Updated: April 23, 2020 10:31 PM
Created: April 23, 2020 09:45 PM
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.- A woman who made a major impact with elephants at the ABQ BioPark Zoo has retired after decades on the job.
Rhonda Saiers had a major role in the elephant breeding program-- in particular the birth of Thorne.
“Everything we did for approximately 22 years was geared towards that moment. Every decision we made with the herd structure, with the facility design, every time we sat down at a meeting, it was geared towards an educated multi-generational elephant herd because that's who they're meant to be, that's who they should be in human care, and that birth uh was the pinnacle of it,” explained Rhonda Saiers.
Saiers said Thorne's birth was the biggest moment in her career, which started 25 years ago.
“She interviewed as, you know, entry level keeper, and we did the interview,” said former Bio Park director Rick Janser. “I kind of liked her right off the bat just because she went to the same high school I did. She went to UNM. She took a lot of the same classes. So she was like, she was just following in my footsteps-- only 10 years later.”
“Within about six months, they moved me over partially to elephants, and then full time to elephants,” said Saiers. “It takes every ounce of your heart. It's a physical job. I don't know that would have been what I would have chosen, so I'm glad it chose me, and I'm very lucky that it did.”
Saiers didn't just take care of the elephants, she was their advocate.
“One of her best traits and the one that would drive me nuts is we would, you know, she'd say I need this for the elephants. This will help them so much. Okay, so we would do that. She goes, oh, that's great. Now, we need this, and we need that, and it was, you know, it was never ending,” explained Janser.
Saiers was known as the 'elephant mama' at the BioPark, but people around the country knew her as well.
“Rhonda, never made it about herself,” said Bob Lee, the general curator at the Oregon Zoo. “She always made it about the herd. She always made it about the Albuquerque BioPark, and she always made it about her team. So she has a great group of people that are picking up the torch and running forward to make a great life for that elephant family that you have there. So I think that's probably what would have made her more proud than anything else, is that it doesn't end when she decides to walk out the door that the elephants will continue to have a great life.”
They say elephants don't forget, and their beloved keeper doesn't plan on suppressing any memories.
“I cannot imagine not visiting both the humans at the BioPark or the elephants, so I'm sure I'll be back,” said Saiers.
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