Category Archives: Nature

How An Eagle Flies

After my recent reposts of two pieces I wrote back in 2006, I went looking for a video showing exactly how an eagle flies, hoping it would demonstrate some of the principles I mentioned, thinking maybe I’d find something about the shape of the wing, the aerodynamics of the body, etc.  Well, I didn’t find that, exactly, but I did find this cool, two-minute video,  done in a wind tunnel, so you can really see, close up the astonishing way the eagle, when faced with a wind, automatically gets in the position to soar.  In fact, the wind itself  seems to push him into the horizontal position and opens his wings with no effort on the eagle’s part at all — no striving, no worrying about the right moment, it just happens.

And once his wings are extended, as the presenter says, “he’s using no force, no effort at all. He hasn’t even once had to flap his wings to keep in this position” and even becomes “totally weightless,” just by the pressure of the wind and the way that God has designed him. Very cool. Enjoy!


Sundowner with Nandi

Recently I attended another Nandi function at the Reid Park Zoo called “An African Sundowner with Nandi.”  A “Sundowner” in Africa is the custom of enjoying cocktails at the end of the day outside beneath a gorgeous sunset. The zoo provided cocktails — and hors d’oeuvres — while God delivered on the gorgeous sunset.

After the cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, we got to see close-up demonstrations of how the keepers work with the elephants using Mabu, their 12,000 pound bull elephant (and Nandi’s daddy) for one half of us and “Auntie” Lugile for the other half.

I made a beeline for the Mabu demo as soon as the announcement was made. We stood around one half of a little wood-railed enclosure in which the trainer stood, the other half of the enclosure behind her being the protective barrier the trainers use at Reid Park. Mabu waited on the other side of the barrier. (At most he was ten feet away from me, maybe less. I was in awe.)

The barrier itself is a good fifteen to twenty feet tall and made of heavy, rectangular metal bars that form open-air “windows” in a sort of grid pattern, except the rectangles differ in size. Many of them are actually little doors that can be opened so the trainer can do whatever needs done.

It’s treat based training, so our demonstrator had a big bucket of pellets that she used for the treats. She opened a lower window, held out her hand toward Mabu, he extended his trunk through the opening and, widening the open end of it, met her palm, kind of like an elephant’s version of a high-five. The opening of the end of his trunk, however, was bigger than her hand. I think that was  a “get ready” signal and response for she used it between each new task she asked him to do.

After the  introductory exchange, she gave  him some pellets, then another hand signal and he turned and placed his right front foot on the lower edge of the window, bent so that the heavy bottom pad faced her (and us) so she could brush it off and inspect it. When she signaled that she was done, he took his foot out of the window and turned back to collect some more treats. He did this with all four feet. (Feet and tusks, said the keepers, are the areas they have the most trouble with in keeping elephants in captivity. They check the feet every day)

Another signal prompted him to face her, lift his trunk high and in so doing, open his mouth so she could see into it  and make sure all was well. We got to see in it as well. 🙂

He is SO big, so awesome! I wish I had words for the experience of watching him, the impact of his size, the sense of keen intelligence there and of being observed by him in a way that’s different from other animals, and even from the elephants most of the time. You could also sense that he was having fun, and maybe even that he enjoyed being the center of attention.

After that we went to the main yard where the keepers brought out decorated cardboard boxes with “Happy Six Month Birthday, Nandi!” on them. There was also a birthday “cake”: two large flat, rounds of frozen fruit pieces and juice joined by three slender tree branches with bark on them (bark is a tasty treat for elephants). Once all was in place the keepers left the paddock and let the elephants in — or at least Mom, Nandi and her two brothers.

They literally ran in, all excited. Mom made short work of the cake, using her feet to hold down the bottom while pulling at the top with her trunk.  When that didn’t work, she just stepped on the bottom round and crushed it. Meanwhile the others were tearing the boxes apart and eating the hay inside. Well, except for Nandi. She tore her box open, ignored the hay, and continued to dismantle the box piece by piece, accompanied by all sorts of other gyrations that were just fun to watch.

I didn’t bring my camera because it was going to be low light, so I don’t have photos, but I do have this video that was made around Christmas. By then she had progressed quite a bit over the last video I posted where all she did was climb over the log and stand there. In this one she’s playing with the ball, dancing about, and doing funny things with her trunk. In short, it’s just too cute to pass up. (Also, at the very beginning of this, where Semba and Nandi are walking along with the trainer who’s outside the pen with a bucket of pellets, if you watch closely you can see the trainer give Semba a command to lift her trunk and she does so)

Catching up on Nandi

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With the holiday season I haven’t had as much time as much time as I’d like to visit Nandi the baby elephant at Tucson’s Reid Park Zoo.

My last trip was in December on a  Thursday morning before grocery shopping. Got there just as the gates were opened. She was jumping and hopping, taunting her brother Sundzu frequently, doing all kinds of crazy things with her trunk:  flinging it about, putting hay in her mouth, only to spit is out, mimicking the adults as they flung dust or mud on their sides (though she doesn’t fling anything — I don’t think she has a clue what they’re doing…) It’s all fascinating and as always I loved it all.

This 30 second video was made back in October 2014. Nandi was just starting her thing for climbing over the logs in her enclosure. (Oh, and at the end, where she and another elephant are sharing caresses with their trunks — that’s Mabu, her dad, with her. I didn’t realize it the first few times I watched it. Until I noticed his tusk.)

Never Say “Last”: Nandi Loves Her Keepers


Yes, I know I said there would be no more Nandi videos. I was wrong. I was delusional. I have no idea how many more Nandi videos there will be. She’s too cute. She does too many adorable and fascinating things. So as long as the Reid Park Zookeepers keep on putting them out, and I keep on finding them, I suppose I will keep on  posting them.

