Los Angeles Zoo where Cynthia’s cousin, Jan Jashinski, joined us for a look at their Asian elephants, although we didn’t get to see their bull, Billy; then lunch, a train ride, a stop at Jan’s home and then off to Perris, California. Perris? California? Yes.
We wanted to be on time the next morning for our visit at Have Trunk, Will Travel. Gary and Kari Johnson, Joann Smith, and three of their Asian elephants -Tai (I’m her #1 Groupie!), Rosie, and Kitty - made for a truly wonderful morning of being with elephants the way I need to be with elephants, up close, hands on. We talked elephants for a good four hours while we scrubbed, touched, watched, and simply enjoyed being in the company of Kitty, Rosie, and Tai. And, these people do so much to support Asian elephant medical research and conservation efforts…..this opportunity to be with them again reminds me just why I care so much about this specie’s ‘today’ and ‘tomorrow’.
Early afternoon we drove on to San Diego for three nights at my son’s home with plans to visit the
San Diego Zoo
and the San Diego Wild Animal Park. My daughter-in-law, Geesoo, is always a lovely hostess with great kitchen talents, so again we had a nice respite from restaurants. And, of course, it is always good to see my family: Mario helped me with my phone; Rostam helped me with my computer, and their two Maltepoos, Georgie and Charlie, provided some good pooch time. We did visit the San Diego Zoo; sadly the day after the euthanasia of their ailing elderly bull, Ranchipur. I am glad I had the opportunity to see him on earlier visits and was there at this time to offer my condolences to their keepers who were very visible to their public answering questions and sharing their mutually sad moment. In spite of the circumstances, had very good visits with Robbie Clark, who has been caring for Ranchipur for the last four years and Victoria Zahn, who has been a keeper with elephants and now rhinos and whom I will be rooming with at the IEF/IRF Symposium in Singapore In November. Our second day in San Diego was to be the Wild Animal Park. It’s wonderful; I was there a few months ago with my family and thoroughly enjoyed it. However, without a specific contact to meet, Cynthia and I decided we needed a ‘day off’ and so we enjoyed the pool and the beach and both seeing and sampling some of San Diego with Geesoo chauffeuring (the only day I never drove!).
Tucson, Arizona was our destination on the 26
th, and arrived late afternoon at the home of Rich and Wanda Johnson, dear friends (and AES supporters) I’ve known for many decades. It was a lovely visit and another night not in a Super 8 or Days Inn – thank you Rich and Wanda. A scrumptious hot breakfast before we headed to the Reid Park Zoo while Rich and Wanda readied to leave that afternoon for a week’s vacation. My friend Jenny Joyce, elephant manager at Grants Farm in St. Louis, introduced me to Mara Jameson and the initial understanding was she would not be in today but another keeper would visit with us. So, when we got to the elephant exhibit and met Savannah, I just dove in asking questions and presuming she had come out to greet us. Ahem. She really was headed to do something else but was most accommodating and friendly, and then Mara showed up and spent the rest of the morning with us. I often visited Reid Park back when they had two elephants: Asian, Connie, and African, Shaba and while I loved past visits with them, it was really good to be introduced to each of their new African elephants as well as seeing their great new facility.
August 28th we visit the ABQ BioPark Zoo in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Here again I thank Jenny Joyce for introducing me to Rhonda Saiers, elephant manager, who wasn’t at the zoo that day but had keeper, Debra Valquez, meet us and introduce us to all their elephants and visit their barns. I had been there when they hosted an EMA Conference several years ago, so it was good to see their new barn and become reacquainted with their Asian elephants. It was a great finale for our trip.
th: 6,126 miles and back in my own driveway! Again, my thanks to Cynthia Christison for making this journey with me. Whether renewing friendships or making new acquaintances, I am always so humbled by the welcome all these very busy elephant keepers afford us. I guess it’s simply that common bond of dedication to this amazing species that pulls us all together. While I love learning the elephants’ stories and the history of elephants in this country, what really matters is sharing our thoughts and hopes and the ways we are all making an effort for the future of all elephants. Asian as well as African numbers are spiraling downward in a horribly frightful fashion. Poaching is taking a toll, yes; but so too is loss of habitat and the resulting human-elephant conflict. I hope someday we will have sustainable populations of Asian and African elephants in this country. But it is imperative we also help them manage to not just survive, but to thrive, in their native lands. I felt the synergy amongst all the wonderful people I met on this trip – zoo staff, keepers, docents, volunteers. It lifts me up and I hope we will work together even more in the future. And none of what we do would be possible without YOU, our donors, and our supporters. Elephants truly need our help. Thank you so much for being that ‘wind beneath our wings’!