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The zoo found its beginnings in 1914, under the leadership and patronage of Colonel George Washington Brackenridge; however, it wasn’t until July 10, 1925, that the first elephants made their way to the San Antonio Zoo, formerly known as the Brackenridge Park Zoo or the S.A. Park Zoo. Here began the story of ninety years of controversy regarding elephants in San Antonio. Their stories may have long been forgotten, but it has become the mission of One World Conservation to dig up the past and remember all of the elephants who have given so much to our city. It is time we all honor their lives. Please note: All sources for information have been pulled from the archives of the San Antonio Light or the San Antonio Express-News.

Cindra and Romero

RIP Cindra | ~1922 – 1926 | Cause of Death: Pneumonia
RIP Romero | ~1910 – October 14, 1940 | Cause of Death: Shot Twice and Killed

It started with two male, Asian elephants. Under the direction of business man, M.B. Pletz, $7,000 was raised to bring in the zoo’s first elephants. The city may have contributed $2,000 through Commissioner Ray Lambert, but a large part of the effort was driven by the Elephant Fund Ballot, an effort put forth by the San Antonio Light that encouraged school children to raise the remaining funds. The ballot was published frequently, and every ten cents counted toward a vote. The school that raised the greatest number of votes would be entitled to name “Mr. Elephant,” the second to name “Mrs. Elephant,” and the third would be given charge of the elephant christening ceremonies.

There was no barn in place and the elephant enclosure as it stands now had yet to be built, but by June of 1925, the two elephants were on their way, both originating somewhere near Rangoon, India. It is unclear the details of their capture, but they were transported together, first to Calcutta, now known as Kolkata, India, then to Liverpool, and eventually to Boston. The trip across the ocean took three months of rough weather and delays, and alongside seven elephants, they arrived in the United States. Two of the seven died in transport, and the three other survivors, all female, were sold to a show company.

The pair stopped briefly in Philadelphia on a Monday morning that June and were supposedly paraded around the city before making their way down to Texas when A.R. Hines of San Antonio took charge of them.

They arrived a courtesy of elephant man, W.A. King, as two male elephants, despite their previous titles of Mr. and Mrs. Elephant, on July 10, 1925, and were named Cindra and Romero, though the latter was titled variations of the name throughout his time in San Antonio, from Ramo to Romino to Ramada to Ramano.

Cindra – July 22, 1925

It took five hours after arriving in San Antonio for the elephants to make their way to Brackenridge Park, as Romero was wild and frightened by the automobile headlights. The two elephants had only been in captivity for 11 months prior to their arrival, three of which were spent traveling. It took three weeks before Romero got over his fright. His first short walk out of his pen failed, and he broke away and ran back to the pen. Cindra on the other hand learned quickly, was supposedly fond of children, and followed his trainer around like a dog. He learned tricks very quickly, but would demand a reward of sugar for performing.

They varied about a decade in age, Cindra arriving somewhere around the age of three, Romero around the age of 15. It was likely Cindra’s young age and the lacking presence of an official elephant barn that led to the cause of his death by pneumonia a year later in the winter of 1926. His head was later mounted in the Witte Museum for an undetermined length of time. Its current location is unknown.

By 1929, following the recent death of a woman by circus elephant, Black Diamond, Romero was deemed potentially dangerous and placed in chains as a safeguard. In one article, published in October of 1929, C.F. Fulton, superintendent of the zoo stated, “He is not dangerous now but he may become so at any time, maybe tomorrow, and maybe five years from today.” [Source] Even in 1929, some argued that the elephant’s brain was being affected by loneliness.

                                    Romero chained – October 30, 1929

The propriety of chaining Romero was discussed at length by the City Park Board, in front of then Mayor C.M. Chamber at city hall, as well as by the Zoological Society, as the formal opening of the new zoo attractions at Brackenridge Park were pending.

Members of the society were divided on this issue.

