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Foundation News

Sri Lanka 2018

Chris Rico

 The elephants at Pinnewala coming in for the evening

The elephants at Pinnewala coming in for the evening

President Linda Reifschneider headed to Sri Lanka on December 11, 2017, to visit some of the people and projects we have been funding in that lovely island nation.

Jayantha Jaywardene and his associate, Sudath, joined Linda for dinner in Colombo the evening of the 13th.  Jayantha is the driving force behind the Schools Awareness Program which has been teaching school age children in Sri Lanka about elephant conservation and human-elephant conflict solutions.  Asian Elephant Support has been delighted to help Jayantha keep this program running for class after class of school aged children.

Then Linda headed to the Udawalawe National Park area.  First stop was to visit Dr. Vijitha Perera, head veterinarian at The Elephant Transit Home (ETH).  The ETH is an orphanage for young calves who are still dependent on their mothers’ milk.  They receive 7 feedings every 24-hour period.  Their days are spent in open forested areas and secure stalls at night.  Linda had the opportunity to see a feeding at the quiet time of 10 p.m.  The following day she returned to view the first public morning feeding and then headed into Udawalawe National Park to see lots of elephants, including many who were growing up there after being weaned and old enough to leave the orphanage.

AES has been delighted to help Dr. Perera with funds to attend a vet workshop and look forward to working with him in the future.

 Linda, Dr. Perera, and staff share lunch

Linda, Dr. Perera, and staff share lunch

Visiting Sri Lanka would not be complete without a stop at Yala National Park and especially a moment at the 2004 Tsunami memorial.  Linda was there a few years after the tsunami and this beautiful stretch of beach makes remembering the horrific loss of life during that event even more dramatic.

An overnight stay at The Grand Hotel in Nuwara Eliya is always a very special treat and right on the way to Kandy.  A visit to the Veterinary School at the University of Peradeniya provided a good opportunity to get updated on Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society’s EleVet program, which is another effort AES has helped fund.  And then, a special moment: the opportunity to visit the Kandy Temple elephants.  Usually one only gets to see these elephants when they are on parade during a festival.  So, to see their ‘digs’ and meet the mahouts who care for them daily was quite a privilege!  Thanks to Dr.  Ashoka Dangolla, professor at the University of Peradeniya, for facilitating this opportunity.

Of course, one does not go to Kandy without visiting Pinnewala, the largest and first elephant sanctuary in Sri Lanka.  Linda was given a very good tour and visited with their elephants and staff.  From there she joined Dr. Dangolla at The Millennium Elephant Sanctuary, down the road from Pinnewala, to visit with the volunteers helping care for those elephants.

 Linda with a bull in Kandy

Linda with a bull in Kandy

Finally, on to Wasgamuwa: Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Sanctuary’s (SLWCS)
headquarters and where Linda spent two weeks on her first visit to the island volunteering in Ravi Corea’s Earthwatch project.  Ravi is the founder and president of SLWCS and offers excellent volunteer opportunities for those wanting to learn more about Asian elephant conservation, and all the challenges facing these magnificent creatures, on a firsthand basis.

Back to Colombo for Christmas Day, the anticipated manicure, pedicure, and massage didn’t happen: that staff was off for the Christmas festival!

While AES is a totally voluntary nonprofit and we cover all our own travel expenses, YOU, our supporters, are the ones who make it possible for us to fund these various beneficial projects and needs.  Thank you for helping us help elephants!

 An elephant on the side of the road at Udawalawe National Park

An elephant on the side of the road at Udawalawe National Park

2017 ZAA Conference

Chris Rico

This past November, secretary Vanessa Gagne attended the Zoological Association of America’s annual conference hosted by the San Antonio Zoo.

Vanessa presented a poster during one of the coffee breaks
on human-elephant conflict and the palm oil crisis which gave
her the opportunity to talk with attendees about the realities Asian elephants face in their shrinking habitat.  

The presenters came from a wide variety of backgrounds, including animal trainers, conservationists, and zoo directors.  Attendees were treated to a grand tour of the San Antonio Zoo where we met their baby hippo, fed giraffes, and saw their impressive Mexican reptile collection.  

Vanessa and her husband Michael were glad to be able to visit with fellow EMA member and SAZ mammal curator, Jonathan Reding.  We hope to attend more ZAA conferences in the future and become a part of their conservation message. 

Little Rock Zoo Elephant Appreciation Day 2017

Chris Rico

ELEPHANTS HELPING ELEPHANTS….and having fun doing so!

