OKLAHOMA CITY -- If you've ever seen a one year old tip over the toy box then you would recognize the behavior of Malee the elephant who, at the time of our private visit, was just a few days short of her first birthday. "We want to let her have fun," says handler Nick Newby.
Newby and fellow handler Toni Rife let her loose to play every morning with real elephant toys made of thick plastic. Nick says, "We order special toys made just for elephants online. They're really strong."
Mom Asha watches playtime on one side of the enclosure. Aunt Chandra watches from the other and plays a little too. So what do you expect an elephant to do at one? Experts tell us she should know some commands. "She is well ahead of the game," says Newby, who taught her from the beginning. "Knowing 20 commands is,by far, a good thing. "So her vocabulary is good?" asks a reporter. "Yeah," laughs Newby.
After playtime the schedule calls for a hot shower. Malee already tips the scale at more than 1,100 pounds. Those commands she's learning will help her handlers determine her overall physical condition. Everything checks out so far. But Nick points out, "Every elephant is different. Every handler is different. Every Mom is different."
She started out on solid food at 4 months. She still nurses when Mom comes out of her own shower, but the baby is already eating at least 15 pounds of food a day as well.
Personality traits so far; smart and very playful. She's proudly ahead of schedule so far and passing more milestones every day. "Her first year has been a blessing," says Newby. "We consider it a great success."