This trip actually began a year ago when I (AES President, Linda Reifschneider), was invited out to Woodland Park Zoo to represent Asian elephants at their Asian Animals Festival. It wasn’t possible for me to make that trip but I asked for a rain check and so planned for a year to attend their 2016 event. I’ll begin telling you about this trip by saying that I managed to plan a 19-day, 10-zoo, family, and donor trip all around the wrong date for Woodland Park’s 2016 Asian Animals Festival! My thanks to a most generous Bobbi Miller and all at Woodland Park for a gracious ‘save’, allowing me to give a presentation about AES’s work to a very enthusiastic crowd, as well as have a wonderful visit on the 16th of August.
But, let’s start the trip at the beginning. Cynthia Christison, an AES supporter and volunteer, agreed to accompany me on this trip, and I’ll admit up front that it would not have been as easy or as much fun had I covered what ended up being 6,126 miles on my own! An elephantine Trunks Up! to Cynthia.
We departed St. Louis on August 10th, with our first destination the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, Nebraska, where elephant keeper, Joel Locke, introduced us to their African elephants. It is always good to ‘talk elephants’ and especially hear how these were settling into their new home. We had visited last year when the new barn and yards were under construction, so it was delightful to see it now finished and inhabited!
Henry Doorly Zoo visitors view of indoor barn
The next day, we checked out Fort Laramie and made a spur of the moment decision to follow a sign saying Riverside Park Zoo in Scottsbluff, Nebraska. A little and quite lovely zoo, and a good break in a long day of driving. Seattle is a good distance from Omaha, so we routed ourselves up through the Grand Tetons and included a drive-through of Yellowstone, eating our lunch while awaiting Old Faithful to, well, be faithful.
Upon arrival at the Point Defiance Zoo in Tacoma, Washington, the morning of August 15th my first surprise was hearing someone call, “Linda!” and see Bruce Johnson. He is a fellow traveler with director Barbara Davis and I we met on a zookeeper trip to Lewa Wildlife Conservancy in 2011. Friend Melissa Crandall and her hubby, Ed, from Connecticut, were also visiting. After my presentation to staff and volunteers, John Houck, Deputy Director, Melissa, Ed, Cynthia, and I enjoyed a great seafood lunch on the wharf, which is practically a next door neighbor to the zoo – and with a great view of Mt. Rainier! After lunch, John took us on a wonderful tour of the Point Defiance Zoo and elephant keepers Kadie Burrone and Piper Lieper were generous with their time, showing us the barn and introducing us to their Asian elephants, Hanako and Suki. John, Kadie, and Piper, were new acquaintances, and as this trip proved over again and again, whether making new friends or reacquainting with old ones, talking elephants with those who know these amazing creatures the best and are definitely the most dedicated to them always energizes my own commitment.
From left: Ed and Melissa Crandall, John Houck, Linda, and Cynthia
Asian elephant Hanako, Linda, and elephant keeper Kadie Burrone
Tuesday, August 16th: the day that wasn't Woodland Park Zoo’s Asian Animal Festival! What a gracious and enthusiastic group of people. The morning started with having coffee and talking elephants with Bobbi and several of the docents particularly concerned about Asian elephants. Among them was Sue Connell who I first met on River’s Edge when I was on docent duty at the Saint Louis Zoo…but we knew of each other from AES’ work in Sumatra which Woodland Park Zoo, including their docents, help fund. I was humbled by the large audience of volunteers and staff that filled the auditorium for my presentation. It was good to get to say hello to Fred Koontz and Pat Maluy, who I met a few years ago but haven’t seen recently. Cynthia and I spent the afternoon visiting all of the zoo and everywhere we went, if we had a question, it was answered quickly, as I’ve yet to meet so many and such enthusiastic docents as greeted us throughout the day. And I promised Bobbi that if she invites me to a future Asian Animals Festival, I will definitely get the day right!
Linda with Pat Maluy
Linda presenting at the Woodland Park Zoo
The next morning found us at the Oregon Zoo in Portland where we met up with Sharon Glaeser, a dear friend who was a director of AES in our early days and remains chair of our grants committee. Sharon has been involved with elephant research at the Oregon Zoo for many years and took us on a grand tour of their exciting new elephant barn and yards. I have had the pleasure of visiting Oregon Zoo a few times in past years, so met both old and new friends, and always good to see their Asians: Packy, Shine, Rose-Tu, Chendra, Sam, and their little Lily.
From left: Sharon Glaeser, AES Grants Committee Chair, Shawn Finnell, Oregon Zoo elephant keeper, and Linda
The Oregon Zoo elephants in the pool are Samudra ("Sam") and Lily
A stop in Fremont, California, to say thank you in person to generous AES supporters, George and Carol Spindler, resulted in a delightful evening visit with them, meeting their daughter, Heather, and their two rescue pooches: Lady and Bella. My initial suggestion that we meet at a restaurant was overridden by a lovely home cooked dinner. A real treat when on the road for as long as we were!
Friday, August 19th, we drove from Fremont to Fresno and visit the Fresno Chaffee Zoo. At present, they have both Asian and African elephants and elephant keeper Kim Cook spent her day off at the zoo with us. I presented our work to both the Asian and African elephant keepers using our printout of the power point presentation, and it is delightful to hear about their elephants while watching them in person. I knew Amy from her story, A Cowboy and His Elephant, long before I met her when she resided with our friends, Scott and Heidi Riddle, where she gave birth to her daughter, Miss Betts. I first met Miss Betts as an ultrasound image which her human ‘mom’ convinced me was just the most beautiful little elephant ever. Kim has been hosting an annual CPK event for us and this was a great opportunity to give her our sincere thanks in person.
Janelle Lunden, Linda, Kim Cook, Amanda Polsgrove
African bull, Musi
The beautiful scenery continued as we headed to Santa Barbara, California, and the Santa Barbara Zoo. Our first stop was a visit with Connie Speight, a friend I first met some years ago in Thailand, each of us working on behalf of Asian elephants via our separate nonprofit organizations. She joined us the following morning when we visited the zoo and I presented AES to their staff and volunteers. Liz Beem and Liz Wilson, elephant keepers, have been hosting a CPK event for AES for the last five years; we see each other at the EMA conferences and they changed their Elephant Appreciation Day to coincide with our visit. It was great to visit again with them and Sujatha and Little Mac, their Asian elephants. A nice buffet lunch was served to all attending the two presentations and the afternoon was spent up by the elephant’s yard with AES brochures to share with any interested visitors while watching Sujatha and Little Mac and all the elephant-related activities. A truly lovely day, capped off with a wonderful seafood dinner on the oceanfront.
Front Row-left to right: Ronni Wynn, volunteer, Liz Beem, Senior Elephant Keeper, Linda, Liz Wilson, Curator of Elephants, Mimi Muraoka, Docent: Elephants
Back Row-left to right: Tina Torres-Rakes, volunteer-Elephants, Emily Heisler, Elephant Keeper and Patrick Abtey, Senior Elephant Keeper
Sujatha and Little Mac enjoy their yard at SBZ
Stay tuned for our October newsletter to hear about the rest of the trip!