Juvenile African elephants adapting well to life at Beijing Wildlife Park

BEIJING (Xinhua) – In a wildlife park on the southern outskirts of Beijing, 12 juvenile African elephants, aged five to seven years, have spent the past year getting used to life in China.

They are among a herd of 35 African elephants shipped from Zimbabwe to China at the end of 2016.

“The elephants have adapted to life in Beijing. They are in good health and have adapted to life here,” said Wu Zhaozheng, General Manager of Beijing Wildlife Park.

With the herd, the park now has the largest African elephant population of any zoo in northern China.

“We hope to better protect and breed elephants, strengthen exchanges and cooperation between domestic and foreign zoos, and contribute to the China-Africa friendship tie and animal protection,” Wu said.

The park is the size of more than 330 standard soccer fields. The African Elephant House covers more than 1,500 square metres, with thousands of square meters of outdoor activity areas surrounded by areas of large trees.

The morning starts with outdoor activities for the five male and seven female African elephants.

While they are playing, the park staff clean their enclosure.

Bi Zhenchao, 35, head elephant keeper at the park, leads the cleaning with his coworkers checking the elephant’s droppings and urine. The daily defecation of each elephant can be up to 100 pounds.

Bi used to work at a well-known computer company in Zhongguancun, Beijing’s tech and innovation hub. He quit the job in 2013 to follow his passion for animals. He is now in charge of the juvenile elephants.

After the elephants return to their enclosure in late afternoon, Bi begins to conduct behavioural training, which includes how to open their mouths, lift their legs or lie down on the ground at his command.

He also checks their feet. The elephants know the command for their “foot massage”. They lift their feet and place them on the edge of the cage.

Bi first carefully cleans the soil from their feet with a brush and then trims their nails.