Monday, November 10, 2008

How To Be a Nuisance

Last week, while driving along the Blue Ridge Parkway, a black bear crossed my path. He came lumbering up out of the ditch onto the road ahead. He was oblivious to the fact that it was peak tourist season, the weekend when everyone and their mother comes out to see the changing of the leaves. At first, I thought the youngster was a large Rottweiler. It took me a moment to compute what I was really seeing. He appeared like an apparition and came to a dead stop on the center line of the road. Our eyes met for a moment. Then as quickly as he had appeared, he scaled the sheer rock cliff in front of him and was gone.

Because of his size, I figured he was probably a yearling cub. I waited a while for Mama Bear to appear, much to the chagrin of those in the cars behind me, but she was nowhere to be seen. Although the cub was old enough to be weaned, he certainly didn’t seem ready to be on his own. So, I made my way to the nearest ranger station to report in. I was informed that the mother was indeed around and had three more cubs this year. Since this is highly unusual, I wondered why the ranger didn’t know there may be more than one mother bear in the area. Black bears wouldn’t typically birth young every year. Then, I realized he might be deliberately leaving that information out. Who could blame him? We humans can be real nuisances for bears.

First and foremost, we perpetuate the myth that all bears are vicious, frightening creatures, often depicting them standing on hind legs, teeth bared on the attack. The truth about black bears is they are only dangerous when cornered or protecting their young. We should be empathetic to this, since we too can be dangerous if put in the same situation. The best defense against a black bear is distance and noise. When I hike, I like to carry a couple of disposable pie pans or something that will make a racket when clapped together. Anything noisy, even yelling and waving your arms, will send a black bear packing most of the time. They certainly don’t warrant all the fear mongering.

Of course, one cannot forget that we have encroached on huge tracts of the black bear’s territory, cutting down forests at an alarming rate, and using new technology to build in areas previously considered uninhabitable. When we squeeze the bears from their homes each year, we should not be surprised when they start showing up in our towns and camp grounds searching for food. We made our beds, and now we have to make like Goldie Locks and lie in them. Rather than calling the bears a nuisance, making excuses to shoot them, perhaps we should learn to coexist. It’s embarrassing to know that black bears would live into their thirties in the wild, but most are shot and killed before they reach ten.

They really aren’t much different from Rottweilers, just another misunderstood animal whose unfortunate run-ins with humans give them a bad wrap. I’ll admit both species can be fairly intimidating, and some may even be aggressive if provoked, but most just want to be left alone to forage and eat all day. Both species just need people to be educated on how to interact with them safely.

Black bears certainly prefer uninhabited areas of deep forests to human's back yards, but they must roam large distances looking for food. Although, they instinctively fatten up preparing to hibernate each year, not all bears hibernate all winter. Those in Virginia may only sleep lightly for part of the season due to the mild weather. Regardless of the climate however, they will still spend the majority of their time from spring until late fall stuffing their faces with as much fat, rich carbohydrates, and proteins as they can find.

Due to the need for high calorie foods, black bears are naturally susceptible to becoming beggars, again like some Rottweilers I know. Once they get their first taste of the high sugar, high fat foods we eat, it’s hard to turn them back to the same old diet of acorns, fruits, berries, and the occasional carrion. This is why it is so important to take the “Do Not Feed the Animals” signs seriously. But, the signs don’t just mean not to reach your hand out to a wild animal and coax it to eat. It means, being responsible hikers, campers, and wildlife observers.

“Do Not Feed the Animals” also means do not leave your waste lying around. Confine your picnicking to public areas with lots of people, and clean up your mess. Wrap leftovers well, and take them home with you. Don’t leave partially eaten food items in any unlocked trash can for the next bear to forage in, and certainly don’t leave them lying on the ground for others to clean up. By all means, learn how to wrap foods properly and how to store them safely if you plan to hike and camp with them. Be particularly vigilant in the months leading up to winter.

