It was a double birthday celebration earlier today (Sept. 26, 2019) at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, as animal care staff and volunteers celebrated the first birthday of elephant calf Mkhaya, nicknamed “Kaia,” while her older brother Inhlonipho, or “Neepo,” turned 8. Safari Park keepers decorated the elephants’ habitat with special enrichment items, including birthday cakes made of ice and fruit by the Safari Park’s nutrition team, paper streamers and decorated boxes made by the Safari Park’s volunteers and filled with hay and produce by keepers, and fresh-cut tree limbs (browse) provided by the Safari Park’s horticulture team.
“We are excited to celebrate Kaia’s first birthday and her brother Neepo’s eighth birthday today,” said Mindy Albright, lead elephant keeper, San Diego Zoo Safari Park. “The keeper team, our nutrition team, horticulture team and the Safari Park volunteers have provided some fun enrichment for Kaia and Neepo, and the entire herd gets to enjoy the party.”
Safari Park guests watched as the birthday girl, her brother and other members of their herd—including another 1-year-old elephant calf, Umzuli-zuli or “Zuli”, who turned 1 on Aug. 12—ran into the habitat and immediately started foraging for the special treats. The elephants opened boxes with their trunks or smashed with them with their feet, eating the alfalfa and treats such as cut-up watermelon, cucumber, yams, carrots and celery. Kaia seemed to enjoy using her trunk to find pieces of yams and carrots hidden in alfalfa, while Neepo used his foot to smash Kaia’s birthday cake and enjoyed pieces of the icy treat before moving to his own cake—and eating it, too. Enriching experiences like these are important for elephants, as they keep the animals stimulated and active, allowing them to use their natural behaviors.
The Safari Park is home to nine elephants—three adult females, and six calves and sub-adults ranging from 1 to 13 years old. African elephants are currently listed as Vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species and face many threats in their native habitats, including habitat loss and fragmentation, conflicts between humans and elephants, and poaching for their tusks, hide and bushmeat.
Guests can visit Kaia, Neepo and the rest of their herd at their home in Elephant Valley at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, or watch them on Elephant Cam. October is Kids Free month presented by Mission Fed. During the entire month of October, kids 11 years of age and younger receive free admission at both the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park, with special activities scheduled every weekend. For more information, visit zoo.sandiegozoo.org/kidsfree.
At the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, more than 1 million guests each year see animals in herds of mixed species, in expansive habitats. Safari tours offer savanna views of African and Asian animals, trails take visitors on treks to experience Australian and North American habitats—plus, there are opportunities for up-close encounters and unique behind-the-scenes perspectives. Known for its leadership in rhino conservation, the Safari Park is home to the Nikita Kahn Rhino Rescue Center, which is devoted to groundbreaking work to bring back the northern white rhino. As visitors discover the rare and endangered species at the Safari Park, they are directly contributing, through admission and on-grounds sales, to the efforts of San Diego Zoo Global, an international nonprofit conservation organization that works to fight extinction through recovery efforts for plants and animals worldwide. To learn more, visit sdzsafaripark.org, or connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram orYouTube.