Doorly Zoo Elephants Bid Farewell…For Now
I have always been intrigued by elephants. As soon as I watched the movie Dumbo as a child and witnessed the elephant learning to overcome his “big ear” disability to create a flying circus performance like no other, I was fascinated. Research over the years has shown that elephants possess many similarities to humans including how they communicate, care for their babies, and show emotions, but I simply loved how such enormous creatures could walk with such grace and how their ears flapped in the breeze.
It was the early 1970s when I first I trekked up Pachyderm Hill at the Henry Doorly Zoo to see the elephant exhibit. Long before the zoo boasted such impressive attractions as the rain forest, aquarium, and Skyfari, I was a little girl immediately captivated by the elephants’ immense presence. Mesmerized, I stared at the elephants as they enjoyed lengthy dust baths, used sticks to scratch their backs, extended their long trunks to drink, eat, comfort each other, and make an unforgettable noise I would remember long after I left the zoo. And it was in front of this large exhibit that I, just like many other children around Omaha, received an impromptu “birds and bees” lesson from my red-faced father after I pointed at one of the elephants and innocently asked, “Why does that elephant have a fifth leg?”
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This article was featured on The Weekly Grind, Omaha’s young professional radio program, on December 11, 2010 - Listen to the show!
Every summer when I visited the zoo, I huffed and puffed up that large hill to return to the elephant exhibit. As soon as I reached the top, I was instantly transported from small town America to the grasslands of Africa. In time, I learned many facts about the elephants that made my experience even more enriching. Recognized as some of the most intelligent animals on earth, elephants flourish when they are not alone. They live nearly as long as humans, celebrate when a baby is born, and grieve when a member of the herd leaves to die in solitude. I think it was my ability to relate to those enormous creatures that prompted my regular return to Pachyderm Hill, even after the zoo added new exhibits and more exotic animals, and grew way beyond my wildest expectations.
Recently when I read that Maliaka, one of the elephants in the zoo’s exhibit had died, I grieved not only for Omaha’s loss, but also for her companion, Shenga. Known to show deep emotion when one of the herd dies, my heart went out to the lone elephant who I knew must be suffering greatly. Distressed, I scanned the newspaper for days for news on Shenga. My husband asked me at the breakfast table, “Why are you so sad about the elephants?” and I replied, “Because I love them.” And so it was because of my affection for the elephants that I was overjoyed to eventually learn that in just a few months, Shenga will be safely transported to a new home where she will bond with other elephants and hopefully one day return to the zoo after the completion of the Henry Doorly Zoo’s new African Grasslands exhibit.
Personally, I am all about Dennis Pate’s “Bring the elephants back to Omaha campaign.” The Henry Doorly Zoo’s CEO has a great vision for the elephants and hopes to have Phase I of the African Grasslands exhibit completed in five or six years. I can’t wait to see our beloved elephants back in their new, beautiful, expansive home where I know they will entertain and educate Omahans for many, many years to come and most importantly, live a happy life with those they love.
Do you have fond memories of the Omaha Zoo? Please share them below!
photo credit: Gordilly