It felt like it was time to go back.
On the afternoon of Friday, February 27th, Woodland Park Zoo CEO Deborah Jensen stepped up to the podium at an assembled press conference to announce that the zoo’s remaining two elephants, Bamboo (48) and Chai (36), both female Asian elephants, had finally been found a new “home.” At the same time, 2,000 miles away at the Oklahoma City Zoo, where Bamboo and Chai will be headed in a month’s time, it was 18 degrees Fahrenheit with snow falling, and the zoo was announcing it would be closing early on account of the frigid weather. (OCZ would remain closed for the weekend because of cold and snow).
From a governance standpoint this was a methodical process. It was a lengthy process. We are so excited about the fact that we can achieve what the public and our professionals told us needed to happen.
-Laurie Stewart, Woodland Park Zoo Board Chair
Thus ended a frantic six-month period since the death of the Woodland Park Zoo’s lone African elephant, Watoto (45), and a complete reversal from the zoo’s ambitious-if-not-arrogant intention to expand their elephant herd, to their decision to shutter the exhibit entirely and send Bamboo and Chai packing to what undoubtedly is an even worse environment.
Welcome to your new home, ladies.
Anyone who knows me even the slightest bit is likely aware that I am a huge fan of food, Nick Cave, and the written word. So when I was recently reacquainted with Chester Hastings after a brief meeting a decade earlier, and remembered he not only has the same interests but has had involvement with all of them professionally, I knew I had to delve in deeper and put the pieces of the puzzle together.
Before I could even peel an onion he put me in the basement offices and made me read Italo Calvino, study the art of Caravaggio, and architecture of Borromini and Bernini. He took me to the opera, convinced that before I could learn how to cook the traditional foods of Italy I had to understand the culture from whence they came. We weren’t artists creating something new, we were anthropologists, keeping the ancient traditions alive!
I first met Chester through our mutual friend, Todd, at a Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds concert in 2003. The band was doing a limited five-city US tour, and I flew down to Los Angeles for the show and to catch up with Todd. Through the years, I would continue to hear little snippets about Chester whenever I spoke with Todd, but it wasn’t until last year at another Nick Cave concert in San Francisco that I would meet Chester again.
Chester has been in the food industry for all of his adult life, starting in San Francisco before doing a stint in Italy, and later spending time in London because of a chance meeting at a Nick Cave concert. Do you see the pattern here? Chester then moved back to the States, landing in Los Angeles, where he met Joan McNamara (and our mutual friend Todd) both of whom he worked with up until very recently when he decided to dedicate himself full-time to his other passion: screenwriting.
Thank you for your reply to my correspondence urging City and County officials to use their political and financial influence to ensure that Bamboo and Chai are sent to a sanctuary where they can roam and be free after a lifetime of physical and mental abuse, and not sent to another zoo where they will continue to suffer for public amusement and private profit.
While I realize that being a member of both the King County Council and Woodland Park Zoo’s Board of Directors puts you in a position that some might consider to be a conflict of interest when it comes to determining the financial backing and other resources the Council affords the Zoo on taxpayers’ behalf, I am surprised and somewhat taken aback that your response to the community’s concern about Bamboo and Chai would seem to be taken almost verbatim from the Zoo’s press releases; statements which dismiss those who advocate for sending Bamboo and Chai to sanctuary, and the content of which is simply untrue when looked at with a critical eye and a minimal amount of research.
No matter what I write about Angels Rest, it will sound clichéd. Everything I do write about it, however, is true. On the morning we departed the desert to return home we decided to make one last drive through Angels Canyon and Best Friends, stopping at Angels Rest for a few minutes of quiet contemplation.
Forget about enlightenment.
Sit down wherever you are
And listen to the wind singing in your veins.
As dawn broke sideways across the cemetery’s ornately carved main gate, we silently entered and slowly, reverently walked our way along paths where hundreds of memorials mark the final resting places of dearly departed pets. Simple markers, carved plaques, personalized urns, wind chime trees bearing names and messages of a favorite cat or beloved dog. Many were surrounded by mementos: dog tags, pictures, pebbles, messages of love and remembrance. Remi “Our Baby,” Mr. White Kitty, Flopster and Mopster, the Reno Rabbits.
As our time in Kanab wore on and we traveled out north, south, east, and west of town on our daily adventures, we’d find ourselves driving frequently past the entrance to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. The fact that we’d originally planned to come to Southern Utah first and foremost to volunteer for them hung over our heads, and we knew at some point we needed to pay a visit.
Lots of people talk to animals. Not very many listen, though. That’s the problem.
-Benjamin Hoff, “The Tao of Pooh.”
Make no mistake: we think very highly of the work Best Friends does and what they’re able to accomplish, but it became a complete nightmare simply trying to sign up to volunteer. They were extremely slow to respond to any inquiries. Weeks, sometimes months, would go by before we’d get replies to emails, and even replying back to them within minutes of their emails to us would again mean weeks until their next reply came. The vol schedules they sent us were changed and out of sync with each other and what we’d selected in a way that meant wouldn’t be able to fulfill our duties according to their own guidelines. They never answered their phone or returned the messages we left, and when we finally took to Twitter for a little polite shaming about their lack of operational organization, they tweeted back that we should… call them. Queue forehead repeatedly hitting desk. We did our best to remain polite and supportive throughout, but it felt like a losing fight. Yet still we kept driving by Best Friends with that guilty itch.