One side claimed the martingale chains (a style of chaining that extended from his two tusks through rings in his forelegs to a band that encircled his waist) in which Romero was held were not inhuman or inconvenient for the elephant, Fulton stating, “He is chained in such a way that he cannot raise his head high enough to run or strike anyone. He can walk and can raise his head to a normal weight. He can eat, sleep and live a normal life with the chains on him as I have placed them.” 

Further, the excuse was given that “A male elephant when it reached the age of [Romero] is liable to become unruly at any time. In placing the chains on him now before he injures or kills anyone… I have applied an ancient quotation that ‘An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.’” [Source]

Opponents to his chaining, such as F.A. Sullivan, member of Zoological Society, characterized the act as inhumane and argued that Romero had not shown any signs of becoming unruly. A park commissioner who had been watching Romero every day backed this by saying Romero “looks mighty quiet to me” and he didn’t see any reason for the chains. Park Commissioner, now Jacob Rubiola, went as far to mention his discussions with an animal expert who told him that Romero was one of the kindliest elephants in captivity.

By July of 1936, controversies of chaining the elephant subsided with the opening of the new elephant exhibit, which featured an elephant barn and a pool surrounded by a moat. This is the same location the elephants have resided in ever since. At one point shortly after his placement in the new exhibit, Romero fell in the moat and had to be rescued by his caretakers who placed a truckload of dirt in the moat so that he could climb out.

In 1939, rumors of bringing in a baby elephant were swirling, but it was not to be, as the zoo was handicapped by a lack of funds. By 1940, it became evident that the zoo would be trading Romero off for three female, Asian circus elephants, owned by Meems Bros. & Ward of New York.

The trade was kept under wraps for a time, but when word spread that Romero was to be traded off, the voices of San Antonio school children of years gone by protested the sale. They argued that he schools had taken up a collection of $1,000 to bring the male elephant in, and as such were entitled to his relocation. They stated that “This elephant is among the largest in the United States. This is something to be proud of. We ask, won’t you help us keep you and our elephant.”

The zoo, however, argued that the $200 sale and trade of the elephant was deemed best, as nearly all male zoo elephants proved dangerous. Meems Bros. & Ward resold the elephant to a zoo in Springfield, Missouri. The first attempt to move the pachyderm failed, as Romero proved too large for the freight car he was to be transported in. He was one of the largest, male Asian elephants in the United States at that time. Meanwhile, the three elephants had already arrived from the San Francisco World Fair. Zoo officials also noted that three trained elephants from Frank Buck’s Jungleland Act at the New York World’s Fair were also under negotiation for transfer to San Antonio.

                                                 Romero – July 27, 1938

On October 14, 1940, a second attempt to transfer Romero was underway. Chains and shackles were installed in the van and Romero’s tusks were chained down as a precaution. After effort to persuade the elephant’s front feet in the van proved successful, Romero balked. The handlers attempted to back him down the gangway for another try, but the elephant began attacking the truck with his head. “He then wheeled about and charged his keeper…[who] was knocked to the ground but escaped being seriously injured because the elephant’s tusks were chained.” [Source]

“Because he had attacked five other men in the last six months,” at the order of the zoo’s president, Romero was shot behind the ear with a rifle, and then a second time through the heart, supposedly killing him instantly. The president said, “Circus and animal men had advised execution of the 30-year-old”elephant. [Source] It is possible that his head was also eventually mounted at the Witte Museum.

Years later, zoo director Fred Stark commented on male elephants, stating that“he want[ed] no male elephant anywhere around… They all get mean. Years ago we had a male elephant here and, among other things, he would pick up stones and sticks with his trunk and hurl them at people. He could throw 50 feet or farther and his aim was might good. He was very dangerous.” [Source]

Babe, Watti, Motte

Babe | Location: Unknown​
RIP Watti | ~1929 – October 15, 1961 | Cause of Death: Gallstones
RIP Motte | ~1929 – June 1963 | Cause of Death: Unknown

Meanwhile, Watti/Watty/Wattie, Babe/Baby, and Motte/Mote/Moat/Mutta, traded from Meems Bros. & Ward, remained in the San Antonio Zoo. They were all born roughly around 1929, origins currently unknown, but it is a good estimate that they were captured and traveled together. Watti, at some point, resided in Gainesville before her transfer to Meems Bros. & Ward, and the others may have followed the same course.

