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Brookfield Zoo gets new elephant
Current elephant and Joyce, from California, will slowly be acquainted before living together

Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Chicago Tribune
by Lauren R. Harrison

When Christy's companion of 25 years died three months ago, the elephant's keepers at Brookfield Zoo urgently tried to find a new friend so she wouldn't be alone.

That new friend showed up Monday when the zoo announced the arrival of Joyce, a 26-year-old female African elephant whom keepers plan to introduce slowly to Christy although they say the two are "very well matched" in age, personality and a mutual love of melons and mud.

At nearly 8 feet tall and 6,800 pounds, Joyce is more of a contemporary of Christy's than Affie, the 39-year-old elephant who had become a mother figure to Christy, 28, before dying in May. Joyce is slightly taller than Christy, but about 200 pounds lighter.

Kim Smith, the zoo's vice president of animal care, said Christy and Joyce have had "a little bit of contact, not much," since Joyce's arrival Sunday night after a three-day journey from Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo, Calif. Though Smith said Christy is no longer grieving over Affie, the zoo is being cautious about introductions to allow her and Joyce to become acquainted slowly.

"Elephants are able to communicate at levels that we cannot hear, so I'm sure there's been some levels of 'There's a new elephant in the house' kind of communication," Smith said. "We want to make sure this all goes well."

Based on each elephant's behavior and how Joyce is adjusting to her new environment, staff will introduce them in short supervised visits over a period of weeks and progressively increase the length of time of each visit.

Experts also will be on hand to watch the elephants' participation levels in training routines, interaction as they cross paths and whether they eye each other during feedings.

The visits will occur in the outdoor yard and indoor area, but not while they're eating "because you don't want added things that they will control or argue over," Smith said, adding that the two elephants will not immediately be displayed together.

The meetings allow them to "work out small differences that they may have," if any, she said, including "I'm bigger than you" or "This is my spot."On Monday, Smith said Joyce was "very calm and very comfortable."

Visitors, however, described Joyce as "shy" or said that she was "hiding" when she stood behind stacked rocks in a corner near trainers.

"She's kind of shy because she doesn't want to come out and visit with us," said Debra Kent, 51, of Chicago.

Kelly Kroll, 20 a baby-sitter from Elmhurst, said the 3-year-old and 4-year-old girls with her were happy that Christy gained a new friend. "I think it's great because they said that Christy was sad because Affie had died," she said.

Joyce was recommended by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and arrived as part of a "cooperative loan." Christy was the No. 1 pick of three possible elephants, Smith said.

"They're both very playful. They both enjoy mud and the sand and the water a lot. They're very investigative," Smith said, adding that Joyce wallowed in the mud within the first hour that she was in the outdoor yard and that Christy uses her trunk to put about a foot of mud on her back every day.

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