Remembering Gigi

Remembering Gigi

Posted on 28th February 2019 by Media Relations

Gigi’s passing has left a big hole in the hearts of many of the Zoo’s staff, none more so than the elephant keepers who cared for her during her time at Taronga Western Plains Zoo. 

Our elephant keepers have reflected on Gigi’s life, what she was like and what it was like to work with her. Here are some of their fond memories:

I remember the excitement in 2008 when we learnt Gigi and her friend Arna were coming to live here in Dubbo. Getting to know Gigi and her cheeky personality was not a letdown. Gigi’s personality certainly matched her size and kept us on our toes! Over the years I developed a working relationship with her that I will treasure and is a career highlight. As well as her cheeky side, she had a gentle, sweet nature and was our ‘go to’ elephant for meet and greets with children and people with disabilities. She has met many a person in a wheelchair and was always so respectful. Gigi was a real talker and would squeak away, especially at the start of our keeper talks. I know that the elephant barn is not only a little quieter, but definitely a little smaller now her big personality is gone.

Elephant Keeper, Rebecca O’Riordan 

Her personality made it so fun and easy to get along with her and work with her. Gigi is the first elephant I have ever worked with and I will remember her for her cheeky behaviours such as putting her food tub on the top of her head and balancing it.

Elephant Keeper, Christina Nicholas

Gigi, like all elephants was very special and unique in her own ways.  She was always young at heart, even in her twilight years her cheeky sense of humour remained.  This made her fun to work with, gave us a laugh on many occasions and always kept us on our toes, as there was never a dull moment with her.  Gigi was a people elephant, loved attention, affection and meeting and working with new keepers.  All the animals we work with leave an impact on our lives when it’s time to say goodbye, and certainly Gigi is no different.  She has left a huge footprint on our hearts, has given us all many funny memories and taught us all a lot about training and working relationships with animals.  It has been a privilege to have worked with her in her final years and she can now rest easy with her old mate Arna.

Elephant keeper, Grieg Tonkins

I think everyone that got to meet Gigi would fall in love with her cheeky and personable nature, whether you are an elephant keeper, other zoo staff or a visitor to the Zoo.  She would reach her trunk out gently to take carrots from any one that was willing to stand there and extend a carrot to her.  This made Gigi a great animal for the Dream Nights that the Zoo runs every December, she wasn’t fazed by wheelchairs or anything else, she would just gently take the carrot from the child’s hand, making them smile or squeal with excitement.  Gigi was a pleasure to have in the barn – it was hard not to walk past and say hello, and sneak her some tasty morsel of food.  Gigi was also the ‘teacher’ elephant for many of us younger elephant keepers. She was compliant…until she tested you out! And it would happen at some point once you began working with her - maybe after three weeks, maybe after one month, perhaps after four months, but it would happen.  For many, the big test was your patience.  And that is a great thing to learn and master.  Gigi has left a big empty spot in the barn, as well as in our hearts.  She is gone in body, but will forever be around in our memories.  

Jackie Cantrell

What will I miss most about Gigi?  In a word, everything!  She was funny, stubborn, chatty, and an elephant that taught her keepers patience.  I liked to say that the best way to get her to do something was to ask her for the opposite of what you wanted.  She could drive the most patient of us a bit crazy but she was such a character that it didn’t matter.  I saw people meet her for the first time and actually cry, she just had that energy about her.  Her passing is a blow to many people and the amount of lives she has touched in her sixty odd years is immeasurable.  I’ll miss having conversations with her and her tolerating me giving her as many pats as I wanted.  In all ways, Gigi was a giant.

Elephant Keeper, Sheryl Cummins

My earliest memory of Gigi would be in the 1980’s when my uncle from Sydney, who was a passionate home gardener, would take myself and cousins to the circus to ask for the elephant manure for his compost and ultimately his roses. Gigi would be corralled at the circus with her stable mates and I would adore being in their presence whilst shovelling manure into chaff bags. 

My next encounter was after I had worked with elephants and was on the Gold Coast in the mid 1990’s. I had met the Ashton family and was privileged to meet all of their elephants and watch an evening performance. Gigi was a star alongside her cohorts as by this time she had worked in circus for 30 years.
Our next meeting was on return to Taronga Western Plains Zoo where she had been retired for three years. Here I became her keeper and learnt the most about this interesting character. There wasn’t a malicious bone in her body but there was a playful wickedness that she enjoyed displaying to all keepers on occasion. At the same time she helped her species in zoos by assisting with many physical and medical examinations to allow us and vets to learn more about them. She was also quite sneaky and would occasionally move a barrier to get to some extra green grass but would always be compliant to leaving this area after quenching her desire for that grass! Due to her affable nature she was employed to assist in the training of new keepers and in ten short years she would have trained over 15 keepers. In each case she would have a ‘honeymoon ‘ period and then she would unleash her ‘bag of tricks’ and refuse behaviours until each keeper had worked out the key to Gigi’s heart was via her stomach. If you work with elephants, you cannot forget them, but as in Gigi’s example, there will be ‘special elephants’.

Elephant Supervisor, Glenn Sullivan 

Gigi was a special elephant indeed and will be extremely missed by all. 

Gigi and Burma by Christina Nicholas
Gigi and Burma by Christina Nicholas
Gigi behind-the-scenes by Glenn Sullivan
Gigi behind-the-scenes by Glenn Sullivan