It seems clear we already know how to be nuisances. Perhaps it’s time we clean up our act. Any forestry service personnel or park ranger worth their salt will be happy to answer questions on how to prevent run-ins with bears in your area, and how you can enjoy seeing a wild bear do what a wild bear should be doing, scaling cliffs and trees, and foraging in thickets for food. Wildlife Management personnel can also be reached to assist you with any bear problems in your area, including safe relocations. By contacting them, you can prevent bears from being shot unnecessarily. Please consider doing your part to change the way we look at these magnificent creatures, and join the many native peoples around the world who see bears as a symbol of strength and power, something to be respected and honored, not something to be conquered and feared.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Power of Grassroots

Environmental education has been my passion for many reasons, but I’ll admit I focused on animals because I’ve been cynical about humans, feeling they have few redeeming qualities any more. But, over the past few years I’ve begun to have hope in humanity again. I see the extraordinary things a small group of people can accomplish when they forget their differences and come together for the good of their community. It’s called Grassroots, and it’s sweeping the nation. Perhaps one of the best examples of a Grassroots movement started with the band Donna the Buffalo and their eclectic “Herd” of followers.

If you have not heard Donna the Buffalo’s funky mix of purely danceable music, you should go to and give them a listen. Make sure you pay attention to the lyrics along with the superb music to get a sense of the positive messages of talented songwriters Jeb Puryear and Terra Nevins. They find a way to mix deep emotional topics like social and political justice and environmental awareness with a sound and rhythm that stimulates movement and an overwhelming sense of joy in their listeners. To really understand their feel good vibe, you must experience them at a live performance, preferably bouncing up and down with the rest of the Herd near the stage. This diverse group of fans are loving people spanning all races, ages, and backgrounds, and are always ready with a smile and a hug, not only for friends, but also for every new face that taps a toe with them.

But, what can a band "on the funky side" and a motley group of hippies really do to make a difference? Well, here’s where you’d be surprised. This particular Grassroots movement started very small, with one show in Ithaca, New York to raise money for local AIDS organizations. Members of the band were excited by the success of the show and decided they wanted to continue the fundraising effort for other worthy causes. They created the Grassroots Music Festival every July in Trumansburg, New York. Eventually, the Herd grew until they added a second bi-annual festival called Shakori Hills in Silk Hope, North Carolina every April and October. Since then, they have expanded into a nationally recognized effort that also promotes other Grassroots festivals all over the country. They have raised funds for disaster relief and others in need of assistance, social justice, political activism, environmental conservation, and green living, to name a few. They have accomplished all of this while at the same time providing exposure to local, regional, national, and international cultures through music and the arts. In short, they offer a great time, a way to relax and enjoy living, while you learn and grow.

My first exposure to Donna the Buffalo was at a small club called Ziggy’s in Winston Salem. I was instantly addicted to the sound and bought every CD I could get my hand on, and I’ve attended every Shakori Hills Music Festival. My favorite aspect of Shakori Hills is, of course, their campaign for green living. They offer recycling and composting and teach attendees about proper recycling methods. They provide a bio-diesel shuttle bus to the festival from a number of local towns and cities, and promote car pooling by offering any car arriving with four or more passengers free parking. Areas of the large property have been designated “Natural Preserves” where no camping is allowed. Festival organizers regularly announce ways everyone can pitch in to help the local environment.

Rather than selling bottled water for a profit, Shakori Hills offers a large filtering truck to refill and reuse bottles for an honorary donation. Food vendors offer organic and healthy food choices and serve on recyclable materials as much as possible. It is not uncommon to hear adults remind their children to take only one napkin rather than a handful from the food stands or to see children picking up trash and recyclables around the park. The festival even provides a Sustainability Fair throughout the weekend with environmental education talks and activities, and a number of healing arts providers are on hand to teach all manner of exercise and healthy living techniques.

The latest project this wonderful group of people has started is the Solarize Shakori Hills Project, a fundraising campaign to purchase solar panels for the festival. At $10.00 per cell, they have already sold $3000 last weekend alone and by next year the festival will be a solar powered event. (For information on how you can help, email )Even some of the other regular performers are promoting sustainability. Grammy Award Nominees The Duhks announced that their latest CD is packaged with recycled materials and soy based inks.

