Zoo Atlanta’s first elephant walked into Grant park by way of Milledge Avenue on an August afternoon in 1890. She was at the head of a two-mile long parade the likes of which the city had never seen. “Queen Clio,” according to the Atlanta Constitution, “was very tired after the long weary march through the dust and dearth of the long six-mile route.” Her walk was the culmination of an epic journey that had begun a month earlier in Hamburg, Germany.
Soon after George V. Gress donated a zoo full of animals to the city in 1889, Atlanta began its search for an elephant to complement its new animal collection. By early 1890, the newspaper had established an Elephant Fund to encourage donations, a New York broker was hired, and several elephants were discussed. A twelve-year-old female Asian elephant was finally located in Germany and was purchased in July by the Atlanta Constitution newspaper.
According to reports, “her keeper, Otto, first made her acquaintance in 1880, when she was very small.” She had traveled extensively with various circuses but was enjoying a year of rest in the zoological garden at Hamburg.
After her purchase, she was loaded onto a ship that delivered her to the port of Philadelphia on July 31st, 1890. A lengthy article in the Atlanta Constitution announced her arrival. “Atlanta’s elephant is on Pennsylvania soil and tomorrow morning begins her journey Atlanta-ward.” The superintendent of New York’s Central Park Zoo supervised her unloading and the only glitch occurred when “the great lifting machinery of the steamer was taxed in getting the elephant out of the hold. Once there was an ominous slip in one of the pulley fastenings, but it meant nothing, and the animal was safely landed at last.”
She traveled from the docks of Philadelphia to the city of Atlanta by rail in a special car that had been built “for the purpose of transporting the precious animal, modeled after the elephant cars of Forepaugh’s circus train”.
Five days later, the train pulled into Atlanta’s Piedmont park and her car was switched to a siding. It was a short walk to her temporary enclosure, where “the great beast will enjoy a week’s rest after her long voyage”. According to reports, she was “a fine animal, well broke, standing on its head, hind feet, running races, and also carrying a howdah for riding children.”
On Sunday, August 10 the headline said, “The Elephant Gives a Show”.
Five days rest have made the elephant and her keeper themselves again. When they arrived last Tuesday morning, after a trip of nearly four weeks, both were fagged out and not in a humor to see company. But a good oiling of the elephant’s skin, with a hundred pounds or so of hay every day, an apple or bon bon now and then, and plenty of water, have put her in a comfortable condition of mind and body.
“Keeper Havens of the Gress Zoo,” the report continued, “has already prepared a place for her in the North end of the Grant park menagerie.” The newspaper had sponsored a naming contest and announced that “Nemo will be christened with her new name Clio, next Tuesday night”.
The elaborate transfer to her permanent home at Grant park was planned for Thursday, August 14th. The day would begin with an elephant show from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. (what she did for five hours, I can’t imagine). A parade would commence at 2 p.m. and arrive at Grant park around 4 p.m. That evening, one-hundred invited guests would attend the Gress banquet hosted by Mr. G. V. Gress, president of the park commission “to celebrate the formal establishment of the zoological garden as one of the institutions of Atlanta”.
The parade began with the elephant walking from Piedmont park to Peachtree Street where the rest of the procession fell-in behind her. It was estimated that the military marching units and two miles of floats would take “two hours to move from Piedmont park to Grant park. This will make it nearly an hour passing any given point.” After walking through downtown Atlanta, the elephant turned left on Mitchell Street and marched past Georgia’s new State capitol building before turning down Hill Street and Milledge Avenue into Grant park.
At the zoo, “a space in the big [zoo] building has been allotted [for the elephant], near the main entrance. It has been neatly floored, and windows on either side admit light and air. The floor is made of stout planks, and a huge post has been driven into the ground, to which she will be fastened.”
Though it is sad to think about the conditions in which zoo animals were kept, this is just a look back. It is not a remembrance of “the good old days”. It is meant to help us realize how far we have come in the last 129 years and how much thought and effort we will expend to ensure that our zoo animals have a humane and “happy” place to live. According to the zoo’s website,
The new elephant environment more than triples the size of the elephants’ former habitat and is a dynamic living space featuring elements specifically designed for elephant well-being and enrichment. Elements include Abana Pond, the largest of the complex’s three water features, a pond with 360-degree access and a gentle slope for ease of use by multiple elephants. Other elements include Chishimba Falls and Kalambo Falls, waterfalls named for falls in Africa, and a feeder enrichment activity wall. The state-of-the-art indoor Zambezi Elephant Center also features elements incorporated with elephant well-being in mind, including sand under their feet. The guest experience at the Zambezi Elephant Center offers visitors an opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes look at the elephants’ care.
But there is one small nod to the zoo’s past in the new African Savanna. When Clio entered the zoo in 1890, she would have passed Lake Abana, a six-acre, linear lake that occupied the southwest corner of the park—roughly where the zoo parking lot is today. It was a popular feature with a large boat house for the rental of boats and canoes. Lake Abana was drained in the 1960s for zoo expansion. The new elephant environment features a pond with 360-degree access for ease of use by the elephants. It is the largest of the complex’s three water features. It is called Abana Pond.