Last Sunday my photography club met at the Oregon Zoo at 8:00 am (who knew they opened that early) to take photos of the animals. Unfortunately, many of the animals weren't on display since their enclosures were being cleaned. Bob, one of the elephant keepers at the zoo saw our group and asked if we'd be interested in a backstage tour of the elephant area so we could meet one of the elephants up close and personal...ummm...heck yeah!
Bob led our group behind the elephant barn and lined us all up against a fence. He asked us to stay there while he went to get Chendra. Chendra was found orphaned at a palm oil plant in Malaysia. She had a gunshot wound to her left eye, which left her blind in that eye, and a badly infected foot. Unable to return her to the wild, the Malyasian government allowed the Oregon Zoo to transport her here where she would be safe.
First she lifted each one of her feet to get the bottom washed. I was amazed at how well she understood Bob's commands. "Left up", "Right up"...and up went her feet one at a time. He proceeded to wash her all over while she turned and then laid down.
Bob then told us we could get closer to her if we wanted. Everyone in my group stayed back. But I couldn't resist...she was so sweet. So I stepped forward. I was a little nervous...she's a very large animal. But she just stood there and let me approach her. And then I looked in her eye (the one that wasn't blind). I was amazed at what I saw. She looked back at me with as sweet a look as my dog gives me. I was hooked...yes, I fell in love with Chendra.
I asked Bob if I could touch her, and to my surprise he said yes. I reached out and rested my hand on her trunk. It was rough, and thick with coarse wirey hairs. I talked to her and she reached her trunk up to me and after blowing warm air in my face, gently touched the end of her trunk to my cheek.
At this point, a few of the others in my group approached her to pet her as well. I crouched down on the ground to take more pictures and to my surprise she again approached me with her trunk extended, blowing warm air in my face and touching her trunk to me.
Bob then let us all feed her carrots and apples. She took them gently from our outstretched hands and after each treat, she waited to be patted on her trunk before moving on to get the next treat.
Bob then told her to "go play" and she moved to a corner with some sticks and branches and began tossing them around and pulling the leaves off the branches to eat them.
Bob told us she was one of the smaller elephants in the herd, and probably the most well behaved. Because of this, sometimes after hours they let her walk around the zoo (with a human escort of course). I asked what she liked to look at....."the sealions, they're her favorite to watch". Chendra and I have something in common....I could watch sealions for hours too.
I always knew elephants were intelligent. But I wasn't prepared to be able to feel a connection to this large creature. It was as if I could feel her emotions...I could sense her soul. I know, I know...that sounds a little far-fetched, and if someone else had told me this I would be skeptical too...it took me by surprise. It was an experience I'll never forget. And next time I'm at the zoo...the first place I'm going is to the elephant barn to see if my friend Chendra is around...maybe she'll remember me and extend a trunk in greeting.