There can be no denying that a childhood enriched by the Houston Zoo is one filled with wondrous and vivid memories, a first glimpse into the beauty that is the natural world. Many keepers can tell stories of their first memories of zoos and aquariums, explaining how the animals they observed helped shape their desire to care for them, and emphasized the importance of preserving nature to any who would cross their path. I am not exempt from this; it just happens that my most vivid memory is also one that reflects the magic of the holiday season.
Most animal-lovers will acknowledge that they possess traits that many others would call “eccentric”; having been a biophile (someone with an affinity for living things including plants and animals) all of my life, I expressed these traits at a young age by writing my Christmas letter and wishlist to Rudolph.
My intent was actually quite logical: Rudolph didn’t get as many letters as Santa, so he would be better able to read and address them. Pointing out that reindeer can’t read only causes me to point out that NORMALLY reindeer can’t fly. Obviously Santa’s magic reindeer are an exception… Plus, Santa had to go wherever his reindeer took him, so it only made sense to butter up the reindeer with a bit of extra recognition.
On Christmas Eve, the cookies for Santa were left out with carrots and celery because I was asking for something BIG.
I wanted an elephant. My grandma absolutely loved elephants, and watching them interact with each other at the Houston Zoo was one of our favorite things to do; We could spend hours just watching them. My plan was that Santa would bring MY elephant to live at my grandma’s house. We would drain her pool and the elephant would be able to live there happily, cared for by my grandma and myself.
Now, my mother recognized the problem of trying to provide an elephant for Christmas and pointed out a few of the obvious problems. Our elephant would be lonely without any elephant-friends, and neither myself nor my grandma knew how to take care of one. My mother’s suggestion was that I write and ask for my elephant to be delivered to the Houston Zoo. Not only would there be plenty of elephants for my new friend to play with, but there would also be a number of qualified people ready to take the best possible care of the elephant I would surely get for my good behavior.
Christmas day came and went, and there was absolutely no mention of my elephant on the news. I felt completely cheated by Santa and the reindeer. Hadn’t I been well-behaved the entire year? And for what? There was no mention of this new arrival to the Zoo, and certainly every news station would want to cover the story of an elephant that arrived at the front of the Zoo with a bow on it’s head! Perhaps it was even wrapped in colorful paper, possibly even laughing as keepers tried to shake the package to guess what was inside…
My mother, being the ever-capable storyteller that she is, came up with a wonderful explanation. Even if it is just a baby, an elephant is a BIG present to wish for. Obviously there wasn’t enough room in the sleigh for Santa to accommodate my elephant in addition to all the other presents good little girls and boys wanted. She assured me that Santa would return to the North Pole and (perhaps after a hearty meal and long nap), return with my elephant. Years later, she revealed that her goal was to distract me long enough that I would give up thinking about it. She would point to a random elephant the next time we went to the Zoo and insist that it was the one Santa delivered specifically for me. If only she had known this would not be the case…
Singgah, the Asian Elephant, was born at the Houston Zoo on December 29, 1993. Her birth was a bit of a surprise, and as I expected, every news station was covering the birth of this Christmas miracle. We promptly planned our trip to see MY elephant, and certainly were not disappointed when we got there. A temporary graphic had been put up for the baby elephant, explaining it’s name meant “fell from the sky.” Apparently the birth had been so sudden that the infant almost fell on a keeper. At least that’s what everyone else thought; I was one of the few people who knew that Santa had actually delivered an elephant to the Houston Zoo for me, because I had been brave enough to ask Rudolph for such a BIG present.
The holidays may mean many things to many people. Traditionally people mention a sense of goodwill and joy associated with the brightly colored lights and ornaments of Christmas. The same is true for me, but I also remember the sense of wonder at what the natural world is capable of that I felt while watching MY elephant run around the yard.
It has gotten much easier to give the gift of an animal at the Houston Zoo. If you know someone who would appreciate it, why not give the gift of an animal adoption to a special little boy or girl who has been particularly good? There are a wide variety of animals eagerly awaiting you! Not only does your support help take care of that animal here at the zoo, it also helps fund conservation projects to help take care of the natural world on a much grander scale.