Elephant rides had officially begun a day prior to Romero’s death, outshining the donkey rides that had been the main attraction prior. The trained circus elephants also began performing shows three times a day. Babe was the titled “passenger elephant,” and she quickly became the star attraction at the zoo. The zoo’s elephants had to be shaved once a month so that “their stiff hairs [wouldn’t] hurt the children who [rode] them. But the razor that will shave the fuzz off a peach will not shave the hair off an elephant. In fact, no razor will. Instead, the elephant’s tough hide [was] singed with a blowtorch… [The zoo passed] the torch over them so quickly that [they] couldn’t possible hurt them. As a matter of fact they like[d] it.” [Source]

Babe, Watti, and Motte – 1940s

Eventually, it became clear to the zoo that Babe and Motte were not getting along. “Both Babe and Motte doted on Watti and didn’t want to share her company. Babe’s jealousy took a vicious turn. Whenever she’d catch Motte standing sidewise, she would rush against her and knock her down. We had to trade Babe off.” [Source] It is unclear when or where Babe was traded, but it was likely prior to 1955. Around this time, rumors that the zoo needed a baby elephant were swirling, and a sportsman was sent to African to hunt for the animal. Other items on his bucket list included obtaining a “large elephant head to mount with a pair of 8.5 foot tusks in [his] trophy room.” [Source]

Watti died from gallstones on October 15, 1961, leaving Motte alone. “No one [suspected] she was ill until about a half hour before the end.” [Source] Gallstones can be caused by high cholesterol, and with articles quoting zookeepers rewarding their elephants with the likes of Christmas candy and sugar over the years, it was likely inevitable.

Motte died of unknown causes in June of 1963, after the arrival of several other elephants, including Ginny, Lucky, and Alport.

Ginny

RIP Ginny | 1954 – May 4, 2004 | Cause of Death: Euthanized After Suffering Several Years of Infectious Foot Ailments and Severe Arthritis​

On January 23, 1962, the zoo acquired Ginny/Jenny from the Miller Bros. Circus, then around the age of 7. She was wild caught in Asia around 1955, brought to Pigeon Forge in Tennessee under ownership of R.A. Miller of the Miller Bros Circus before her temporary stop in Brooksville, Florida, resulted in her transfer to San Antonio that same January. She was noted to be an “especially well-trained riding and performing elephant.” [Source] Before too long, she was walking across less than 6-inch planks and performing a few other tricks.

Ginny’s was a tragic history. While she quickly became the matriarch of the small herd of elephants at the zoo, keeping the elephants in line, she eventually killed a keeper in 1996, resulting in the end of elephant rides at the zoo. By 2004, she had to be euthanized after suffering several years of infectious foot ailments and severe arthritis, likely due to the confines of the exhibit in which she was subjected to for 42 years.

Her death left Lucky and Alport as the two remaining elephants.

Lucky and Belle

RIP Belle | ~1960 – Shortly After Arrival At San Antonio Zoo in 1962  | Cause of Death: Unknown​

Lucky joined Ginny and Motte on April 5, 1962, arriving with another elephant of the same age, named Belle via overnight railway express. For more information on Lucky’s history, please visit our page about her. The two likely had similar histories, wild caught in Thailand as young calves in 1960, brought to the United States by the Seabury Foundation, transported to the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago, and then brought down to San Antonio two years later.

Lucky and Belle – April 5, 1960

Belle likely died shortly after due to the stress of transport or was transferred elsewhere. Her final story is unknown, but she did not remain a name in San Antonio long, despite the clear bond the two calves maintained.