The Herd doesn’t stop their charitable giving at the festivals alone, however. They have created their own “Side to Side Charities” and have raised tens of thousands of dollars for community services to feed the hungry, house the homeless, empower women, end racism, serve children in need and with special needs, save homeless pets, and provide goods and services to low income families. They will literally give you the shirts off their backs. A large collection of donated clothing can be found at every festival and is free to anyone who needs them.

How are they inspired? By listening to the music of Donna the Buffalo, and by watching the band and their fellow Herders walk the walk and talk the talk for change. Now, we finally begin to see Grassroots movements taking center stage with the largest effort of its kind entering our political realm this Presidential election, and it’s about time. Although I’ve been an advocate for environmental change for as long as I can remember, the Herd has taught me to give back to my community in other ways, as well. I now volunteer for local arts organizations, give time and money to The Campaign for Change, and work with organizations like the YWCA YGyrl leaders teaching girls about Leadership and Community Services.

I attend every Donna the Buffalo show I can afford. Why? Because I come away refreshed, renewed, and reminded that humans are a wonderful species capable of great kindness, giving, and love, and an inherent goodness. I am reminded that there is a great power in every small community, and every grassroots effort, no matter how small, has the potential to change the world.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Keen Eyes

On a crisp day last week, we ignored the tufts of clouds threatening possible afternoon rain and drove thirty minutes straight uphill to Harvey’s Knob on the Blue Ridge Parkway. This is not an unusual past-time for us, when we feel we want to get away from the hustle and bustle of city living, but for the next few weeks, Harvey’s Knob will not be as quiet. What is bringing out the crowds? Why, the hawk migration, of course, and it’s a regular bird watcher’s party.

When we arrived, the parking lot was filled with people in their camping chairs, dogs at their feet, telescopes and binoculars trained to the skies. Everyone waved, happy to greet us, and a quick hello got us all the hawk counting statistics we needed to know for the day and most of the facts on last year’s counts from Virginia to Mexico and back again.

People from all walks of life had left their daily grinds to cluster on this particular scenic overlook. Apparently, bird watchers on similar mountain ridges across this vast continent join in hawk counts from mid-August all the way through late November. One couple said they planned their annual vacation around the hawks. They come to Harvey’s Knob every year, leaving jobs as a fire fighter and a school teacher to help HMANA, Hawk Migration Association of America, with their annual count. This year, they will spend two weeks of October in Veracruz, Mexico where the fire fighting bird counter reports, eyes sparkling, that they can see five to six million hawks fly by in one day.

The excitement is contagious. Groups of school students, retired businessmen, a police officer, and several medical professionals spent an enjoyable afternoon with us trading bird watching stories and information on good locations to see Raptors from Alaska to Florida. I found myself teaching some of the students and my mother some tricks on finding the birds with the lenses of their binoculars. Other volunteers patiently described where we all could see the sixth Bald Eagle of the day in a distant break between two fronts of clouds. Everyone, no matter how old or how experienced, felt the thrill when they joined in counting the day’s largest kettle of three hundred Broad Wings as they silently circled over our heads. Imagine our surprise when the day’s count for this one species at this one overlook totaled 3,604.

These stout bodied, brown and beige hawks are one of the first Raptor species to go, leaving their summer breeding grounds in the forests of North America in late August to mid-September. The Broad Wings are not an easy species to observe during their summers here. You will rarely see more than a glimpse of one circling overhead looking for prey. But, they become much easier to spot when they congregate to begin migration. They travel in groups called “kettles” that can number up to thousands of birds, and the groups get larger as they draw closer to their winter habitats.

A recent study by Cornell University used satellite transmitters attached to Broad Wings’ backs to track their migrations. The study found they averaged 111 kilometers or 69 miles a day and traveled over 7000 kilometers to the tropical forests of Central and northern South America. But, once they arrived in their wintering grounds, they inhabited very small ranges staying in territories that averaged just one square mile.

So, if Cornell is tracking these birds, why do they encourage so many volunteers to assist HMANA with their hawk counts? Well, one reason is that birds can be used as indicator species. That is to say, one can study data about their population numbers to track environmental trends and find potential problem areas. With migratory birds, the data collection becomes increasingly difficult when their ranges span continents. But, so too does the importance of knowing their status increase, because knowing if these species' populations are healthy could help scientists identify and address potential environmental issues before they can effect human populations over the many countries where the birds live and migrate.

