By Cera Southerland, ‘13
Every fall, Texas A&M University hosts one of its most interesting traditions, Elephant Walk. But there’s one class that gets a different experience out of this long-lived tradition.
For more than 15 years, Dr. Ted Friend, a professor in animal behavior, has taken his Animal Science 310 class to Elephant Walk not just to take pictures with the elephants, but to meet the elephants, the elephant handlers, and to learn more about elephant husbandry and welfare.
“We bring elephants in traditionally for picture-taking opportunities,” said Friend. “But there is also an educational component in Elephant Walk and it helps justify bringing in the elephants.”
Friend first met the elephant owner, Bill Swain, at a Circus Showfolks Club in Sarasota, Fla., and has been working with him since on USDA studies and at Elephant Walk.
Friend said that Swain gives a great talk on elephant issues, elephant husbandry, the difference between African and Asian elephants, and much more.
“We go just for the elephants,” said Friend. “[Swain] has always made a great teaching component out of these elephants.”
Friend said his class is oriented towards behavior and management of domestic animals and that Swain has some animals that are different.
Swain brings in two African females, Jeannie and Krissy, every year. While most Texas A&M students are either missing class or working around class to see the elephants and get pictures with them, Friend and his students see them as a regular class meeting.
“I like it because it shows students that what they learn about livestock in ANSC courses applies to most other species as well,” Friend said. “The students are able to see how the elephants are handled, how they get out of the truck and into the truck, how their hooves are cleaned, and other things.”
While his class only holds 28 students, but there’s typically a crowd of 50-60 people there to hear Swain talk about the elephants. He hopes that students can gain direct knowledge about animal issues, elephant husbandry, and have students make up their own mind about animal and elephant care.
Friend said that he likes to give his students a hands-on experience, so he takes them to see the elephants in the fall and also has a horse trainer come to his class in the spring.
Friend has been teaching animal science at Texas A&M for more than 32 years now and is a faculty fellow and professor in animal behavior and wellbeing. He teaches ANSC 310, Behavior and Management of Domestic Animals, and a graduate course, ANSC 610, Applied Animal Ethology.
Cera Southerland, ’13, is an agricultural communications and journalism student. She is chief student leader of IAAS and also serves as an Ambassador and Mentor for Study Abroad.