I celebrated Thai National Elephant Day with a visit to the Smithsonian's National Zoo. I was joined by Nantana Sivakua, Deputy Chief of Mission at the Thai Embassy, and it brought back so many memories! As a child growing up in Washington, D.C. the National Zoo was where I first learned about the importance of animal conservation. I remember as a small child my visits to the National Zoo and being fascinated by the animals and by stories of their homelands. Little did I know that as an adult I'd live in Thailand and have a chance to help promote animal conservation programs. I know the people of Thailand feel just as passionate as I do in wanting future generations to see the incredible biodiversity of our world.
We got a great tour from Dennis Kelly, Director of the National Zoo, who introduced us to some of the Zoo's elephants -- Ambika, Shanthi, and Kandula. Kandula is a Washingtonian just like me! He was born at the Zoo on November 25, 2001. Here's a picture of me giving a small treat to Ambika. And look at this cute dessert that the zoo staff assembled as a treat for the elephants on this special day. You can see even more pictures at the Smithsonian's National Zoo's flickr page.
Dennis showed us around the new "Elephant Trails" facility that will be opening in 2013 to give the elephants even more exercise space, as well as the Zoo's world-class veterinary care and attention. We learned a great deal about the Smithsonian's global collaborations to support conservation efforts for this and other magnificent animals back in Thailand. Smithsonian scientists have conducted exchanges with Thai zoologists, park officials, government officers, and professors. Our hosts at the Zoo also told us about future conservation efforts they hope to launch in Thailand that would focus on not only elephants, but also deepening our conservation efforts with clouded leopards, dholes, Eld's deer, and the Malayan tapir.
It's so unique to see such a magnificent animal in North America, and it says so much about the global partnerships we've launched to preserve these treasures. Science knows no borders, and just like the elephants, we too are part of the global habitat we must conserve for generations to come. I hope visits to the National Zoo will continue to inspire today's children to do the same.