OKC Zoo’s Male Elephant Arrives

It’s a historical moment!  The Oklahoma City Zoo is on its way to building an entire herd of elephants.  This story about Rex, the new male, is from a fwe months ago and reprinted with approval. ~Amy

“Rex’s Trek” article from ZooSounds, Spring 2012 edition.

Rex’s Trek by Amy Dee Stephens

Trumpets, please!  Rex is here.  This long-anticipated male elephant has a big job—increasing the zoo’s elephant herd with new babies.  Fortunately, he comes with experience, already having added five babies to the Asian elephant population.

“One of the main reasons we wanted Rex is because he’s a proven breeder,” said Nick Newby, Pachyderm Supervisor.  “The Species Survival Plan gave us some options, and he seemed the best fit for us.”

Rex arrived on December 13th, after a long ride from his previous home in Canada.  It only took a short ten minutes to unload him off the truck and into his new stall.  Of course, he was unaware of the supporters that made his historic trek to Oklahoma City possible—many were children.  From November 16 to December 7, children raised $1,300 to help pay for Rex’s transportation across 1,300 miles.   

The fundraising campaign, “Rex’s Trek,” was the brainstorm of Dana McCrory, Director of the Oklahoma Zoological Society and Cindy Batt, Private Bank Manager for BOK who was recently appointed Trustee for OZS. 

The idea of reviving the 1930 and 1949 penny campaigns in which the children of Oklahoma City raised money to buy elephants Luna and Judy was a natural fit for this exciting addition to our zoo.

“BOK is honored to support the zoo; such an important educational destination in our city,” said Katie Price, BOK Vice President, Community Relations Manager.           

BOK accepted donation at all their branches in specially designed collection bags.  Children from all over Oklahoma City dropped off their donations and then dollars were collected in a special account.  The bank also involved their adopted school, Westwood Elementary.  Batt, McCrory and Newby visited Westwood during an all-school assembly to get the students excited about the campaign.  It worked, because they raised $1,200. 

“It was so fun to talk to the kids about Rex and answer their questions,” said Newby.  “It was motivating for them and for me.”

Three- and four-year-olds from the zoo’s Nature Explorers Preschool also raised money for Rex.  In just two weeks, the eleven children raised $100.  According to Randelyon Phillips, Naturalist Instructor, the children’s families jumped in by making donation jars. 

“The kids were so excited, even though they didn’t fully realize the concept of money,” said Phillips.  “For them, it was fun to see their money jars full to the top.” 

When the children delivered their donations to Penny, the zoo’s elephant mascot, their faces lit up with joy. 

Preschool children give their money to zoo elephant mascot. Photo by Randelyon Phillips.

“They gave hugs and high fives to Penny,” said Phillips.  “Then, the kiddy carousel ride outside the Guest Relations office made its elephant trumpeting sound and the kids thought it was Rex.  They thought he was saying ‘I’m coming’—it was so cute!”

A week later, when Rex arrived, the preschoolers visited him at the elephant exhibit and welcomed him toOklahoma City. 

“Miss Randelyon, are we inCanada?” asked three-year-old Nkem House.

“I love Rex,” said four-year-old Isabella Curtis.  He’s so gray.”

He’s also hairy, freckled and “mammoth-looking,” based on other comments by zoo visitors. 

“Asian elephants are pretty hairy, so that’s not so unusual,” said Newby.  “But the main question we get is about his tusks being cut off.  That’s for maintenance, because routine trimming prevents them from growing too long and helps maintain the health of the tusk.”  

Since Rex’s arrival, he’s been calm and cautious.    

“He’s a really good animal, but he’s still a boy.  He investigates cautiously and hasn’t shown aggression—of course he hasn’t’ been in musth yet,” said Newby.  “We can’t be too careful.  This is all new to him.  He spent 27 years with his previous trainer, and now he’s getting use to new people, in a new place, with a new routine.”

The pachyderm staff is pleased with how well Rex is adjusting.  He is learning new behaviors through a different style of training from what he already knew.  Newby was the first to introduce him to training using a target.  The target, a long piece of bamboo with a buoy attached to the end, is used to touch and guide him.

“Every time I touch him with the target, he hears and click and gets a reward,” Newby said.  “The first time, he didn’t know what was going on, but it only took him one session to figure out, ‘target touching means food.’” 

Newby explained that the pachyderm staff plans to keep Rex’s training very simple.  He may eventually be used in the elephant demonstration yard, after modifications are made to make it safe enough for a male bull, but Rex is specifically here to breed. 

Already, Rex is “meeting” Chandra, the female elephant.  They’ve had face time  through protective barriers, greeted each other, and touched trunks.  The introduction has gone well, so the plan is to allow them to spend time together when Chandra enters her reproductive cycle this spring. 

In the long run, Rex will spend limited time with the herd.  Males are mostly solitary, so he will only visit the females a few times a week for social interaction.

“But they can’t be too buddy-buddy, or the romance wears off,” Newby said. 

Even though Rex’s Trek has brought him safely to Oklahoma City, his journey is far from over.  His future holds many new experiences, the hope of new babies, and an exciting new era for the zoo’s elephant population.

The children who helped raise pennies for Rex will carry on a proud Oklahoma City Zoo tradition, which began back in 1930; knowing that “I helped bring an elephant to the zoo.”

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