By Lauren Wanko
Under a bright, blue sky, an artist creates her next masterpiece.
“It’s easy. She just grabs the brush with her trunk and she does a couple swipes and she gives the brush back. I reload the paint and give it back and she gets a treat in between each one,” said Jason Holloway, elephant supervisor at Six Flags Great Adventure.
Thirty-year-old Joyce is an African elephant.
“African elephants are the largest land animals in the world,” Holloway said.
Weighing in at 8,500 pounds, she’s over 10 feet tall at the shoulders. She’s one of seven elephants at Six Flags Great Adventure. The only painter.
So far Joyce has created about 500 paintings. She’s a working artist. Six Flags sells her pieces and the proceeds go toward animal programs.
Painting isn’t her only pastime. She plays the harmonica too. The gigantic beauty’s been taught about 25 to 30 different behaviors. She’s been practicing with humans for years. Elephants are smart and social creatures. Joyce follows commands remarkably well. Holloway simply says “foot” and Joyce lifts her leg. She flaps her ears, lays down and more. It allows her caretakers to inspect her body easily.
“The personalities are very good. They learn from each other, they learn from us. They’re very compassionate towards each other. They’ll throw their trunks on each other’s back,” Holloway said.
The majestic animals also show signs of grief after losing a loved one.
“If they come across an old lost one, they’ve been known to roll around the skulls of their relatives,” Holloway said.
Perhaps they’re most famous for their long trunks, which is actually an elongated nose and upper lip.
“Her trunk is around seven feet long. It basically is how they live their life. It’s their hand, their arms. They can knock over a tree with a trunk and they can pick up a Tic Tac,” Holloway said.
There are two parts on the tip of the trunk, similar to fingers, says Holloway, that allow elephants to pick up small objects or food.
African elephants can eat up to 300 pounds of food a day in the wild, says Holloway. They enjoy things like trees and grasses. Here at the theme park, Joyce eats fruits and vegetables, hay and grains. But her all time favorite? She’s a carb girl. She snacks on any type of bread.
During our short visit, she went through five loaves and other treats. As for Joyce’s tusks, they broke off but they’ll continue to grow throughout her life.
“Tusks are actually their incisor teeth. She usually breaks them off on trees and logs,” Holloway said.
Joyce’s caretakers expect her to live another 30 to 40 years, enough time to create hundreds, even thousands of paintings.