How does one go about helping with the HMANA Hawk Migration Count? Well, that part is easy. Go to to locate a watch area near you. Bring binoculars if you have them, but often you’ll find people with an extra set who are willing to share. You’ll want sunglasses, sun screen, and a comfy folding chair. No prerequisites and no experience necessary, just bring yourselves, your willingness to learn, and your keen eyes.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Endangered Emeril

Emeril is not just the name of a famous gourmet chef, but also the name of a famous endangered Green Junglefowl, an Asian rainforest chicken. When we first laid eyes on this beautiful iridescent green and blue bird at the North Carolina Zoo, we all agreed he looked too fancy to remain nameless. Then, his bright pink and purple crest fell lopsided over one eye like a French cap and someone said, “Bang! It’s Emeril, the gourmet chicken.” The name suited, and he became our aviary emissary for teaching the public why it’s important to protect the rainforests. What really surprised me was how much that little guy taught me.

For instance, until I started to research Junglefowl, I had no idea that all of the domesticated poultry we use today originated in the rainforest with these birds. Not only poultry, but most domesticated livestock including beef cattle also originated there. Of course, I knew that most of the fruits we eat like bananas, mangos, pineapples, all came from the tropical forests, but I didn’t realize that so too do most of our staple foods like corn, wheat, potatoes, and rice.

And let’s not forget the greatest unofficial food group, that of caffeine. Coffee is still grown in the rainforest because the climate is the best for producing the most beans, and in fact, one who is interested in helping to stop some of the deforestation can easily purchase shade grown varieties from their local Starbucks or the grocery store. This means the plants are grown by companies who no longer clear cut the forest to plant their crops, but grow them under the canopy. Tea is also a rainforest product discovered in Asia. But, the greatest of this food group is the Cacao bean from Central and South America, the very one that makes all things chocolate. Interestingly, this bean is also the oldest recorded form of human currency, once used by the indigenous people to trade for gold and other valuables.

Speaking of gold, we come to one of the many reasons the forest is still disappearing at an alarming rate. Many of the gems, chemical compounds, and minerals we rely on today are mined in the rainforest, including gold, sliver, iron, diamonds, emeralds, and amethysts. The compounds found in abundance in these forests make every day items like plastics, computer chips, and cell phones. Rubber comes from the resin of a certain type of tree, as does chicle for making gum, copal for making varnish and printing ink, and dammar for making lacquer. I look around my office and I am astounded by how much I use from the rainforest every day, right down to the antique wooden desk where I sit, the aluminum can I drink from, and the computer I use to type this article. Even the Peace Lilly and the Christmas Cactus I have to brighten up the space are both rainforest plants.

It is perhaps the plants which are the most important reason for protecting these resourceful areas. The medical industry still relies heavily on plants from these forests to treat many of the worlds most deadly and aggressive diseases. For instance, the only effective treatment for Malaria comes from the Quinine plant. Although, several synthetic drugs have been created, all of these have lost their potency over time, and the industry has had to return to the plant time and time again to treat this disease. Ironically, mosquitoes originally lived only in the high canopies of the forest, and had we humans not cut the trees down, these Malaria infested pests may never have moved to our level, and we may never have needed the Quinine plant.

Regardless, Malaria is not the only disease doctors treat from rainforest plants. The National Cancer Institute says seventy percent of all plants used in cancer treatments come from the rainforest, and new plants with amazing properties are still discovered every year. The Aglaia leptantha of Malaysia has been found to effectively kill twenty types of cancer cells in laboratory tests, including those that cause breast cancer, brain cancer, and melanomas. The WWF says, in the last twenty years 422 new species of plants were discovered in Borneo alone, and most have yet to be tested for their medicinal properties.

Now, if these things don’t make us want to place a higher importance on protecting the rainforests, let’s look at some really important basics for the survival of the human race. The rainforest is home to fifty percent of the plants on earth. We all know that plants create the very Oxygen we need to breath. If the rainforests continue to disappear at the current reported rate of an area the size of a football field every second, or 31 million football fields a year, will there still be enough Oxygen to sustain us all? The rainforest also acts as the world’s thermostat by regulating its temperature and weather patterns. Perhaps all of the strange weather and catastrophic storms we have been witnessing have something to do with the clear cutting of huge areas of said thermostat.

