Augsburg (dpa) – With her ears the wind blows, wagging its tail and repelling flies. She slowly crushes one banana after another. The Targa elephant cow eats about 50 of them every day at the Augsburg Zoo. You also get 40 kilograms of vegetables, but they need to be steamed.
Targa, 67, is Germany’s oldest elephant, according to the zoo. The animal is also considered to be one of the oldest human-friendly elephants around the world. After being converted to human life, Targa will be around 100.
Eating is no longer so easy. “Elephants get new teeth six times in their lives. Targa has had teeth for more than 20 years,” says Marcus Linder, a zoo keeper. Except for him and his co-workers, no one is in the can. Targa alone. Because a year ago, on June 16, 2021, her comrade Burma passed away at the age of 53.
34 years we spent together
After the two elephants spent 34 years together, the female elephant had to be taken down. Targa was badly injured. Weeks later, Linder says, she was still looking for Burma. She’s very introspective and doesn’t make much noise anymore.
She doesn’t want to do much with her neighbors Louise and Frosga. Elephant cows have their own area in the barn. In fact, the three must live together after Burma’s death. But elephants have a hierarchy and Louise doesn’t want to be dependent. “The risk is too great that the other two would attack Targa and hit her hard,” Linder says.
Elephant researcher Angela Stoger-Horoth of the University of Vienna explains Background: “Elephants live in family groups led by the mother cow. The more experienced cow leads the herd.” Subsequently, the daughter often followed in her footsteps.
Targa alone now, next to other elephants
In the wild, the hierarchy is clear. However, if different elephants are placed together in the zoo, the leader must first assert himself. Targa now lives alongside the other two elephants, and not with them.
As she walked past Louise, she stuck her torso through the fence. She looks loving as she touches her stumps. But that’s disingenuous, says Linder: “If Targa had come close, Louise would have punched her.”
Louise and Frosja are kept in what is called a protected connection. There is always a fence between humans and animals. Targa is used for other things, it even allows you to pet it. However, this has a brutal background. Targa was still an “old school” tame. The guard acts like the head of the herd and, if in doubt, uses force to assert himself.
Born in India in 1955
In addition, animals are temporarily restrained. When the Targa was born in India in 1955, it was still common to separate baby elephants from their families in the wild for the sake of zoos. It is unclear how exactly it got into human hands. At the age of six, Targa landed in Germany – first in Hamburg, then in Osnabrück.
She has been in Augsburg since 1987. The bad treatment is now history for Targa. Elephants have not been leashed in Augsburg since 2004. Nurse Markus Linder doesn’t think her past is still on her mind: “An elephant doesn’t have an active memory like humans. Targa only remembers the past when it encounters something or noise from that time.” However, Stöger-Horwath considers this representation to be speculative. The scientist asserts that we do not know exactly how the elephant brain works.
Keeping animals in zoos has always been a controversial issue
Regardless, it has always been a matter of debate about whether elephants even belong in zoos. The German Animal Welfare Association sees this as “critical” and doubts that the giant mammals can be kept in a species-appropriate way. PETA generally rejects keeping wild animals in zoos and speaks of “animal prisons”.
Opponents of zoo conservation point to a life expectancy. According to an older study, this applies to elephants in zoos who are under 20 years old. On the other hand, critics of this study note that the researchers ignored the improvement in housing conditions. Exactly where life expectancy will ultimately be is a matter of debate.
But one thing is clear: at the age of fifty, the elephant is very old. According to Linder, the fact that the Targa was able to age is due to her genes, mental health, and meticulous maintenance. But now the old lady suffers from osteoporosis and has abscesses in her legs. “If Targa can no longer walk because of the pain, we should put her to sleep,” says her guard. But it is difficult to say if and when that will happen.
© dpa-infocom, dpa: 220615-99-670340 / 2