I’ve been lucky enough to meet a few elephants on assignment or on my own. They are marvelous animals and deserve to thrive in the wild. Performing Animal Welfare Society in San Andreas, Calif., is where I met Pat Derby, now deceased. She had a passion for rescuing elephants. The first to arrive at the sanctuary were 71 and Mara. They had been moved from a smaller preserve in Galt. Mara was born in Africa and was to become a circus elephant in Mexico after her mother was killed as part of a population cull. A rescue group saved her from that fate. Their first elephant, named 71, was underweight and had problems with her internal organs from the time she arrived in 1986 until her death in 2008, but lived 23 years in better health and relative freedom. Although their new dwellings had been photographed before, Pat told me I was the first photographer allowed into the elephant enclosure.
Other assignments took me to the Oakland Zoo to meet elephants M’Dunda, Donna, Lisa and their team of caretakers and handlers. The chance to touch the bottom of one of M’Dunda’s feet was a real treat. The zoo had just expanded their habitat to make it as natural as possible. I’d love to see elephants in the wild.