Narrating the correlation of elephants as related to their import, groupings, breeding and transfers,
along with other elephant related topics.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Highland Park Zoo - Rani

The Children's Zoo at Highland Park in Pittsburgh displayed a number of baby elephants, a custom most prevalent in zoos during the 1960s to 1970s. As worded by Toledo gossip columnist Don Wolfe, "the custom of trading in an automobile on a new model every few years has spread to elephants." The North American Regional Studbook for the Asian Elephant does not list any of the in-and-out animals to populate the Children's Zoo but four animals have been found, all using the "recycled" name Rani.

Children's Zoo - Highland Park - Pittsburgh
Courtesy of

The Sarah Mellon Scaife Foundation, through a grant given, made possible the opening of Pittsburgh's Children's Zoo in 1949. The location "SCAIFE" is listed in the Studbook as a former location for a long-standing member of the Pittsburgh Zoo's elephant herd, the female Asian elephant Sally, but no description is given. Like the listing of "SEABURY" in the Studbook, there is no indication this facility had physical ownership of an elephant - only perhaps on paper through its philanthropy. The Charles Ward Seabury Foundation donated $35,000 to build the Children's Zoo at Chicago's Brookfield Zoo. The Seabury Foundation was previously discussed on ShowMe Elephants.


The first elephant named "Rani" at Highland Park reportedly originated from Burma via a New York City animal dealer. Six months old, the animal arrived on a two year lease in August 1966 for $3,500. The news article documenting her arrival states the lease agreement arranged so there would always be a baby elephant at the Children's Zoo. This seems to infer Rani I was the first of the Pittsburgh baby elephant trades.
Courtesy of Pittsburgh Post Gazette 08/1966

Information is not available at this time regarding the departure of Rani I and the arrival of Rani II. In 1968, the daughter of keeper Howard Hays recited the elephant herd by name - Irish, Tillia, Sally, Gloria and Rani. This would seem to imply keepers of the main elephant herd also cared for the calf in the Children's Zoo, or the calf was housed nightly with the larger animals in the main barn. Questions regarding the identity of the zoo's adult female Asians ( they also displayed an African "Irish" / "Arusha" ) is in question and will be addressed at a later time. It is unknown if the "Rani" mentioned is the first or second.

Courtesy of Pittsburgh Post Gazette 07/1969
News articles document the arrival of Rani III in September 1969, three years following the arrival of the first. There was a week's overlap where two of the pachyderms resided together in the Children's Zoo before the predecessor was shipped out after growing too big for the zoo. A native of northern Thailand, the seven month old new arrival cost the zoo $3,000. Weighing only 300 pounds, the young animal was still receiving five daily feedings from a one gallon milk bottle.

Courtesy of Pittsburgh Post Gazette 09/1969

More news articles document the third Rani ( and name her as such ) than any of the others by such name. In this aspect, more is learned of the Pittsburgh Zoo's Children's Zoo animals. Often the residents would make public appearances to raise funds to help with their upkeep, such as attending political campaigns. They were also trained for public shows on the grounds. Ambitious goals were laid to train Rani III to lay down, sit up, salute and stand on her head in preparation for her first full season.

Courtesy of Pittsburgh Press 10/1972
Rani III ( or Maharani as sometimes identified ) seems to have remained at the zoo for the longest duration of the first three. By late 1972, she was destined to be sold at the end of the season along with black bear and lion cubs. Her replacement was seemingly already selected, described as six months old at the time and destined for the zoo. 250 pound Rani IV arrived to the Greater Pittsburgh Airport in February 1973, costing the zoo more than $3,000. She arrived from Miami ( perhaps importer Charles Chase ? ).

As can be found, there were at least four elephants named Rani for the Children's Zoo at Highland Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Very spotty information can be found for these animals. It is unknown if there were further additions or when the zoo discontinued this practice. More information is sought regarding both the animals that resided at the zoo and the history of the Pittsburgh Zoo's Children's Zoo.

>> "Pittsburgh Zoo" at ShowMe Elephants

There will be three parts to the Asian elephant history of Pittsburgh's Highland Park Zoo: Beginning to 1947, Children's Zoo elephants, and 1947 to 1980.

For Further Information
>> "Rani Finally Makes Debut," Pittsburgh Post Gazette, 08/13/1966
>> "Some Kids Seem to Have All the Luck," Pittsburgh Press, 08/04/1968
>> "Big Appetite," Telegraph Herald, 09/12/1969
>> "Feeding Time," Pittsburgh Post Gazette, 09/13/1969
>> "Zoo Animals Trained for Spring Program," Pittsburgh Post Gazette, 12/19/1969
>> "Children's Zoo Baby Elephant Packing Trunk," Pittsburgh Press, 09/03/1972
>> "Donkey on Tail End as Political Guest," Pittsburgh Press, 10/02/1972
>> "Zoo Valentine," Pittsburgh Post Gazette, 02/13/1973

Update 12/21/2013
Former circus owner and manager John Lewis has commented on another ShowMe Elephants article that the Hoxie Bros. Circus purchased a young elephant from the Pittsburgh Zoo. The animal was named by the show "Betty" after the wife of show owner Hoxie Tucker. The first Betty, an African, died in 1972 at winter quarters following her first season. Per John Lewis, her replacement was purchased from the Pittsburgh Zoo, whose trunk was covered with warts.

A November 1984 Circus Report article confirms the above account by John Lewis, in which more of the history of Betty is detailed. Originally born in Thailand around 1970, she was imported by the Pittsburgh Zoo. Trained by former keeper Herb Ellerbrock, she was called Rainy. The article goes on to state in 1974, the renamed Betty, purchased by Hoxie Tucker, appeared on Hoxie Bros. Circus with the Hoxie herd and elephants owned by Bobby Gibbs.

The aforementioned article does not state when Betty II was purchased from the zoo. If she was purchased in 1974 when the article states she appeared on the show, this would make her the fourth Rani. However, the estimated birth date of 1970 for Betty more closely places the animal as Rani III. Rani III was arrived from Thailand in September 1969, six to eight months of age and 300 pounds. Rani IV arrived from an animal dealer in Miami, Florida, in February 1973 at 250 pounds.

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I eagerly anticipate associating with new individuals with an interest or history in elephants, elephant history and elephant record keeping. If you have further information regarding the animals or locations questioned in the article, please leave a comment or message me in an effort to complete their records for elephant historians.