Thursday, June 9, 2011

Plucked from a yard sale, Part 5:
Is this Dondi the elephant?

We're down to the final four items from the 14 that I acquired for $1.25 at a neighborhood yard sale last weekend. I'll do one today and finish up with the rest tomorrow. The previous entries:

Part 1: Mister Rogers and How to Meet Men
Part 2: Pals Club activity book
Part 3: Painting, baseball and Pac-Man
Part 4: This and that ... and Scott Baio!

Item #11: A photo of a performing elephant


Here's what's written in ink on the back of the above photo:
To Allecia & Andy
God Bless You
Dondi
Prov. 17:17

I fear that Dondi is the young elephant on the left. I say "fear" because a former performance elephant named Dondi died last summer at age 36 at Southwick's Zoo in Mendon, Massachusetts.

I pieced together the story of Dondi's life and death from various newspaper articles and other online sources.1
  • Dondi, an Asian elephant, was rescued from a lumber camp in Thailand in April 1975 by Phil and Francine Schacht. She became a member of the family and was the "flower girl" at the Schachts' son's wedding.
  • She appeared on several TV shows over the years and performed at many fairs, circuses and theme parks across the country. Among her frequent stops were the Guilford Fair in Connecticut and Flea World in Sanford, Florida.2
  • Her tricks included using a brush to make paintings, pitching a baseball, praying on her knees, and imitating a bumblebee, a lion and a chicken.3
  • Dondi had been at Southwick's Zoo for about four years when she died in late July 2010. More than 60 people attended her memorial service and she was buried under a tree at the zoo.4
  • Her death spurred questions. In Defense of Animals filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, urging an investigation into Dondi's death. "Dondi’s unexpected death raises a red flag because at age 36 she should have been in the prime of life," the organization stated on its blog.
  • Catherine Doyle, the elephant campaign director for IDA, added the following, in a story published in The Milford Daily News: "The general idea is that elephants have a natural lifespan of 60 to 70 years. You'd expect elephants who are kept in captivity to be provided daily care and veterinary care (and) would actually live closer to that lifespan versus an elephant in the wild who's exposed to poaching, droughts and famine. ... Elephants [in zoos] are typically kept in inadequate conditions, like small pens, and made to stand on hard surfaces that damage knees and joints. They (can) suffer from arthritis and chronic foot infections. ... When you have arthritis and foot disease, that's the number one killer of elephants in zoos."
  • A Southwick's Zoo spokesperson said Dondi had a tooth infection a week before her death, and Francine Schacht said Dondi had lost her molars, making it difficult for her to eat.
  • Later, Southwick's Zoo officials said the necropsy report showed that Dondi suffered severe lung damage from chronic fibrosis and pneumonia, likely caused by tuberculosis.5 "(But) I don't know if we will ever have a definitive cause," said zoo veterinarian Peter Brewer. Dondi likely was exposed to tuberculosis in Thailand and carried it for all those years, undetected, Brewer added.
Here's one final interesting item I found relating to Dondi: Part of this October 3, 2007, blog entry on Brooklyn Vegan (scroll past the lady in her underwear) describes a visit by Dondi to New York City. There's a photo of Dondi, less than three years before her death, balancing on a small stool. Her painting easel can be seen in the background. The comments section of the blog entry turned into an interesting and spirited discussion regarding the treatment of animals that spend their lives as show performers. Deep within the comments, there's also a link to a photo of the sign about Dondi that the Schacht family posted at the NYC performance.
On deck from the yard-sale haul: Quizmo, a Teacher's Triptik and a sad book that my daughter couldn't stop reading.
Footnotes
1. Primary sources:
2. I could not determine if Dondi ever appeared at the York Fair. Does anyone know if this was the case?
3. Another detail from the Shoreline Times article: "Harvey Smith, who heads the Guilford Fair’s entertainment committee and is its past president, recalls how visitors would stay after the fair closed to feed Dondi a piece of fruit. 'People could see Dondi for a dollar. Dondi would reach out with her trunk and take the dollar and put it in Phil’s pocket and the kid would feed her an apple. It was the sweetest thing. The way she was so gentle taking it out of the hand of a kid.'"
4. There's also a memorial page on Facebook for Dondi.
5. Here are two good sites on the topic of elephants and tuberculosis: Factsheet from Global Action Network and FAQ from Elephant Care International.

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