Connie AKA Pinky Asian Elephant Acrilic Painting By The GYPSY


July 26 2023

Fourteen foot below me and to my left was an African Elephant with a twisted back. To my right and at the same distance below my position was an Asian Elephant. Below both animals was a concrete floor and in my throat was a lump as hard as that concrete floor.

My heart beat hard in my chest as I stretched out my right hand to grasp onto the oversize light bulb, my left hand clung to the top of the ladder I was perched precariously on.

The African Elephant whose name was Penny ignored me. She threw large amounts of alfalfa hay into her mouth and lazily masticated each stem and leaf. Penny had broken her leg when she had fallen into the moat around the Elephant enclosure at Abilene Zoological Gardens. The injury had twisted her back and there was talk of a future euthanization. Outside the Elephant house a construction crew was busily modifying the Elephant enclosure so that no future accidents like the one that had occurred to Penny could ever occur again.

The Asian Elephant whose name was Connie watched me with an intensity that a small child watches a butterfly on a flower slowly opening and closing it’s wings. I did not know what made me more nervous, her scrutiny or my height above the floor. Either way, I knew I had to swallow the concrete lump in my throat and complete this task.

I was new to Abilene Zoo, my official title was Apprentice Zookeeper. The title implied that I was a trainee yet what I really was is that guy that does the jobs no one else wants to do. But I was not complaining, in fact I was revealing in the fact that I was getting to work closely with exotic, wild animal. I have been an animal person my entire life and now here in the Zoo environment I was regretting earlier career decisions I had made.

I had moved my family, wife Ronda and daughter Dawn Renee, from Saint Joseph, Missouri to Abilene, Texas where my wife’s father, Willy, lived. The economy was bad in Saint Joseph and after a short stop in Oklahoma City trying to find work Ronda’s father had told us that he would put me to work the day we arrived in Abilene. Willy was true to his word and the morning we arrived I went to work with him hanging acoustical ceilings.

I appreciated the work but I have always had a fear of falling, not a fear of heights, a fear of falling. I soon decided that I needed to find a job that did not require me to be in a position where I might fall. While hanging new ceilings at the Abilene Sanitation Department I discovered that they were hiring. I put in my application with City of Abilene Human Resources and was hired.

The job had several problems for me. One was the insistence by the Department Head, a retired Army Major, that all the employees donate to the United Fund. I do not donate to United Fund because when I needed their help a few years before they turned their back on me. He got angry because I killed his streak of 100% participation ad started giving m the worst jobs in the department.

I had already decided that hauling trash was not my cup of tea but the straw that broke the camel’s back was the day I was made to scrape out the bottom of a particularly nasty restaurant dumpster in 100 degree heat. I have had enough. Something had to change and that afternoon when I got off work I headed to the Army recruiters office.

I enlisted and signed up for a deferment; I would not go in until February of 1980. This seemed my best option at the time for providing for my wife and daughter. I figured I would bide my time at the sanitation department, after all I would only have to be there for 5 more months. However fate intervened and while I was in Dallas taking my physical and final papers the head of sanitation decided to terminate me for missing work. My recruiter was livid!

For those not in the know you cannot terminate someone for missing work who is on government business. The Department Head over Sanitation, a retired Army Major should have known this, yet he ignored it. His action set my life on a new and unexpected path and adventure.

The recruiter went to the Abilene City Manager and filed a complaint against the Department Head.The City Manager knowing that the Department Head had violated the law and wishing to resolve the issue as quickly as possible told me that I could apply for any open position within the city that I was qualified for. That is how I became an Apprentice Zookeeper and that is how I found myself 14 feet above a concrete floor and two Elephants.

Zoo Foreman Mondo Rios asked me to change out a light bulb near the top of the sixteen foot ceiling in the Elephant house. Though I had a fear of falling I did not want to say no. I was eager to prove my worth to this tight knit family of Zookeepers.

 After getting the job at the Zoo I had tried to back out of my Army Contract, which I could not, so I was left with the knowledge that when my enlistment was over I could return to the Zoo. Whatever company you are working for when you enlist has to give you your job back when your enlistment is over. I knew I would be coming back and I desperately wanted the Zoo Crew to like me and welcome me back when the time came.

I changed out the offending light bulb and started my slow and careful descent down the ladder. As I stepped on the rung below the one I had stood on to change the bulb I felt the ladder shift. The concrete floor was slick with water from the morning cleaning and the foot of the ladder was not making the necessary traction.

As I felt the ladder start to slide to my right I thought, I’m Dead. Yet as quickly as the ladder had started to slip it suddenly stopped. I looked down and there stood the Asian Elephant, Connie, holding the ladder with her trunk to keep me from falling, I quickly descended the ladder. I took the ladder out of her trunk and leaned it against the wall.

I turned and looked at Connie and she returned my look. “Thank you Connie” I said, “Thank you. You saved my life.” She opened her mouth and I scratched her tongue. Mondo had shown me this as a display of affection and from that moment on Connie had all my affection. Not I day went by that I did not bring her and Penny an Apple.

One day while giving Penny and Connie their apples the Foreman of the construction crew came over to the heavy bar gate that separated the Elephants from their outdoor enclosure. “I don’t think that Elephant likes me.” He said, indicating Connie. I looked over at Connie and back at him. “What makes you say that?” I asked. As the foreman opened his mouth to answer his face was suddenly hit with Elephant excrement. Connie had picked up a trunk full of her leavings and hurtled it at the hapless foreman. “Yep”, I said, “She doesn’t like you. I would stay away from the gate if I were you.”

All too soon the day came when I had to leave the Zoo and head off to fulfill my duty to the U.S. Army. I took one last apple to Penny and Connie. I gave Penny her apple and then went to Connie. She opened her mouth and I scratched her tongue. I gave her the apple and crying said my goodbyes to her. As I turned to go she touched my back with the end of her trunk. I turned and looked; she was crying too. I patted her behind her ear, kissed her cheek and left

When I returned to the Zoo in June of 1981 Penny had been euthanized and buried in an undisclosed location in the back forty. They had dug the grave, walked her into it, which had taken considerable time as she could barely walk by then, and euthanized her where she stood then covered her body.

Connie had been traded off to the Dickerson Park Zoo in Springfield, Missouri to her skin (yes she was a true pink Elephant), she acquired the nickname of Pinky.

The Abilene Zoo was all a buzz with the recent arrival of Ahmed and Tanya a pair of three year old African Elephants. But I felt a hole in my heat that my friend Connie was gone. Life at the Zoo went on as normal. I learned to become a Zoo Keeper with my own assigned areas, no more lackey, a true Zoo Keeper and a member of the family. But there was one member of the family that I missed and thought about often, an Elephant named Connie who once saved my life,

Connie AKA; Pinky became Matriarch of her herd at the Dickerson Park Zoo. She was mother to 3 calf’s; one still born, one died while still a baby and one that lives today at the Oklahoma City Zoo.. She died of Kidney Failure on October 6, 2013, she was 50 years old.

I still think about Connie often. Anytime I see a special on Asian Elephants on TV or see an Asian Elephant at a Zoo I think about her. I even dedicated a children’s slide I restored in a park in 2014 to her. Yes, I remember Connie AKA; Pinky and I wonder if she remembered me. I bet she did because Elephants never forget and neither do former Zookeepers.

“Art must evoke an emotion in order to be art. If it only creates indifference then it is not art, it is garbage!” -The GYPSY-


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

error: Content is protected !!