I know. I seem obsessed with elephants. There are worse obsessions, I suppose. (I am sure I have many of them). But ellies were the hit of Summer Safari, along with the polar bears Koda and Nuka. Carnivore keeper Mark McDonough was on hand to keep the guys entertained, so they would be entertaining for the crowd. Then there are the primates, the wild dogs(they were asleep),the tiger cubs, the ostrich, etc, etc, etc. Can’t choose.

But my friend, Kristen Kurland took all her pictures of the elephants, and we just happened to get this show of some of the magic that is Elephant Manager, Willie Theison.

It goes without saying that there is something magic about elephants. But check out the internet and google Theison. You will find that the late Fred Rogers mentions Willie in a commencement address Fred Rogers gave at Middlebury College. Fred used Willie as an example of someone who loves what he does, and does it with passion.

That was clear to a host of fans at Summer Safari, where over 2000 people walked the zoo, ate, drank, danced, and had a fabulous time. The dress is more casual than the Zoo Gala, and the demographic was all over the board.

Geoff Kurland, Kristen’s husband, remarked that he couldn’t understand why young people said there was nothing to do in Pittsburgh. Geoff is a pediatric pulmonologist at Children’s Hospital, and Kristen is a professor at CMU and was voted teacher of the year in 2005 at the Heinz School of Public Policy. Geoff has been in remission from a rare form of leukemia for over 18 years, and has written a remarkable book about being a doctor who had to become a patient. “My Own Medicine” is truly inspirational. The couple to my right, are friends of the Kurlands. Chuck Fitz is a radiologist at Children’s and his wife, Anna, is an administrator there. None of them had ever been to a zoo party, and they had a ball. With just a little effort, you can squint your eyes and pretend you are in Africa, or Churchill, Manitoba. And it’s a lot cheaper.

Kristen even got some pictures of the group of us who did the elephant training piece on WTAE. Willie, Joe Galvanek, the young elephant keeper who got married Friday the 13th, and his new wife, Libby, the vet tech to whom he proposed on the ear of an elephant.
Again, thanks to Dr.Barbara Baker and Emily Beyer.And all the staff. Emily is the driving force behind the event, and it came off without a hitch. SOLD OUT!! And a personal thanks to Tracy and Connie, and Sarah Poweska, who helped me out.

The woman with the birds on her hand in this picture, Erin Estell, was also there with a group of trainers from the National Aviary. Visiting the lorikeets at the Aviary was another highlight of the last couple of months. There is nothing like having a lorie stick his tongue in your ear. Those tongues are used to get nectar out of flowers, and it was a very strange sensation. Then he started nibbling on my earrings, while the lorikeets, which are smaller than the lorie, are climbing all over you hands eating the nectar in the cup. The story was a preview of the opening of the interactive exhibit that debuted the first week of July. It is a grand idea, a riotous experience of color, sound, and strange feelings. When the birds walk on your head, it feels a little like a massage you get at the hair stylist. But the hair stylist doesn’t poop on your head. At least, I hope not… When I got back to the station, one of the interns was afraid to tell me I had poop in my hair. So what? It was worth it.


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