Alport

RIP Alport | 1958 – November 2, 2007 | Cause of Death: Torn Ligament​

Alport/Alpert was brought to the San Antonio Zoo on September 1, 1962. You can read more information about Alport on our page. She was wild caught somewhere in Africa, at less than a year of age in 1959, and then transported out of Algiers. Her travel history is unknown, but she eventually arrived in San Antonio. It is believed that her name was derived from her transport origins of Algeria.

She was the only African elephant to live at the San Antonio Zoo and never saw another of her kind in her lifetime.

On November 2, 2007, she died due to a supposed torn knee ligament, but the injury has been described in numerous lights, including a torn ACL and a torn MCL. Her medical records have never been revealed, but she had begun to exhibit drastic weight loss months prior to her death.

Her death left Lucky alone for nearly 3 years.

Missy and Wanda

RIP Missy | 1961 – October 18, 1997 | Cause of Death: Severe Arthritis
RIP Wanda | 1954 – February 11, 2015 | Cause of Death: Euthanized Due to Chronic Foot Problems and Severe Arthritis Suffered During Her Time At Zoos

Missy and Wanda arrived at the San Antonio Zoo together on August 12, 1966. They were gifted by Houston oilman, W.S. Kilroy. Missy was born in India in 1964 where she was caught that same year and transferred to Kilroy’s care that June. Wanda was born earlier around 1958. It is unclear when she was captured in Asia (likely India as well), but she arrived in Disneyland, where she was known as Annett, sometime between 1958 and 1963 before her private transfer between individuals resulted in her placement with Kilroy in 1964.

Both were described as partially trained upon their arrival, and Missy was quickly trained to join the elephant show, performing tricks such headstands and hindleg acts, while “Wanda [was] around ‘just for looks.’” [Source] Wanda was said to be particularly excited upon her arrival, “setting off some boisterous refrains from three other female pachyderms” (Ginny, Lucky, and Alport).

While it is unclear which elephants were referenced in a 1970 article, during the time the five elephants resided together, the elephants were described as little kids.

Missy and Wanda – August 13, 1966

“They want[ed] to see what they [could] get away with… New keepers [were] always targets for the elephants. ‘They’ll be very casual about it when they knock over a new keeper’s wheelbarrow or step on his rake,’ the veteran keeper said ‘And no matter how long you’ve been around them, you have to watch out for them trying to squeeze you against a wall or between one another.’ When [the] elephants are ‘naughty’ they are punished, though the punishment is purely mental. The zoo director said, ‘I just use a key. I scold the elephant and push the tip of a key against his leg. You’d think I was using a cavalry saver or something.’” [Source]

On April 28, 1986, Missy and Wanda were sent to the Forth Worth Zoo where they resided until 1994. On November 9, 1994, they were transported to the Detroit Zoo.

Missy was euthanized on October 18, 1997 for severe arthritis, likely onset from her history in Detroit and elsewhere.

Eventually, the Detroit Zoo decided they were going to close their elephant exhibit and send their remaining elephants to sanctuary. The San Antonio Zoo, still loaning Wanda, fought this decision but lost out. Wanda arrived at PAWS Sanctuary in California on April 8, 2005 where she enjoyed nearly 10 years of peace until her death on February 11, 2015.

Boo

RIP Boo | ~1955 – March 10, 2013 | Cause of Death: Euthanized For Lymphoma

Boo/Queenie was born in Asia around 1954. You can read more information about Boo on our page. She was wild caught around 1960 and brought to private owner, Roy Bible at an undetermined date. Around 1971, ownership was transferred to Maximus Tons of Fun, LLC, of Leggett, Texas, where she performed under the stage name, Queenie, for nearly three decades.

After two of the elephants, Jewel and Tina, were confiscated from the private owner due to numerous animal welfare violations and abuse charges, Boo was surrendered to the San Antonio Zoo on April 21, 2010, to step in as a companion for lone remaining elephant, Lucky.

The two elephants did not get along, however, as Boo suffered from trauma and exhibited food aggression and territorial issues due to her traumatic history, bullying Lucky until her eventual demise on March 10, 2013, when she was euthanized for lymphoma.


Sources

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