 Linda, Carl, and the LRZ Elephant Crew

Linda, Carl, and the LRZ Elephant Crew

Little Rock Zoo and the Little Rock Zoo American Association of Zoo Keepers have most generously helped fund Asian Elephant Support’s work for many years and 2017 was no exception.  Returning from a month in Kenya on 20 September, Linda and Carl hit the road heading toward Little Rock on the 21st…with all the nonprofit items packed and ready to roll.  No way would we not be there for an event that would benefit Asian Elephant Support’s work as well as the great enthusiasm and friendship enjoyed whenever we head to the Pecan and Pine Tree State!

 Babe artfully expressing herself

Babe artfully expressing herself

Like AES, Little Rock Zoo and her public truly appreciate Asian elephants and a good turnout was experienced all three days (22nd-24th) with lots of keeper chats, special treats for Zina, Sophie, and Babe, and the opportunity for the public to enter the elephants’ barn to see their digs and some of their toys as well as the equipment used to keep them healthy and happy.  Babe, the consummate artist, painted over 100 canvases for the three-day event, and almost every one was sold, with all proceeds to AES to help her wild cousins in range countries.  Babe was born in one of the Myanma Timber Enterprise camps in Myanmar, and had been tattooed with the MTE star brand before coming to America with several other MTE juveniles.  The star inevitably brings lots of comments and questions from the public who have not previously met Babe and thus opens the way for some good conversations and educational moments for Little Rock Zoo’s visitors.

 Our table of materials

Our table of materials

In addition to donations and sales of AES merchandise during the event, a month later at the Elephant Managers Association conference in Columbus, OH, Little Rock AAZK’s Kristin Warner presented AES with a check for $1,269 representing the proceeds from the event.  We can only promise to use this gift as thoughtfully as possible to best help elephants in Asia as our friends (people and elephants!) in Little Rock would want. 

 Beautiful collage of elephant art

Beautiful collage of elephant art

 Linda presenting

Linda presenting

 Our logo hand drawn in sidewalk chalk

Our logo hand drawn in sidewalk chalk

Thanks again to keepers Kristin Warner, Johnny Renuard, Justin Marren, Ellie Wheeler, Ashley Davenport, Little Rock AAZK, Susan Altrui, Zoo Director, and the very special Zina, Sophie, and 'the Babe with the star on her hip'......  Your kindness to us and commitment to Asian elephants is truly appreciated!
 

2017 EMA Conference

Chris Rico

This past October Linda and Vanessa attended the EMA conference in Columbus, Ohio.  The week was kicked off with a visit to the Cincinnati Zoo.

 Janet Dray, left, and President Linda, right, giving Schottzie a scrub (also pictured on the far left, Cecil Jackson Jr., Cincinnati Zoo Elephant Manager)

Janet Dray, left, and President Linda, right, giving Schottzie a scrub (also pictured on the far left, Cecil Jackson Jr., Cincinnati Zoo Elephant Manager)

There were two days of paper presentations and a couple of round-table discussions for all attendees to participate.

Linda and Vanessa had a table with the other vendors and sold Elefantea, shirts, greeting cards, some lovely necklaces made by Sharon Glaeser, and of course were there to talk range country conservation!

 Kristen Warner, Elephant Manager at Little Rock Zoo, left, and Linda with the proceeds from Little Rock Zoo AAZK Elephant Appreciation Day

Kristen Warner, Elephant Manager at Little Rock Zoo, left, and Linda with the proceeds from Little Rock Zoo AAZK Elephant Appreciation Day

Linda presented on our past projects and Vanessa was there not only representing AES, but she also is the Social Media Committee Chair for the EMA.  The keynote speaker this year was none other than Dr. Christopher Stremme, the veterinarian from Sumatra whom we sponsor.

 Linda presenting our project updates

Linda presenting our project updates

They enjoyed a day at the world renowned Columbus Zoo and a post-trip to The Wilds, a conservation center out in the country by Evansville, Ohio.  AES is proud to have three out of the four board members as professional members of the EMA.  We are always thankful to be a part of the elephant community here in the United States and abroad.  We look forward to the conference next year in Miami!

P.S. We were surrounded by luck with baby rhinos!  One had just been born at Cincinnati and one was born at The Wilds the day of our Columbus Zoo visit.

 Michael Gagne, Secretary Vanessa Gagne, and Sarah Conley of International Elephant Foundation are very close friends and enjoyed being able to hang out at the conference

Michael Gagne, Secretary Vanessa Gagne, and Sarah Conley of International Elephant Foundation are very close friends and enjoyed being able to hang out at the conference

Pacific Northwest Outreach

Chris Rico

August 10th, Grants Chair Sharon Glaeser, arranged for Linda to present AES to staff and volunteers at the Oregon Zoo in Portland.  She also had a great time checking up on Ruka, young male black rhino born at the Saint Louis Zoo, where Linda is a docent, who now resides in Oregon with his 'young lady'.  On the 12th, Linda visited with the elephant keepers at Pt. Defiance Zoo where she had presented the previous year, and on the 14th had a table at the Woodland Park Zoo (Seattle, WA) annual Asian Animals Festival. This year Linda got there on the right date, instead of two days late (oops!) but still had a great turnout that year for a presentation of AES' work. 