But, things grow fast in the jungle, right? Won’t it all just grow back? Unfortunately, the soil is very thin in these areas and the amount of rain produced is astounding. For an example, one fifth of the fresh water of the world is found in the Amazon Basin alone, and that water comes from the rains. So, clear cut forest equals vulnerable soil that is washed away very quickly leaving nothing but barren rocks. It seems absolutely plausible that if we continue to destroy the rainforests without any thought for the future, we may just find ourselves on the same endangered list with Emeril and his Junglefowl family.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


Wilma-Lou Teal has something like a complex personality. She is difficult to please and she is not shy about letting you know it. She expects things to be completed promptly to her specifications, and if they are not, she will complain loud and long until things suit her. She goes her own way, even if it differs from the norm. She is a believer in diversification, and the need to accept cross-cultural relationships. She is also a fierce protector of her spouse. All of this is not uncommon for a woman of today, but might come as a surprise from a duck. Wilma is a Chestnut Teal, who lives at the RJ Reynold’s Forest Aviary of the North Carolina Zoo. You may consider it anthropomorphic for me to assign these human characteristics to her. I respond by saying that I’m fairly sure you have not met Wilma-Lou Teal or you might find yourself unable to resist doing the same. Let me introduce you.

Wilma is a small brown bird, about half the size of a Mallard, and she expects her food to be delivered on time. She will not be satisfied with the average dry duck feed. She expects greens and live bugs at every meal. If any of these things are not served on the dot of nine in the morning, Wilma will have something to say about it. She will come out of the water to follow her keepers around the exhibit stretching her head forward and retracting it in a repeating motion while emitting sharp, raspy quacks, like the duck on those famous commercials. At first, I thought it was the staff’s uniform colors that tipped her off on where to direct her complaints, yet visiting staff in the same uniforms are not harassed, nor are any visitors wearing similar navy polo shirts and khaki pants. Only those who work the exhibit daily are singled out, sometimes while visiting in their street clothes.

Although there was a Chestnut Teal male in the exhibit, one with a beautiful iridescent plumage and a green head, Wilma chose as her mate the exhibit’s Rosybill Pochard, known affectionately as Rosy by the staff. Rosy is a dark, black and gray bird with a large rosy colored bill. This unlikely couple has become one of the most strongly bonded pair of ducks I’ve ever worked with, despite the fact that each looks very different from the opposite sex of their own species. Neither of them, according to their natural histories, are monogamous birds, yet neither has shown interest in breeding with any of the other birds in the exhibit.

One morning when I stepped into the aviary, Wilma was standing by the exit door making a long cry that sounded like an infant crying for its mother, a long "waaaaaaa" that she repeated over and over. It did not take long to realize that Rosy was missing, and the staff began to search for him. Since Wilma was so focused on the exit doors, we soon asked the other keepers around the zoo to help us search outside in case he had managed to escape. We also used flashlights to look into the huge tunnels of the air handling system running beneath the aviary to cool and moisten the air. We found no sign of Rosy anywhere. Wilma spent several days in the area of the exit door crying until we had to post guards to make sure she didn’t get stepped on.

We began to think we might only find Rosy's body. However, the exhibit houses over four thousand plants, and although it was unusual for a carcass the size of his to disappear, it had happened before when a sick bird crawled up inside a hollow plant. Some birds had vanished entirely, not surprising since the exhibit was always crawling with ants and other flesh eating insects that came in through the soil floors. We began to feel sure Rosy had passed away and Wilma was grieving, but after several days by the exit door, Wilma moved to another vent area closer to the central pool where she wailed for a few more days until finally, at the end of a long week of guarding her from the visitors, she returned to the pool. We began to get complaints from those visitors who thought we must be doing something terrible to that poor bird to make her wail so. Over and over, we explained that she was mourning the loss of her mate.

