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Daily Yoga is Good for You, And for Elephants

Elephant yoga? Really? Yes!

Tess working with Elephant Supervisor Kristin.

Our comprehensive elephant well-being program at Houston Zoo includes daily exercises for our entire herd. This program is a part of both mental and physical care for our 12 pachyderms and stimulates their brains and bodies through a series of static and dynamic stretches—much like yoga! Our elephant care team compares it to yoga and the cute explanation of a serious subject is making headlines around the world.

Nelson participating in a training session with Elephant Supervisor Kristin.

Several times a day our care team asks the elephants to participate in the sessions which can last between 30 seconds to five minutes depending on the age of the elephant and the goal of the session. Methai, our 54-year-old matriarch moves a bit more slowly in her advanced age and gets some assistance with her stretches. And Tess, our nearly 40-year-old mother of four and grandmother of one, keeps limber with the most number of moves. She can even stand on her head! This is a behavior she’s known for decades and takes a lot of muscle control to achieve. If you’ve ever done a handstand, you know how flexible and strong you must be to get in (and out!) of that position. Go Tess!

During their “yoga,” the keepers are able to get a full look at their entire bodies, from trunk to tail, as well as check on their range of motion. If anything seems off, they’ll call over one of our five staff veterinarians for a check-up. To help keep them motivated to move, the elephants are rewarded with special treats like whole wheat bread and bananas. The herd always has access to their full diet of hay—the training session treats are a fun bonus!

“Cultivating strong, positive relationships with our elephants is critical to providing them with the best healthcare to ensure their well-being is put first,” said Kristin Windle, Houston Zoo elephant supervisor. “The elephant yoga stretching sessions allows us to build that relationship using positive reinforcement to increase their range of motion and get eyes on their skin, feet and inside their mouths. We can learn a lot about our elephants in these important sessions.”

Stop by to see our Asian elephants at Houston Zoo and maybe you’ll get to see the yogis in action.