On Thursday, March 5, as a Portland follow-up to our resounding success at Powell’s (I say “our” because the effort to bring ELEPHANT SPEAK to publication was definitely a group endeavor) I presented a truncated (no pun intended … trunk-ated, get it?) version of my talk; no pictures, but with the added joy of REAL LIVE ELEPHANTS!
Yes, indeed, courtesy of Bob Lee, Elephant Curator at the Oregon Zoo (who, in his gentle way, pretty much pile drivered this event into existence) my friends and I were honored to join the elephant keepers at their daily “Elephant Talk” in Forest Hall. (The saga of how the zoo went from the small(ish) barn Roger knew to a six-acre site and incredible barn complete with bells and whistles is too long a story for here. If you’re interested, you can access information on the Oregon Zoo website.)
Among the many offerings in Forest Hall is this: a memorial to the famous Packy. Born in April 1962, his was the first successful elephant birth in the Western Hemisphere in 44 years (and by successful, I mean an elephant calf that survived beyond its first birthday. Back in those days, the science behind care for pregnant and nursing elephant and their progeny was guessed at more than known. For instance, did you realize that an infant elephant calf cannot metabolize cow’s milk?)
In Roger’s time, the old barn might contain as many as eleven elephants at any one time (including three bulls). These days, there are five in the herd:
The daily keeper’s talk involves a running narrative during a demonstration of the various things the elephants are taught in order to help facilitate the ease of care and their own involvement in that care. Such moves might include lifting front and back feet, presenting an ear, or laying down.
When the elephants are showing off their smooth moves, they’re allowed free time to browse and entertain themselves in the process.
I kept my talk short since there were so many energetic little kids in the audience that wanted to get on their way to see the rest of the animals that live in the zoo, but I’m happy to say that several of those present (including friends Linda Reifschneider of Asian Elephant Support; Mitch Finnegan and Russell Guinn, who used to work at the zoo; veterinary technician Margot Monti; and, of course, Bob Lee and his crew of wonderful keepers) came up to the gift shop to see me.