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Foundation News

Helium Comedy Club Fundraiser

Chris Rico

As mentioned in our previous newsletter, a fundraiser for AES was held last month at The Helium Club in Buffalo, NY.

Since there are no California Pizza Kitchen restaurants (or even Asian elephants) in western New York, some of us were feeling left out of the AES Annual April ‘Pizza for Pachyderms’ fundraising event. Mindy Ussrey, former Buffalo Zoo Elephant Manager thought of an alternative that resulted in raising $535 for AES on Saturday May 18, 2019. Mindy worked in conjunction with a local Buffalo, NY comedy club ‘The Helium’ to host an event before one of their performances. The Helium allowed us to receive a portion of the tickets sales that we sold as well as provided a table for us to promote and raise more funds for AES.

So even though the two Buffalo Zoo Asian elephants Jothi and Surapa had relocated to New Orleans earlier in the year, their former manager Mindy initiated, organized, and set up a very successful fundraiser for AES. She had support from a very generous Seneca Park Zoo (SPZ), SPZ Assistant Curator Lindsay Brinda, and the four SPZ African elephants – Chana, Moki, Genny C, and Lilac. Lindsay not only helped in selling an amazing number of tickets to the event but also provided elephant paintings for sale to the public. AES Board member Janet Dray supported the event by sewing and selling embroidered laptop cases and recycled tote bags as well as provided items for an AES gift basket raffle. We also sold AES bumper stickers and handed out AES brochures.

Including the entertainment it was a very fun evening with friends, family and coworkers supporting AES through ticket sales, 50/50 raffle, gift basket raffle, item sales and donations. As an additional benefit – Mindy created a wonderful AES information display which we plan to reuse for more outreach opportunities. Huge thanks to Mindy Ussrey and Lindsay Brinda along with Buffalo zookeepers Steve Ussrey and Gary Steele for making this a wildly successful evening. Your enthusiasm and commitment in supporting AES is inspiring, contagious and very much appreciated.

Thinking outside of the box, there are many ways to support AES fundraising efforts and have fun even if there are no CPKs in your location. We are looking forward to seeing more ideas on how people are raising funds in support of AES efforts.

Sophie's 50th Birthday Bash

Chris Rico

Little Rock Zoo celebrates Sophie while raising funds for AES

Little Rock Zoo celebrates Sophie while raising funds for AES

Nothing like packing up a SUV full of AES merchandise and informational handouts knowing you are heading to a 100% rainout! But with 6 big watermelon also already packed to go, Linda and volunteer Cynthia Christison head out.

Linda and Heidi

Linda and Heidi

Arriving in Little Rock early Friday afternoon, we drive to Conway for dinner with our advisor, Heidi Riddle. It is always a good visit and opportunity to talk about future funding possibilities for AES. Oh, and the weather was lovely on Friday.

The rain was already in full force with the rising sun on Saturday and the weatherman’s 100% rain prediction was 100% accurate. So some computer work, shopping, a movie, and dinner with the elephant barn crew made our Saturday.

Luckily the weatherman was right again with his prediction that the rain would be gone by Sunday morning and so the zoo decided to celebrate their Sophie that day. Although chilly and windy, the turnout was good and a very fun and interactive event took place with children decorating brown lunch bags, filling them from buckets of chopped produce, and then being able to place them in the yard where Sophie would find her birthday presents. Birthday cake and punch for all was also provided, and the zoo’s public is always kind to AES, purchasing our merchandise, giving donations, and showing a real interest in our efforts for Sophie’s “cousins” in Asia.

Little Rock Zoo has been a dependable supporter of our work for a number of years now, and we can only say, THANK YOU!
We appreciate you very much.

AES Trip to Thailand

Chris Rico


From the perspective of new board member, Janet

I had two major objectives when I joined the trip to Thailand for the mobile vet dedication on Thailand Elephant Day:

  1. To see for myself how AES funds are put to use,

  2. To learn more about Asian elephants in one of their range countries.

Let’s just say this trip delivered on these items and more. I met recipients of AES grants: camp managers, workshop participants, the wonderful elephant vets and researchers at Chang Mai University and AES partners.  Some funds are used to improve camp conditions  for some captive elephants.  It was thrilling to actually see the mobile vet van in use, with vets treating elephants at different camps and facilitating research data collection.

I traveled from Chang Mai to Chang Rai in the new mobile vet van purchased with AES funds.  If I had to choose a highlight of the trip, this was it.  I saw the countryside where the wild elephants reside, visited a number of different types of camps and watched the vets  interacting with the patients and clients. I realized firsthand how remote the camps are from elephant medical facilities and experienced that the CMU van was able to handle the rough terrain and winding roads.  We met camp managers, mahouts, veterinarians and respected experts in the study of Asian elephants and, yes, even an elephant chiropractor.