We could not have been more wrong. As it turns out, Rosy had fallen through a sink hole in the exhibit, a hole which filled back in with soil each day when staff watered the plants and was not found until after Rosy's disappearance. He was buried in the soil near the exit door for an unknown period of time until he was able to make his way to the area directly below where Wilma had been standing to wail for the first two days. He was able to locate a pocket in the fiberglass seam of a large tunnel in the air handling system where he squeezed through and landed on the floor below. The large tunnel was not accessible to the staff without climbing gear and ropes. He had fallen three stories down from the seam and he was pinioned, made flightless by his previous institution.

Next, Rosy had to run between the blades of a jet engine fan into another adjoining tunnel, which was closer to the pool. He must have made it through the fan on speed and sheer luck. The evidence found showed that he had spent several days in the second tunnel. He then followed Wilma's calls to a wall where he found the air filters, and he managed to dislodge a filter and climb through to a third tunnel, which ran underneath the central pool. Fortunately, the third tunnel was accessed by the staff every other day in order to backwash the pool filter system.

After a little over a week, Rosy was found standing by the pool filter waiting to be rescued. His only injuries were a couple of chopped looking tail feathers and a mild limp. Suddenly, Wilma's strange vigil from the exit to the pool made perfect sense. Upon Rosy’s return, Wilma spent days helping him preen his feathers and they often slept close enough to touch sides. She has never been heard making the baby wailing sound again, not even when Rosy has been separated from her for medical procedures or health checks.

Wilma and Rosy have changed the way I think about animals. I find it amazing that even a duck could be capable of such things. We are so often taught that animals are not like us, that they should be treated differently. We believe they need humans to care for them, to watch over them and keep them, to be stewards for them. Some even take this notion a step farther and believe animals are here to be used by us. Certainly, they cannot think and feel like humans. Wilma and Rosy taught me that animals of all kinds, even ducks, are more like us then I ever imagined. They can and do accomplish amazing things. They can understand more then I gave them credit for, and they each have a unique individuality similar to the personality of a human. Maybe it’s time to find a word for this phenomenon in the English language. I propose animality.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Jenny Elephant Deserves Better

Several days ago, I received a shock that felt almost like a kick to the stomach. My first zoo, the place where I learned all the joys and sorrows of being a zookeeper, is letting me down in a gigantic way. Perhaps the romantic in me wanted to see the Dallas Zoo as a better place, even though they share the same big business mentality of most zoos, often sacrificing the animals well being to the promise of the almighty dollar. Still, it was my learning ground, the place where I first sank my teeth into the zoo keeping industry. In fact, many of the people I admire most still work there. My blinders remained firmly in place until I got a phone call from a friend to say the zoo had decided to send Jenny elephant to Mexico.

Jenny has lived at the Dallas Zoo for many years in an exhibit much too small and not at all suited to the largest land mammal. Her exhibit was at least updated since I worked there in the early nineties in an effort to meet the AZA's (American Association of Zoos and Aquariums) pitiful standards for this species. Their so-called standards still rate well below what the species needs for a healthy and long life. Most captive elephants die well before they reach the lifespan of their wild counterparts, and when you take into consideration that wild elephants face poachers, human encroachment, and predation to their young, a shorter life expectancy is pitiful indeed. However, only a very few forward thinking zoos have admitted what the industry has known for years. Elephants should not be kept in zoos. Perhaps the new sanctuaries cropping up around the country will provide what these animals need. It's too soon to tell for sure, but at least they offer something different, something new that comes much closer to giving these massive animals a chance for a longer, healthier captive life. What does all of this have to do with Jenny? Stick with me, I'm getting there, but first I have to give you some background.

Jenny, like many of her zoo counterparts, was taken from the wilds of Africa and brought to the Dallas Zoo through an animal broker. This does not mean that the Dallas Zoo necessarily sent someone out to hunt her down, wrangle her up, and load her into a truck. (There I go defending them again.) The truth is more likely something like this; Dallas put an add out via the AZA bulletin saying they were interested in acquiring an elephant, and the animal brokers contacted them listing what animals they had available. Jenny was one of two elephants the Dallas Zoo chose from the list. The other animal's name was Moja. I was told they were sisters by one of their keepers, but I have never verified this, and it could just be a romantic story passed down over the years. Regardless, I have often imagined Jenny and Moja huddled together in the back of some truck jarring their way out of the bush after having watched their mother die attempting to defend them. If this isn't truth, it's certainly plausible. I remember the two of them together, tightly bonded and affectionate. I have a photo of them on exhibit leaning side to side while they ate their hay. The day I took the photo, I watched them rub their trunks together and rumble, seeming more contented than I ever expected while standing in their tiny concrete world.