All three of these zoos have supported our work over the past years, with Woodland Park as an especially strong donor to Dr. Christopher Stremme's work in Sumatra.  Linda would like to especially thank Sharon, Shanon Smith at Point Defiance, and Bobbi Miller at Woodland Park for their great hospitality and support of our work.

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Texas Trip, July 2017

Chris Rico

VISITING FRIENDS IN TEXAS

In July, president Linda combined a family reunion in Galveston with visits to the San Antonio Zoo, to meet and thank the keepers there who came on board this year to host a California Pizza Kitchen event, and to stop by and say hello to all our friends at the Houston Zoo.

We were welcomed warmly by Jonathan Reding, curator at the San Antonio Zoo, and met their elephants, had lunch, and shared our concerns about Asian elephants.

Linda was going to visit Houston until she saw a new calf had arrived so she decided to send congratulations but defer her visit to another time.  You know how it is with a new baby, everyone involved is VERY busy!  However, Shanti was very experienced and calm and the new little girl, Joy, was doing very well.  They were being introduced to their adoring public, so almost to Austin on the way home to St. Louis, Linda, and an obliging Carl, did a (ahem) slight detour back to Houston.  How very worth the added miles, and all our best wishes and congratulations go out to the Houston Elephant Barn crew and their wonderful Asian elephants.

A Gathering in Texas

Chris Rico

AES's 2017 Annual In-Person Meeting

With directors not all located in easy driving distance of each other, our monthly board meetings are via conference call.  Once a year, in June, we gather together for both the joy of working together in person and enjoy some socializing ‘after business hours’.

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This year again finds us in Lewisville, Texas, with our meetings held at Vanessa Gagne’s home. With two small daughters, this arrangement made the most sense and also allowed us the opportunity to visit Ft. Worth Zoo, where our new director, Christine (Turk) Del Turco is one of the elephant keepers.

From our June newsletter you would have seen that our annual meeting this year saw us both say thanks and goodbye to April Yoder, who had been an AES director and officer for over 7 years, while at the same time welcoming Christine Del Turco to our board.  Turk is no stranger to AES; she has been there helping with our annual CPK event as well as doing other fundraisers on behalf of our work.

The meeting was a very productive one and some of our plans will be unveiled in future newsletters during the year.

New York - Canada Trip, June 20-29, 2017

Chris Rico

This trip was initiated for AES President, Linda, to present at Buffalo Zoo.  And then the road trip grew…

First, a stop at Columbus Zoo to visit Adam Felts, who is busy preparing to host the 2017 Elephant Managers Association conference in October (*), docent Nancy Mulholand, whom Linda met years ago when paired as roommates on a fantastic Earthwatch project in Tsavo, Kenya, and, of course, big Asian bull Hank and ‘his girls’!

 Hank

Hank

Then Buffalo Zoo where Mindy Ussrey arranged for AES to do a presentation to staff and volunteers and have some time with their two elephants, Surapa and Jothi.  The lunchtime presentation was well attended, with refreshments also provided, and Asian Elephant Support truly appreciated this opportunity to introduce ourselves to that audience.

 Buffalo Zoo staff & volunteers

Buffalo Zoo staff & volunteers

  Jothi left, Surapa right

Jothi left, Surapa right

 Rob Dempsey, elephant keeper, Mindy Ussrey, elephant manager, Gary Steele, elephant keeper

Rob Dempsey, elephant keeper, Mindy Ussrey, elephant manager, Gary Steele, elephant keeper

Next, a visit to Rochester Zoo where Janet Dray, a fellow elephant enthusiast who will be traveling to Kenya with Linda in August, shared the day meeting keepers and staff as well as many zoo residents in addition to their lovely African elephants.

 Janet and Rich Dray

Janet and Rich Dray

Finally, up to Hamilton, Ontario, for a day’s visit at African Lion Safari, the home to one very exceptional Asian elephant program.  Charlie Gray’s ability, experience, and dedication to the Asian elephant – from its history through its needs today and into the future – are as good as they get!  Sebastian made sure we had a complete visit, from barn visit throughout all that a full day offers, and Linda’s hat is tipped to Taren for her talent, as well as athletic ability in demonstrating various elephant mounts and dismounts, during a program that educates the public about the Asian elephant, his relationship to us, our shared history, and our responsibility for his future. 
 