Throughout all these travels in the van and a very informative stay at Elephantstay (a great place to learn about the life of a mahout), I don’t think a day passed without seeing multiple elephants.  From meting the first Thai calf conceived through artificial insemination named AI, seeing a calf less than 2 weeks old and a cow almost ready to give birth, to treating scrapes, collecting blood draws and checking on a lame elephant  - all were part of the job of the mobile vet.  At the Friends of the Asian Elephant (FAE) elephant hospital, I even had the opportunity to see an elephant being treated for an injury from a land mine. The hospital has a lab that can produce prosthesis for wounded elephants!

There were so many other discoveries on this trip.  I wish I could tell you about each and every one.  Overall, I could not be more proud of the people and work enabled through the donations made to AES.  It was gratifying to see the vet being able to treat remote elephants in the field.  The studies and recommendations of Chiang Mai University are so important to the survival of the Asian elephant in Thailand and elsewhere.

From the perspective of secretary, Vanessa Gagne

This past March I had the rare opportunity to travel to Thailand for National Thai Elephant Day and the dedication of the vehicle AES purchased for Chiang Mai University's Vet School's mobile clinic.  I most treasured my experience with the Thai people – I met so many colleagues in person and spent quality time with them.   It is through these human connections we will be able to help ensure the future of the Asian elephant.

I truly enjoyed seeing how each camp operates differently to manage their elephants.  Thailand is so rich in culture, especially elephant culture, that to miss seeing this as a part of their daily lives is to omit an integral portion of their national sense of self.  I think I set a personal record:  I saw over 140 elephants in one day during the Thai Elephant Day celebration.  It was remarkable!

Thailand has a fascinating history, and since archaeology is one of my favorite hobbies, I visited some temples and was captivated by their myths and symbols.  Many of the motifs are identical to that of the Maya.  I was able to visit the Patara Elephant Farm in Chiang Mai where I participated in their “mahout for a day” program.   The staff's educational talks to the participants were informative, demonstrating their professionalism and knowledge.  They explained the important difference between animal welfare and animal rights.

I left with a sense of peace and the hope I would return again soon.  There is so much work to be done helping people and their elephants.  I know it was the beginning of a life-long relationship with the Thai people and their “Chang Baan,” or domesticated elephants.

From the perspective of president, Linda Reifschneider

This was the first trip to Thailand for Janet and Vanessa.  I remember my first trip!   But that was 2002 and there have been 20+/- trips since then, so my perspective on this trip is a bit different.

From our visit to Richard Lair in Lampang, breaking in the new vet vehicle visiting elephant camps, our visit to Patara Elephant Farm, the vehicle dedication ceremony at Chiang Mai University through the welcoming Thai Elephant Day visits at Maesa and Maetaeng elephant camps and our visit to a Karen camp and John Roberts at the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation, I experienced the ‘being with’ elephants that made me know on my first visit in 2002, it was time for me to say goodbye to a wonderful 43 -year career with Edward Jones and figure out how to be of benefit to today’s Asian elephant as well as a positive force for their future.  I’ve had a lot of help along the way, and so, I wish to use this article to say thank you to some very special friends who are the ‘boots on the ground’ in Thailand – the men and women with the education and expertise, determination and dedication, to a better today as well as the future of Asian elephants.  They are:  Richard Lair, acknowledged expert on Thai history, culture, language, and elephants; Drs. Chatchote Thitaram and Khajohnpat Boonprasert, Chiang Mai University; John Roberts, Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation; Theerapat (Pat) Trungprakan, Patara Elephant Farm and his lovely wife Anocha (Dao); Julie Ferdinand, a most helpful friend, and an expert canine exporter!  My sincere appreciation also to the newer friends and acquaintances made on this trip as they, too, are the hope of the Asian elephant and I am simply humbled to help in whatever small ways AES is able.

Both top and bottom truck pictures are courtesy of Dr. Yeaw

Both top and bottom truck pictures are courtesy of Dr. Yeaw

EEHV Workshop

Chris Rico

eehv workshop.jpg

As elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus (EEHV) has been a cause of death for many young Asian elephants both in captivity and in the wild, Linda & Janet attended the Houston EEHV Workshop held March 26-28 to learn more about the situation. It was an overwhelmingly instructive and inspiring experience to be with many people from around the world trying to contain, treat, and develop a vaccine against EEHV, including researchers, zookeepers and elephant managers, geneticists, veterinarians and stem cell producers.

EEHV is a very tough and heartbreaking disease and to see that so many people and institutions are committed to this cause gave us a sense of hope because as we heard repetitively at the conference, “Who doesn’t want to Save a baby elephant?”

Click to read the press release

eehv workshop photo.jpg