Support for "Can" - the elephant at Abidjan zoo

The Zoo in Abidjan / Ivory Coast, is globally the first and only zoo to have kept a breeding group of Forest Elephants (Loxodonta cyclotis). In 1988 the first ever birth in captivity occurred with the female “Kony”.

Economic crises and political instability in Ivory Coast since the 1990ies also had devastating effects on the once renowned zoo. In 2008 Julia Riedel first drew our attention to the sad situation at the zoo and particularly of “Can”. (See our article in the Elefant Journal No13: Zoo Abidjan, Elefenbeinküste – gibt es noch eine Zukunft für die überlebenden Tiere?).

The female forest elephant (at first wrongly listed as a bull), born in 1992, is one of the very few of her species bred in captivity. Like all the zoo inmates she suffered under the terrible decline and since 2007, when her last co-species died, she has lived in isolation. Not even regular fodder was secured. Following the desperate call by Julia Riedel in the Elephant Journal, our organisation received a total donation of EURO 411. Julia Riedel gave the entire donation to two Ivory Coast students. Through them and the mediation of the Wild Chimpanzee Foundation of the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, our financial assistance could directly be used to help “Can”. This help contributed to carrying her over the worst period and prevented her from starving. In No 16 of the Elephant Journal Julia Riedel reports on the situation at the time.

The end of the civil war brought about radical political changes to the country and the circumstances for the zoo improved. The zoo received a dedicated new Director, Mme Blandine Sey, who is supported by Ivory Coast students and post graduates. Especially the primatologist Simone Ban Dagui kept us informed with news on the local developments. We heard that the elephant does not live in the enclosure any more where, at the time, the notable breeding group of forest elephants was kept: a high density of poisonous snakes cost the life of some of the elephants and led to the remaining elephants being moved to an unstructured, smaller enclosure where "Can" lives today. Since 2011 the British zoologist Richard Champion, is in close contact with the Zoo Abidjan and has done an extensive survey of the species at the zoo as well as provided input for improvements.

As Simone Ban Dagui was finalising her Dissertation in 2012 in Leipzig, the opportunity arose for some of the members of our organisation to meet with her personally and to receive first-hand information about "Can". Apart from Simone Ban Dagui and Julia Riedel, Olaf Töffels, Jürgen Schilfarth of the EEG and the experienced elephant keeper Ingo Schmidinger took part at the meeting. Quintessence of the exchange of views with much background information was, that the situation of the elephant facility should be directly assessed at the zoo itself. Following this one could then develop suggestions for the care and management of "Can". A visit to Abidjan would further provide the opportunity to meet with the responsible people (keepers, Director, the zoologist Richard Champion; any possible political decision makers) and to convince them of our plans, as one thing is very clear: The future of the forest elephant female in the Abidjan Zoo depends on how convinced the people that carry the responsibility for "Can" are about such new ideas, i.e. how far they can be motivated to change the status quo after years of decline.

Following intensive preparations, Ingo Schmidinger flew on 17th Nov 2012 for 2 weeks to Abidjan. In his luggage he carried sponsored equipment, which had been discussed with the people knowledgeable of the local conditions. A set to catch snakes, a fist aid box as well as educational material for "Can’s" keepers. This consists of material compiled by Ingo Schmidinger on anatomy and biology of the elephant, and general basic information on animal husbandry (keeping systems, foot- and body care, etc.), as well as a document on behavioural enrichment for elephants. Ingo further compiled an initial project plan with possible short- medium- and long term goals, in collaboration with all involved, which will be adapted to the knowledge acquired at the Zoo.

Essentials of Ingo Schmidinger's first visit in Abidjan zoo:

  • Acquaintance of the involved persons
  • Workshops for keepers (animal husbandry in general, and elephant-specific)
  • Behavioral enrichment for "Can"
  • Initial lessons in target training for both, elephant and keepers

    The start of "Can´s" training lessons is to be seen below:

    The work of our “Alliance for Abidjan” is still in the initial phase. We will hopefully be able to inform on further developments in due time. The European Elephant Group would like to thank all participants for their commitment to this matter and the excellent interdisciplinary and international cooperation. We wish the Zoo Abidjan all the best for its further developments.

    A detailed article on our collaboration with Abidjan is planned for the next Elephant Journal no 23.


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