 Walking the elephants at African Lion Safari

Walking the elephants at African Lion Safari

 Elephants always pack the house at keeper chats

Elephants always pack the house at keeper chats

 Nancy Mulholand, docent at Columbus Zoo and elephant enthusiast Carl Hogan, new AES volunteer

Nancy Mulholand, docent at Columbus Zoo and elephant enthusiast
Carl Hogan, new AES volunteer

It is always good – and important – to visit others to share our efforts and also learn about all the ways others who care for elephants are putting forth their time, energy, and resources to do all possible to insure a future for both Asian and African elephants.  For the time they give on such visits, our sincere thanks and appreciation!


(*) All serious Elephant Enthusiasts: this is an excellent opportunity that includes a pre-conference trip visit to Cincinnati Zoo (think baby hippo Fiona!), learn a lot about elephants during a couple days of good papers and opportunities to visit with keepers and vets from across the country and abroad, a wonderful Zoo Day at Columbus (if you haven’t seen their polar bear and African savannah exhibits, much less met Asian bull elephant Hank…you really must!), and topped off with a wonderful post-trip conference to The Wilds!  Check out the Elephant Managers Association Conference 2017 and consider joining us.  AES will be there, updating all on our past year’s work as well as having an information and merchandise table.

Florida Trip, May 2017

Chris Rico

It is always good to visit with those who not only have dedicated their careers to Asian elephants but also help support our efforts, so in May president Linda Reifschneider, accompanied by volunteer Cynthia Christison, headed to Florida.

Their first stop Jacksonville Zoo where Corey Neatrour and LeShea Upchurch have been hosting a successful CPK event for us for 3 years.  A brief presentation of AES’s work, a lovely visit of the zoo, and a shared pizza lunch, made for a great day with these wonderful friends.

 Jacksonville Zoo crew

Jacksonville Zoo crew

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The Center for Elephant Conservation is always a very special visit, and this trip was no exception. Spending time with elephant experts Wendy Kiso, Janice Aria, and Laura Keefe, who has also been hosting a CPK event for us in recent years, is always an opportunity to expand our knowledge as well as visiting some very special pachyderms! The opportunity to see the lovely Assan again and meet Mysore, the 72+ year old Asian female elephant who has taught so very many people all about elephants, made for a most memorable and appreciated visit.

At the Tampa Zoo, our CPK hostess Christi Reiter was finishing up a maternity leave, so met us with her new and charming daughter Charlotte and brought us up to date on their elephants as well as meeting their keepers, her hubby, and the most charming Aldabra tortoise, “Al”, ever!

We also had a very good visit with Dr. Mark Wilson at his Zoo Teaching School.  While being a vet who can treat most species, Mark is especially experienced in elephant medical care and is always willing to share his expertise with us when we ask.

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We spent a delightful morning with Patricia Zerbini at Two Tails Ranch where she offers her visiting public the opportunity to meet and connect with Asian elephants and sends them off understanding the realities of caring for elephants – both those living with us or in the wild today, as well as the challenges they face in the future.  It is always a special treat to spend some time with her big – and still growing – Asian bull Luke, and one cannot help but be impressed with her message to the public about elephant care and challenges.

Our last stop was the Nashville Zoo. There Jennifer Wu set up the opportunity for us to present AES to keepers and volunteers.  It was especially appreciated to be able to introduce ourselves to so many of her friends and coworkers who have been supporting us through the CPK events – and now also a Granite City Food & Brewery evening!  It needs to be added that their new zoo entry is amazing: truly like entering an African village, sans commercial signs, and with new facilities (thinking specifically of the new ladies’ restroom at the entrance!) that are both welcoming and simply beautiful.

 presenting at Nashville Zoo

presenting at Nashville Zoo

Thank you to each of our hosts who so generously welcomed us along the way, and thanks to Cynthia Christison for helping Linda talk AES to those we visited.  It is through the collaboration and cooperation of those who care, have the experience and knowledge, and spend their working lives 24/7 on behalf of this magnificent species that the Asian elephant has its best partners in its long trek into the next century.   We appreciate, respect, and thank you for all you do!

Welcome Christine Del Turco!

Chris Rico

It is an honor for us to welcome Christine Del Turco (Turk) as a new member of the AES board of directors.  Turk comes to us with extensive hands on elephant experience; an essential asset to our operations.  She has an animal behavior degree from Delaware Valley University and a passion for training and enrichment.  Christine currently works at the Fort Worth Zoo where she cares for Asian elephants, Greater One Horned Rhinos, and Nile Hippopotamus.  We knew she would be a perfect fit after she put so much time and effort into making this year’s CPK fundraiser our best year ever - rallying elephant people from across the country.  Her involvement in the Elephant Managers Association over the years has also helped her become a prominent figure in the elephant community.  On a personal note, I am thankful to be working alongside Turk in this capacity.  Once upon a time in my first elephant internship, Turk was my supervisor.  She selflessly lifted me up and gave me guidance time and time again to help me get to where I am today.  We are looking forward to what AES will become with her involvement.  

Vanessa, Linda, and Barbara