They make me smile. And when they come to my own inbox I always have to watch them repeatedly.

So… I give you yet another video of Nandi. Every morning when her keepers arrive for work, she gets “super-excited” and RUNS full bore for the barn, spinning and sometimes literally bouncing off the walls. Here’s a sample of what her Keepers see every day:



Aunties to the Rescue

Yes, it’s yet another baby elephant video, but this one is not of our Nandi at the Reid Park Zoo. Instead, it is of  an Indian elephant baby at the Zurich zoo, who falls on his back trying to climb onto a ledge. The adults immediately rush to his aid.  I was blown away by their speed and the way they worked together…. And the more I’ve watched this the more I think neither of the two was even the baby’s mom, but rather the “aunties.” Mom seems to come up afterward and is the one he ends up standing under when it’s all over.

I love God’s infinitely fascinating and even mind-blowing creation:


Breakfast with the Baby Elephant

Baby Elephant RPZoo

Last week, the Reid Park Zoo held a fundraiser for the elephants, by inviting 100 members of the Zoological society to sign up for an early morning breakfast with our new baby elephant, at long last christened “Nandi” (nahn’-dee). As soon as the email appeared in my inbox, I clicked on the link to sign up — and a good thing. One of the other attendees told me the event was sold out in two hours.

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We arrived at 7:15 in the morning, well before the zoo opened, and after checking in at the gate were directed to the back of the property where the elephant habitat “Expedition Tanzania” was situated. There in the extensive educational area, they had our breakfast waiting for us: fresh fruit salad, orange juice and coffee, French toast with pieces of apple, scrambled eggs with cheese, hash brown potatoes with sweet potatoes, onions and bell peppers (I think) and ham and bacon. The serving dishes were black iron skillets set atop towers of bricks in the midst of which were the warming elements. It was all very nice and very tasty.

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As we finished up eating, the keepers came out to tell us about the elephant project. Our zoo is one of only five in the nation to support a breeding herd of African elephants, making the arrival of a new baby a rare event. They also shared stories of little Nandi — of her birth and how easy it all was, how quickly she was on her feet — within fifteen minutes, I believe they said.  How in the days after her birth they struggled just to get her out of the barn…

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Baby elephants don’t see well and tend to follow the biggest thing around them. So Nandi would start out following her mama in the barn, Semba would walk through the doorway… and Nandi would end up in the corner. They’d walk Semba back through the doorway into the barn area, and try again. With the same results. Semba would walk through the doorway and Nandi would end up in the corner. This went on for 45 minutes before the little one finally made it out through the door!

Thankfully she’s not having that problem any longer…

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Another funny story involved one of Nandi’s brothers, the former baby, Sundzu, now three years old.  Semba has three offspring, all by the same father: Punga, a seven-year-old male, Sundzu, and little Nandi, at the time only a few weeks old. There is also another adult female in the herd named Lugile. She has been fascinated with Nandi from the start and is very motherly toward her, so the keepers have taken to calling her “Auntie Lugile.”


Sundzu, Mom, Nandi (click to enlarge)

So they’d already introduced Sundzu and Nandi some days before this incident, and he’d been very nice, very gentle, and the keepers were feeling good about it all. But on this particular day, Sundzu was standing beside Nandi in the yard, Mom and Auntie nearby, but not paying attention to the kids. The keeper said Sundzu very clearly looked to the right where mom was busy stripping leaves from a stick, her back to the little ones. Then he very clearly looked to the left over at Auntie Lugile, who  was also occupied with her own pursuits, and seeing he was in the clear,  just like the three-year-old brother that he was, he smacked Nandi with his trunk and knocked her clean over!

Neither of the adults noticed him that time, though of course they came to see why Nandi was on the ground crying. Sundzu, of course, had no idea.   He got away with it so well, he naturally, tried it  again on another day… only that time he was caught and Mom chased him around the yard in discipline for some time!

Another cool thing we got to see is a daily ritual that occurs with all the elephants when the big bull elephant Mabu, (he weighs 12,000 lbs) joins the rest of the herd in the yard. All of them line up and walk over to greet him as he enters:

Punga, Sundzu, Nandi and Mom, Semba

Punga, Sundzu, Nandi & Mom en route to greet Mabu (click to enlarge)

As they all come together, they pass by him in a line and touch him with their trunks, as he in turn runs his trunk over each of them.

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Mabu greeting Semba and Nandi (click to enlarge)

I think Mabu is just awesome. He is so big! What amazes me is how gentle they can be with the baby and how aware of her they are, despite their rather shocking size differential.

Anyway, it was a wonderful morning. I stayed well after most of the other people left, and took something like 287 pictures!


First Mud Wallow

Our little girl is only five days old here. This video was especially interesting to me for two reasons in addition to my fascination with this tiny elephant (the size difference between her and her parents blows me away). One is that at first the keepers were concerned about how the father, Mabu, would treat his new baby, and there was talk of keeping him away from her for awhile. (He’s got the bigger tusks and one of them has a silver cap on the end.)

But then shortly after her birth they decided the time was right to introduce her to the rest of the herd under a controlled situation, and they were amazed at how gentle they all were with her, including the father. You can kind of see that here, as he takes care not to stomp on her.

The other reason it’s interesting is because one of the dangers in letting her out into the regular elephant yard was that she might wade too deeply into the muddy areas and get stuck in them, or maybe even swallowed up. I love how Mom helps her out at the end of this video.

One of the reasons they like the mud so much is because when they wallow in it or spray it on themselves it forms a hard coating on their skin that prevents the insects from biting them…

Okay, on to the video: