Trunkloads of fun
The San Antonio Zoo’s elephants are getting their trunks on some cool new tools, thanks to some innovative UTSA students. Out of more than a dozen enrichment devices proposed by freshmen in the Honors College’s 2017 product launch course, zoo officials selected three designs to be developed. Students then researched how elephants behave, interact, learn, and stay active.
“Elephants are extremely intelligent,” says Goldie Hood, the mechanical engineering professor who taught the product launch course, “so we had to design hidden compartments and secret buttons to aid in the enrichment process.”
These three projects, designed by Honors College students, were installed in the spring.
Babe: A concrete “tree” that is designed to shower the elephants as they hit the device with their trunks. Students designed the tree, which will also spray zoo visitors with water, to look similar to those found in an African elephant’s natural habitat.
Pachyderm Playtime UTSA students and construction workers install the Foobil device at the San Antonio Zoo.
Tire Tower: Elephants will use their trunks to pull tires up and down. Designed like the classic children’s ring tower, it will allow the elephants to access food hidden inside the tires.
Foobil: A spinning mobile with modules that the elephants can hit to access hidden food.
Katherine Wofford, one of the students in the course, says, “It feels great to be able to design something that hopefully helps these animals learn and live great lives. I’m very excited to see how the elephants interact with the enrichment devices we created.”
The devices were installed in the zoo’s elephant habitat in the spring, and students will now be able to study their impact and how the elephants interact with them. Students will also collect data to measure how effective the exhibit additions are and how zoo visitors respond.
Honors College Dean Sean Kelly says the undergraduates who participated in the project enjoyed seeing their blueprints come to life and helping with the construction and installation of the three enrichment devices. “We want to provide as many ‘classroom to career’ learning opportunities as possible for our students, like this collaborative project with the San Antonio Zoo,” he says, “so that they learn the importance of showcasing their talents and to solve challenges in our community.”