Holding the paint brush steady, Mikki gently touches the canvas adding her final stroke and smearing orange paint through vibrant green. Mikki has been painting more than 15 years and has painted more than 200 works of art. She is no ordinary artist, though. Mikki is a 9,000-pound female African elephant who uses her trunk like a hand to hold a paint brush to create her masterpieces.
Visitors to the Louisville Zoo can now get their very own Mikki masterpiece at the Zoo’s new Nature’s Gift Shoppe located inside the African Outpost restaurant. This store features works of art by some of the Zoo’s most popular animals (elephant Mikki, gorilla Jelani and orangutan Segundo).
Keepers at the Louisville Zoo strive each and every day to enrich the lives of the animals for which they care. In order to do so, they add interesting activities like painting to the animals’ daily routines. Enrichment activities are fun for everyone – animals, visitors and keepers. With our animal art enrichment, animals are given nontoxic, environmentally-safe materials and the option to paint if they choose to do so (and positive reinforcement for a job well done!).
The new store also features fair-trade products from around the world from South America to Asia including hand knit animal finger puppets from the Andes Mountains in Peru, handmade baskets from Bangladesh and tree-free paper journals from artists in India.
There are also sheep wool toys, purses, booties and baby hats that are made in Mongolia with proceeds going toward the Snow Leopard Trust and improving the livelihood of the impoverished families who live in the region. The new store also carries elephant-friendly ivory products (which look like ivory but come from the tagua nut that grows from a type of South American palm tree). Other available items include Himalayan jewelry, natural seed jewelry from artists in Antigua, hand woven pillows and purses from India and much more.
The sale of these fair-trade products helps people in developing countries move toward economic self-sufficiency and stability.
Prices for the one-of-a-kind animal artwork range from $25 for a 5-inch-by-7-inch painted canvas to $250 for a 20-inch-by-30-inch painted canvas, and fair-trade products start as low as $1.
Proceeds of animal art purchases benefit the Zoo’s animal enrichment programs and conservation efforts. Nature’s Gift Shoppe is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily.
MEET THE ARTISTS!
Female African elephant Mikki was born in 1985 and arrived at the Louisville Zoo on July 28, 1987, from the wild.
She became a mom in 2007 to Scotty, the Zoo’s first elephant born in the Zoo’s 40 year history.
Her favorite activity besides painting is eating!
Mikki has been painting more than 15 years and has painted more than 200 works of art. She uses her trunk like a hand and holds a paint brush to paint her masterpieces, which are always a rainbow of colors.
Jelani, a blackback gorilla born at Lincoln Park Zoo in 1997, arrived at Louisville Zoo in 2002. Jelani currently resides with three other blackbacks – Bengati, Kicho and Cecil. He is a laid-back individual, but enjoys rough play and daring antics at times. He enjoys the company of all of the blackbacks of the group, and he can often be seen playfully chest beating with one hand when interacting with other group members.
Jelani has been finger painting for more than four years. His keepers say it is an outlet of his artistic expression and that it is enjoyable enrichment for Jelani.
Segundo is a 21-year-old male Sumatran orangutan who was born at the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, Texas. He has been at the Louisville Zoo for about 12 years.
You can tell Segundo apart from our other male orangutan at the Louisville Zoo because Segundo doesn’t have a throat sac. It was removed when he was about 15 years old due to air sacculitis, an infection within an orangutan’s air sac. Segundo was only the fifth orangutan in North America to undergo a throat sac removal.
Segundo is quiet and shy and likes to hang out and spend time with his keepers. His favorite foods are ripe pears and believe it or not, lima beans!
Segundo really enjoys painting, but once he begins, watch out – he likes to not only paint the canvas, but the walls and everything near him.
Click on each of the thumbnails to see the larger versions. I would love to fill our entire home with these beautiful pieces – I’d have an animal’s painting in each room. The Louisville Zoo is beyond amazing the things they have to enrich their animals’ lives never ceases to amaze me.
The Louisville Zoo, a non-profit organization and state zoo of Kentucky, is dedicated to bettering the bond between people and our planet by providing excellent care for animals, a great experience for visitors, and leadership in scientific research and conservation education. The Zoo is accredited by the American Association of Museums (AAM) and by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). For more information, visit www.louisvillezoo.org.
The information and pictures are courtesy of the Louisville Zoo and I’d love to thank them for sharing.