Iain Douglas-Hamilton, the founder of Save the Elephants, has just received the world’s leading award for animal conservation – the Indianapolis Prize. It’s a hugely prestigious award,which is presented with justifiable fanfare at a glittering gala awards ceremony. As Chairman of Save the Elephants, my husband, Fritz Vollrath, was very keen to accept the invitation to attend the award ceremony – and I, as one of Iain’s (and his wife Oria’s) greatest fans, wanted to be there, too. So we whizzed off to the US on Thursday, and returned to the UK early this Monday morning. We were away for barely three days – but three days that were chock-full of new and never to be forgotten experiences. Many of which took place at the Indianapolis Zoo.
The Indianapolis Prize is a visible component of the internationally recognized conservation efforts being undertaken by the Indianapolis Zoo. As guests of the zoo, we were taken on an amazing, behind-the-scenes tour of its less public but vital conservation efforts, which, for example brought me face to face (literally) with a handsome doe eyed walrus , and standing shoulder to knee (my shoulder, her knee) with a beautiful, laconic African elephant. This was the first time I have seen, let alone touched (and been kissed by), a walrus in the flesh, and it was the first time I have been so up close and personal with an elephant; the magnificent, wonderful animals that I love to watch, from a respectful distance, when in Kenya.
To round off an enchanting day at the zoo, I was surprised (pleasantly, I hasten to add) to come across the zoo’s custom made version of Jenga pulling in the crowds.Devised to illustrate to small children the interconnectivity of life in an Amazonian rainforest, each block represented an animal or plant. If a block was removed – the kapok tree for example – any creature supported by that tree found itself either without a foot hold, or hanging on with great difficulty.