Party for a Pachyderm: Male Asian Elephant’s 50th Birthday Celebrated at San Diego Zoo

Ranchipur, a male Asian elephant at the San Diego Zoo, was feted with a birthday party earlier today, in celebration of the beloved pachyderm’s 50th birthday. Keepers decorated the very big birthday boy’s habitat with special enrichment items before letting him into the area to enjoy his birthday “presents.” Party-goers included his keepers, Zoo volunteers and Zoo guests.

“Ranchipur is a special elephant and turning 50 years of age is a big deal”, stated Robbie Clark, lead keeper, San Diego Zoo. “Ranchipur is the fourth oldest male elephant in the western hemisphere. He has a very gentle demeanor for a bull elephant and he’s not only a favorite of keepers, but of many Zoo members and guests, so we wanted to provide him with special treats and activities to celebrate his milestone birthday.”

The almost 11-foot-tall, 11,600-pound elephant walked into his yard and immediately went to a 15-foot-tall number 50 made out of tree branches, covered in ficus leaves, and garnished with hibiscus and pieces of banana. The two-piece structure was built by a team of 10 keepers and took six hours to build. Each piece weighed approximately 300 pounds. It took Ranchipur less than six minutes to bring the structure down with his powerful trunk, but not before he carefully picked out all the treats and then went in search of other surprises.

To provide additional enrichment for Ranchipur, whose daily diet consists of approximately 150 pounds of hay, vegetable pellets and ficus leaves, keepers also had placed other treats in his habitat including pieces of papaya, grapes, watermelon, strawberries and orange slices dangling from tree branches, with a sprinkling of popcorn. There were play items including large plastic boxes and containers with fruit inside, and a whole watermelon, one of his favorite treats. Enrichment is important for elephants, as it keeps the animals stimulated and active, allowing them to show their natural behaviors.

Ranchipur lived at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park from 1981 to 2009, and moved to the San Diego Zoo in April 2009 when the 7.5-acre multi-species Harry and Grace Steele Elephant Odyssey was built. Ranchipur is the lone male in the Zoo’s elephant herd, made up of older, non-breeding elephants including three Asian elephant females and three African elephant females. He is easy to spot, touting huge tusks approximately 6 to 6-1/2 feet long and weighing an estimated 100 pounds each.

Bringing species back from the brink of extinction is the goal of San Diego Zoo Global. As a leader in conservation, the work of San Diego Zoo Global includes on-site wildlife conservation efforts (representing both plants and animals) at the San Diego Zoo, San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, as well as international field programs on six continents. The work of these entities is inspiring children through the San Diego Zoo Kids network, reaching out through the Internet and in children’s hospitals nationwide. The work of San Diego Zoo Global is made possible by the San Diego Zoo Global Wildlife Conservancy and is supported in part by the Foundation of San Diego Zoo Global.