Fresno's Chaffee Zoo elephants have fitness fever

FRESNO, California

Bath time is perfect for Kara and Shaunzi to get a cool drink. But the Chaffee Zoo elephants have been spending more time in the water exercising and eating. They polish off a bale of oat hay a day in addition to their favorite produce.

Lead elephant keeper Amber Talley explained, "Peppers float nicely, apples, oranges. We'll toss those in the pool so they'll have to go in after them. Usually for burying items. Mangoes bury nicely, pears..."

Talley said food placement is the key to getting the elephants to improve their fitness by working for their food. "By hanging things above their head. We actually have an underground feeder that goes down seven feet so they have to reach and stretch. You have to really think elephant pilates. How many different ways can we get them to move their big bodies in order to burn the extra calories?"

Two years ago when the zoo got a new scale keepers learned the girls had a little too much junk in the trunk. 40-year old Shaunzi weighed in at 10,245 pounds while 35-year old Kara weighed 9,800 pounds.

Talley said, "You don't big round elephants. Everybody thinks elephants should be big and round, they really shouldn't."

Elephants should be big, sturdy and agile. In two years Kara's lost a ton of weight - 2,000 pounds. Shaunzi's lost over 1900 pounds.

Interestingly, both cut down on carbs. "Instead of giving them their favorite treat which is stale bagels and stale french bread, way too high in the carbs and some things we just had to cut out."

Just like people, Talley added the girls dropped weight by reducing their sugar intake. "By switching them out of apples for training to carrots and celery for training we really dropped down on the carbs and sugar. Some things like avocado are high in fat so we actually cut avocado out of their diet completely."

Kara and Shaunzi also must walk around to pick up tasty little grain pellets and sometimes their snacks are dressed up to look like an ice cream sundae.

Kara and Shaunzi have met their weight goals so they don't need to shed any more pounds. Talley says older elephants which are agile stay healthy for a longer period of time.

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