National Geographic : 2012 Oct
NEXT Elephant Toys Known affectionately as "the girls," Ruth and Emily have a lot of fun for two Asian elephants. Ages 54 and 48, they spend their days tinkering with an array of special toys at the Buttonwood Park Zoo in Massachusetts. No mere plastic playthings, these toys have been engineered to appeal to the pachy- derms' social nature, psy- chology, and intelligence. The toymakers are students from the Massa- chusetts College of Art and Design, assigned to create elephant gadgets after research excursions to the zoo. "The class discovered that the elephants first want to play with a new object in the yard, then try to eat it," says Professor Rick Brown. That's why a crank-operated canister (right) is packed with popcorn; other toys have fruit tucked inside. Typically the elephants find and finish off the treats within a half hour, says zoo director William Langbauer. He reports that the girls haven't rejected any toy yet but sometimes use them in surprising ways. A steel box with the word "elephant" cut into it, for example, is meant to be a puzzle. Emily prefers to bang it like a drum. ---Catherine Zuckerman Twisting a bolt unlocks the treat-filled Pyramid Toy. PHOTOS: CARY WOLINSKY Toys designed by art students are a hit with elephants at a Massa- chusetts zoo. The 425-pound Pachy-sac, made of tire treads, is a favorite. Balls inside the Octo-log make noise when it's rolled.