August 15, 2014

One of a kind - Artwork painted by a tiger!

I have been spending a lot of time at our local zoo while SB attended camp there this summer. I took hundreds of photographs, some of which I shared here. I also enjoyed simply observing the animals. I spent a lot of time with SB's favorites, the tigers.

One day I had the opportunity to get into a conversation with a few of the tiger keepers. They mentioned they had started having the tigers paint as an enrichment activity. Some of the tigers were really into it, and the keepers were excited the zoo would be selling the artwork.

My immediate thought was, "I HAVE to get one for SB."

I was told the art would be sold at a special event planned for Global Tiger Day. Unfortunately, we had plans for the day and time that event would held. But I was not to be deterred.

I contacted member services and asked if there would be any other opportunities to purchase the art. I shared a link to SB's Save the Siberian Campaign. What happened next was, in my opinion, extraordinary.

A zoo employee from membership relations replied and told me the staff was so moved by SB's efforts, they wanted to create a special painting just for her. The tiger keepers wanted to know what colors she would like and which tiger should paint the canvas for her.

I was blown away. I thought it was amazing they would do something so special for my child. Yes, we would be paying for the artwork (with the money going to tiger conservation), but the care, time and effort the staff put into this project was so touching.

I couldn't wait to pick SB up from zoo camp to tell her. She seemed to be a bit overwhelmed by the whole thing:

I found out from my contact at member services the staff was also taking a collection to donate to SB's Save the Siberian Campaign. When we combine that with what we paid for the canvas, our overall amount raised for tiger conservation will reach over $600. It will take much more to save the world's tigers, who continue to be in serious jeopardy.

As the week went on, I had the opportunity to speak one-on-one with several of the tiger keepers, introducing myself and thanking them personally. They were really excited about the whole thing. They had discussed at length the best way to approach the project, to produce the best painting possible.

One of the tiger keepers took time to show me a sample of the artwork the tigers had already painted. I think she wanted to make sure SB did not have unrealistic expectations. After all, these are tigers we're talking about. Their art looks very much like something a two or three year-old child finger painted.

Except for cool features like paw prints and tiger fur embedded in the paint! I assured her SB would love the painting no matter what it looked like. The keeper said the female Sumatran tiger, Lucy, was most into painting. So we chose her, since it was an activity she would enjoy. And she is the only female tiger at the zoo, which automatically makes her SB's favorite.

When I received an email last Friday morning telling me the painting was ready, I knew I had to figure out a way to get up to the zoo. In the late afternoon, SB and I went to the administration building to pick it up:

Membership Sales and Relationship Supervisor Lyndsay Plemmons, who organized the project, reveals the painting to SB.
Deputy Director of Animal Care and Conservation Dan Maloney thanks SB for her efforts to help wild tigers, and talks with her about what it takes to become a zoo keeper.
Proudly displaying her new piece of art. When we got home she asked, "Can I just sit and stare at it all day?"
The soon-to-be-matted-and-framed canvas! In orange and black, as requested. Painted by the tiger SB selected. Can you find the paw print?
There it is, complete with a claw print and tiger fur embedded in the paint.

When we first found out the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens was going to have tigers, we began a black and orange countdown on our family calendar. The day of the special member preview, I took SB out of school early and we were first in line to see Land of the Tiger. SB was essentially the first member of the public to step into the new exhibit that day, in advance of its official opening.

That was in March, and I have lost count of how many times we have been back to visit. We can't get enough. Land of the Tiger is a world-class exhibit, housed in a zoo we know and love well. I often say the cost of our family membership is the best money we spend each year.

My love for the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens grew tenfold thanks to the thoughtful actions of its staff. Special thank you to Lyndsay and Dan (photographed above), as well as the awesome team of tiger keepers: Dan, Elena, Janel, Rachel and Tirzah.

You have inspired my child, who wants to be a tiger keeper when she grows up. You have also reinforced the the importance of getting involved, and made her incredibly happy. I wish you could see her showing off her painting to family and friends.

The canvas is currently at a framing store, where they are executing our special design for displaying this one-of-a-kind artwork in SB's room. It will hang over her bed. I'll be sure to share pics once it is up...

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