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Remembering Pet the elephant

by Teresa Bell

Posted on August 2, 2006 at 1:27 PM

Updated Wednesday, Nov 4 at 2:40 PM


As reporters, we sometimes get to go behind the scenes and do things that other people don't usually get a chance to experience.

Stories about the Oregon Zoo have always been among my favorites, because I'm a huge animal lover and nothing compares to getting to meet some of the gentle giants in person, like the time I got to help bathe the elephants.

It was a very hot day and the elephants needed a cool bath. If they were wild, they'd probably be standing trunk deep in a pond or rolling in mud.

Inside the Oregon Zoo exhibit, the elephants like to roll in the dirt. The zookeepers told me it's their way of putting on 'sunscreen.'

So on this particular day, they really needed a bath and lucky me, I got to help.

I have to admit, my heart was pounding very hard when the zookeeper brought me past the protection of the thick metal bars and inside the elephant exhibit. The elephants were so big, would they be friendly?

But the huge animals slowly sauntered up, not appearing aggressive at all. They even offered their trunks, kind of like a handshake. It sounds corny, I know, but I couldn't help but get a huge, childish grin on my face.

The zookeeper pulled out a long hose and told me to start spraying. The elephants really seemed to enjoy it, waving their trunks around and even opening their massive mouths to take a drink.

Since I'm not a zookeeper, I wasn't sure which one was which, but I was told that Pet especially liked to be scratched behind the ears and I do remember doing a lot of scratching that day.

The attached picture was taken during my short stint in the elephant yard, and it's a memory of Pet and her family that I will always cherish.

- Teresa Bell/ Senior Producer and Reporter

In addition to my insights, I thought you might enjoy reading some quotes I collected from Mike Keele, the zoo's deputy director and former elephant keeper who worked directly with Pet.

- She was such a special animal. I am so fortunate to have been able to work with her. She represents the end of an era to me, since she is the last of our original females. I am lucky to have known
and worked with them all.

-She was so intelligent. She enjoyed spending time with her daughter Sung-Surin and the other cows. She was a wonderful ambassador for her species. Millions and millions of zoo visitors have made a connection with Asian elephants because of her.

Even though Keele has spent countless hours with many, many elephants he said Pet was by far his favorite.

We'd love to hear your favorite memories of Pet and the elephant exhibit as well.