It's not often that you get to meet a local celebrity, but luckily, journalists have a better chance than most.
My sister and I were able to schedule a private interview with Thane Maynard, director of the Cincinnati Zoo. Thane is well-known in the community as a conservation advocate and the producer of The 90 Second Naturalist radio program. I had scheduled an interview so that we could talk about the plight of elephants and what's being done in zoos across the nation to boost elephant populations and support anti-ivory efforts.
As we sat there, Thane told us about the Cincinnati Zoo's elephants and their efforts to breed their youngest female, Jati. He also spoke of the move toward protected contact, a nation-wide mandate on the part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, and the varying opinions around it.
Although I had a list of questions I strategically left time for my sister to glean information about her future career as an elephant keeper. But scarcely had the words "I volunteer with the elephant keepers at the Louisville Zoo" left her lips before Thane perked up and said something that made both our hearts race:
"Let's go down and see the elephant keepers."
Never had I expected such an invitation, and I credit it entirely to my sister. We happily followed Thane to the elephant barn, barely suppressing our squeals, to be introduced to two keepers and the zoo's four elephants.
Val, one of the older keepers, led us through the barn, showing us the pachyderm's dinner buckets (fruit and ice cream cones with salt and Vitamin D), eventually leading us to the yard that held the three females. Schottzie and Jati stood just feet away from us, touching each other with their trunks and gathering small bits of hay to snack on.
My sister and I grabbed our phones, snapping pictures and shooting videos. She told me later that she captured the two friends conversing in squeaks as Thane and Val talked about various keeper things. Eventually the third elephant, Mai Thai, joined them, and we made sure to capture her cuteness as well.
Then it was time for the bull, so Val led us over to see Sabu, the zoo's lone Asian male. Val tried to get Sabu to reach his trunk out for some hay, but Sabu just told him off with a trumpet. After visiting with him for a bit, we headed back out of the barn, shaking both men's hands and thanking them profusely for the great privilege they gave us.
Kerry Skiff is a conservation advocate and recent journalism graduate of Northern Kentucky University. She follows the ivory trade around the world, and uses her voice to educate Americans about their role in animal conservation.