One morning I arrived at the zoo parking lot to hear a screaming sound rolling down the hill from the large mammal barn. It was followed by clashing and banging. I remember dropping my bag and running up the hill to find out what was happening. Although I was not an elephant keeper, I was close friends with the Animal Care Manager of the Large Mammal Barn, and I often accompanied him to feed Jenny and Moja treats and show my affection to them. Jenny liked to sniff my pockets and my shoes with her trunk and she often leaned against me and rumbled, a greeting elephants use among family members in the wild. Let's just say I'd grown very attached to her. I still have nightmares about the day I first heard Jenny's screams.

When I made it to the top of the hill, I realized Moja was lying dead in her stall. We later found out her heart had stopped due to a fast-acting disease that causes swelling and fluid in the linings around the organ. As was common practice in those days, Jenny was chained in the stall next to Moja unable to touch her friend. She would reach her trunk out, coming just shy of touching Moja, straining against her chains. Then, she would beat her head against the wall, scream, kick, and thrash around. A trail of wet was running down her face below both eyes. The keepers tried to calm her, but they couldn't. Eventually, the zoo administrators ordered Moja hooked up to a crane, and they dragged her out of the building and off exhibit where she wouldn't be seen by the public when they arrived. The whole time, Jenny beat her head, yelling and thrashing until the walls rattled.

Jenny became volatile after that day, prone to uncontrollable rages, lashing out at her keepers. For safety, the zoo was forced to change their management style with elephants in order to keep all physical contact between Jenny and her keepers to a minimum. Jenny lost the touch of her companion and the touch of her keepers virtually on the same day. She has yet to fully recover. Over the years, the zoo has given her anti-depressants, even tranquilizers, to calm her. They have also tried several other companion elephants, but Jenny refused most of them. Sometimes, loud noises would set her off, things like music during special events, loud machinery, strange vehicles, or equipment being used in the area. She has broken the cables in her exhibit with her head more than once during her rages. Eventually, after tireless effort from her keepers, Jenny was introduced to and had finally accepted another African elephant companion.

The keepers feel Jenny has been making progress, and I believe them. No one works harder and cares more for the animal than the underpaid and undervalued zookeepers. For the last few years, Jenny seemed a bit more content with her new elephant friend. Unfortunately, that animal recently died. I cannot imagine what this latest loss has done to Jenny. To make a sad story worse, the zoo administrators have made a horrifying choice for her. A choice I doubt her keepers can advocate, although I'm betting they would never say so publicly if they value their jobs. Jenny is being sent to Africam in Mexico, a drive-thru safari park. This new zoo has no African Elephants and their staff has only experienced working with Asians, which by nature are much more docile. Even the most seasoned veteran keepers are risking life and limb every time they come in contact with Jenny in a rage. Why would anyone send her off to a place with no experience caring for animals of her nature?

If that's not enough to convince you, remember that Jenny has often gone into rages when loud noises are in the vicinity, and she has broken through steel cables with her head. Yet, the Dallas Zoo is sending her to a drive-thru park where she will be exposed daily to cars. I understand there will be nothing holding her back from the unsuspecting visitors but a mote and some hot wire. I have witnessed elephants who learned to ground hot wire against their tusks in order to keep from being shocked so they could reach a branch of browse on the other side. Hot wire will not stop Jenny in a rage. Yet the Dallas Zoo refuses to even consider sending Jenny to The Elephant Sanctuary right here in Tennessee. She could live in a place where she will be off exhibit on hundreds of acres with a quiet, calm environment and numerous other African elephants. At the very least, the Dallas Zoo could keep Jenny and find her another companion animal. Apparently, they would rather send her to another country without even the benefit of animal rights laws to protect her. Jenny deserves better, and the Dallas Zoo should be ashamed!