right, both are the color of cappuccino, including their ears, which resemble maps of Africa so massive they could double as pup tents.

When measured, each stands about 8 feet high, weighs about as much as four Clydesdales and displays a nose/upper lip as tall and flexible as an NBA forward.

Yet Emily Brewer and Chuck Reid, two of the Jackson Zoo's four or so elephant trainers, can tell them apart as easily as they can distinguish their own mothers.

For them, that's what makes it so hard to move two elephants to another zoo hundreds of miles away - not their sheer size, but the enormity of their personalities.

"I'm really going to miss them," said Reid, 57.

"The way they greet you in the morning with a kind of rumbling in the back of the throat."

The way Juno, the "teenager" type, flings rocks over people's heads when she's bored.

The way the more ladylike Rosie reacts when Reid scolds her with "Daddy's hard voice" if she misbehaves.

"She gets her feelings hurt," Reid said. "You can see it in her eyes."

When it comes to the feelings of Reid's colleague, they're "bittersweet" right now. "I know it's a good thing for them," said Brewer, 22.

"I've met the staff in Nashville. They have been working with elephants "But it still hurts to see them go." The pair of females will travel to the Nashville Zoo inside a tractor-trailer rig - Juno on Nov. 3, Rosie two days later.

"We're using a company that specializes in transporting  exotic animals," said Jim Bartoo, spokesman for the Nashville Zoo, which offers a newer, larger elephant habitat. "I don't know of any vehicle that can hold two elephants at the same time."

In the meantime, Rosie and Juno's keepers are training them to get on and off a truck.

After Oct. 31, visitors to the Jackson Zoo won't be able to view the elephants.

Eventually, the rhinos will move into their old corral. "It used to be the rhino exhibit," said Dave Wetzel, the zoo's deputy director. "So the rhinos are coming home."

Rosie and Juno's move to their new home some 425 miles away isn't necessary for their survival. It is necessary in order for each zoo to maintain coveted accreditation status from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

And it seems to be the best thing for the couple that some on staff refer to as "our girls." "It's not really what we want to happen," Wetzel said.

"But we want to do what's right for them." What's right, he said, would be an $8 million to $10 million exhibit that meets the requirements of the AZA, including a new barn, additional shaded areas, a new pool and more trainers.

That's on top of the $90,000 it takes each year to feed and care for Rosie and Juno, who have a sweet tooth for much of nature's bounty.

"They can eat an oak limb as big as my arm," Reid said. "Crunch it up like a pretzel." Each can eat a couple bales of hay and 25 pounds of food pellets, just for breakfast. Finding more money to build them a new home is not happening in this economy, Wetzel said.

"Attendance here is down, revenues are down." To maintain its status as the only AZA-accredited zoo in the state, the facility would also have to find, at minimum, a third elephant.

There was a third, Marrie, who had to be euthanized in 2003 because of bad health.

About a year ago, the Nashville Zoo also lost its third - Kiba, age 26. Kiba's survivors are Sukari, 26, and Hadari, 28. At around 40 and 30, respectively, Rosie and Juno are a bit older.

It might take time for the two elephant factions to greet each other with real warmth.

"Elephant introductions can be easy," Wetzel said, "or extremely amusing."

There are a couple of predictors of elephant detente: All four pachyderms are Africans, distinguished from Asian elephants by, among other things, their larger ears. All are cows.

"Most zoos don't keep bull elephants," Reid said. "You can't afford the damage." (3 of 3)

Compared to tuskers, cows are more compact and cooperative. That's not to say they don't have their quirks.

"Rosie is kind of grope-y," Reid said. "Sometimes you have to be careful." As Reid and Brewer tossed chunks of carrots into the corral one morning, Juno and Rosie tried to push each other aside with their huge heads.

"They treat each other the way I would my sister around food," Brewer said.

Videotape shot by a surveillance camera inside their barn one night proved that Juno sleeps standing up, while restless Rosie will stand up or lie down.

"Every animal out here has its own personality," Wetzel said, "whether it's an elephant or a tarantula."

Giant spiders, however, do not normally fling rocks over people's heads, as Juno did to a visitor during feeding time.

"If she wanted to hit you, she would," Wetzel said to the man whose skull was spared. "If you could train them to play baseball, they'd be world-class pitchers."

He then pointed to an enormous tire chained to the pole of the corral's towering shade structure.

"They used to do the same thing with that. That's why it's chained. You can't have people getting hit with a tire."

It's also safe to say that elephants are smarter than even the Einstein of spiders.

"Elephants are very intelligent, very creative," Wetzel said.

"They do remember people. They don't forget." They remember trainers by their scents - as recognizable as peanut butter or popsicles, some of their favorite treats.

But elephants, not even the laid-back Rosie, will do much of anything they don't want to do, Wetzel said.

"If they don't trust you, they won't work with you." That trust allows the trainers to check the animals' feet for cracks, flush out their trunks to test for disease and draw blood to make sure the girls are not with calf.

Rosie and Juno respond to standardized commands to lift a leg or assume other helpful positions from creatures they could head-stomp to death in seconds.

So the trainers must also trust their own courage. "Juno ran at me once," Reid said. "I stood my ground and yelled; she backed off."

Reid and Brewer do tend to animals other than elephants, so the move to Nashville may help them, in a way.

"Once Rosie and Juno go," Reid said, "that will give us more time in the area. "But I'd rather have the elephants." One day, the zoo could be a home for elephants again, Wetzel said.

Meanwhile, Reid and Brewer plan to see Nashville more often.

Information from: The Clarion-Ledger,

 (Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.) AP-NY-10-17-10 0004EDT

 http://www.clarionledger.com

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