Saturday, March 03, 2012

From Richard Reynolds

This is Ruaha in Basel Zoo. She took her name from the Ruaha plain of Tanzania where she was born in 1951 (then Tanganyika). She arrived at Basel Zoo on November 1, 1952 and died on July 29, 2010 at age 59, the last 57 years, 8 months, and 29 days of which were spent at the Swiss zoo. That is the record longevity of an African elephant in captivity anywhere.

This photo and message is inspired by the great photo of Basel's elephants sent to the blog a few days back by Wayne Jackson.

I sent that photo to John Roth, a native of Basel, and like me a child of 1934. John grew up around the zoo there and then became a zoo professional here in the States. He was Atlanta Zoo's first professional zoo director (from 1967 to 1969). I got to know him well. John sent me these comments about the Basel elephants which I thought the readership would find interesting.

John Roth said - - - Richard - - Great photo, probably 1967, two years after OMARI was euthanized... starting on the left are KATOTO, BEIRA, IDUNDA and RUAHA - - five Africans. They were transported by Dr. Ernst Lang, from Arusha, Tanganyika to Basel by ship and train. Lang was Prof. Hediger's Veterinarian in 1952 when the five arrived in Basel. Lang became Zoo Director after Hediger accepted the Director position in Zurich in 1954.

The small African could be OTA, the young female born to Omari and Idunda in 1966. She would be about one year old in this photo.

The Asian cow on the right in this photo is most likely GUILIA, which is listed as having arrived in Basel in 1961.... .... (The name "Guilia" makes sense since one of the zoo keeper's working with them was Max Guiliani !!!)... that would have to be verified by Basel Zoo however. )

As shown in the photo, the elephants are being worked by Werner Behrens, Head Elephant Trainer/Keeper whom Hediger hired from the Hagenbeck Tierpark in Stellingen, Germany after the five Africans had arrived in Basel. They should be about 16 years of age when the photo was taken.

I was one of the young volunteers (three of us) who alternated helping Behrens guide the elephants when they walked from the zoo to their forest playground each Saturday, and I did that for a couple of years.....

Hediger built the arena shown in the photo after Werner Behrens was hired. Under him the elephants were trained for that activity almost immediately. I saw their performances in the ring many times before I departed in 1956, even went with them to Rapperswil (the Circus Knie headquarters where they performed for the first time, and then traveled around Switzerland with the Circus for all Swiss to see)...

They were taken for walks around the zoo first, then into the Basel streets to get them conditioned to traffic and strange noises, all the way to the weekly market in downtown Basel where vendors offered them their produce to eat and feast on. There is a photo of the five being walked through the streets of Basel with Behrens up front and Carl Stemmler's son, Othmar, taking up the rear. Stemmler was the long-time Head keeper at the zoo when Othmar and I were class mates at the Realgymnasium....

Hediger pioneered the philosophy to provide all the animals at the Basel and later Zurich zoos with daily meaningful activities, especially for the elephants... thus walking the elephants in a column together (all trunks holding tail of elephant ahead of them....) for long distances. He also gave them experiences in playing and roaming around the "Allschwilerwald" (the forest area I mentioned above). All of this was to simulate the same kind of activities which elephants do in Africa, like walking long distances to find water, food and taking a bath....As you know it was some twenty/thirty years later when U.S. Zoos finally adopted Hediger's animal psychology concepts and began offering their animals the same kind of meaningful activities by redesigning zoo exhibits and enlarging them for this purpose...

The elephant web site [ ] erroneously lists BEIRA as having arrived from Hagenbeck's. No she came with the other four from Africa. Beira was the tallest of the five and could well have been born up to a year before the other four. Behrens used Beira as the lead cow when they walked through the streets of Basel, followed by Omari, Idunda, Ruaha and Katoto.

I left Basel for Philadelphia in 1956, where I found employment at the Philly Zoo (with the help and advice from Prof. Heini Hediger

All makes for nice memories!!!! - - -Thanks for sending the photo - - John Roth


Wade G. Burck said...

Thank you for sharing this. Some powerful, powerful names dropped in the telling of this tale. Great, great stuff.

Wade Burck

DanKoehl said...

This all gets interesting, and I find it exciting about this import of elephants, and how opinions differ.

I had an email from Dr. Peter Dollinger, Zoo Office Bern, in 2008, where he writes about Beira: She had arrived at Basel on 04.11.1952 (your data base says 1953-00-00) from Hagenbeck.

According to him, (and/or Basel Zoo archive?) Beira did indeed come from Hagenbecks.

Now, in this article online Prof. Lang says: "Am Ende der Expedition waren sieben Jungelefanten geschnappt worden. Fünf davon sind für die Schweiz bestimmt: Die kleine Ruaha und Indunda sowie die drei Männchen Omari, Katoto und Tembo, der für den Zirkus reserviert ist." By the end of the expedition, seven jung elephants were caught. Five of them with destiny for Switzerland: the small Ruaha and Idunda, as well as the three bulls Omari, Katoto and Tembo, reserved for the Circus.

Those lines are interesting, because he is mentioning the five for switzerland, but also indicating that two other elephants were exported from Arusha?

John Roth seem to not to mention Tembo, which may have a reason:

Dr Dollinger writes further: "(Tembo left for Circus Knie after a few months and ultimately became breeding bull at Hannover Zoo)."

Heres a picture when the (5?) elephants are walked in the town Basel. (but which 5...?)

And on this page about Circus Knie, you can actually see 7 africans in the ring...

To be honest, I have no clue myself, but more than one source say that Beira came from hagnbeck, and not together with the others from the area along the Ruaha river.

I do hope, however, that we may solve this riddle. (and whats the name of the seventh elephant, at Knie?)