Elephants at the Zoo Are Probably Getting Pedicures More Frequently Than You Are

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As part of her tasks at work, Ann Dahl Alfama has to give foot soaks, pedicures and warm baths

Her “clientele” isn’t ladies who lunch stopping by for their weekly appointment—they’re more of the four-legged, eight-feet-tall, few-thousand-pounds variety.

Alfama is the animal care supervisor at the San Diego Zoo, a 100-acre space that counts 3,500 rare and endangered animals as its residents. It’s also home to five female elephants, each of which spend 30–60 minutes of their day in the husbandry stalls—aka the zoo’s “spa.”

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As Alfama explains, the elephants receive different “treatments” daily, depending on what they need. “The basics include a visual full body check by the keepers and then all four feet are scrubbed with conditioning animal shampoo that has been diluted in warm water. If it is not too cold, they get a warm water bath and are also offered as much warm water to drink as they like. For the bath, they are all trained to turn in a circle and present all body parts so we can thoroughly hose them off. They have drinkers and pools in their habitats, but they love warm water from the hose in the morning.”

One thing they all get on the regular: pedicures. “They usually have their nails filed if they are too long, and any pad cracks on the bottom of their feet trimmed open to keep them clean every two weeks,” Alfama says. “They are all trained to put each foot through an opening in a mesh wall and rest it there while the scrubbing or footwork is done. They receive food treats as reinforcement for voluntarily participating in their own care.”

Some elephants may also need foot soaks; again, they are trained to step into a tub, which may contain dilute Epsom salt or some type of disinfectant. “This may be done if they have a defect in a nail.”

The final step: “We will moisturize dry cuticles if they need it, and treat any skin issues as well.”

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