Pachyderm Artists Go Public.
Most Colorado Springs residents are unaware that we have a renowned artist living in our midst. Her work has been showcased in galleries, the Colorado Springs Airport, and the City Council chamber; purchased by patrons of all backgrounds; and publicized in several places.
Who is this artist? Her name is Lucky, and she was the first one of the six African elephants residing at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo to paint!
Unique Benefits of Elephant Art
- Painting enriches the elephants’ lives and stimulates their minds.
- Learn more about African elephant conservation.
- We know that every time someone looks at elephant art displayed in their home or office, they will be reminded how amazing and intelligent these animals are!
Who Does What
All six female African elephants at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo are artists. Along with Lucky’s canvas painting, she also does individual signature trunk prints. Kimba, one of her companions, does unique skin prints onto watercolor paper with the help of her Zookeepers, she also creates canvas and paper paintings. Jambo, Malaika, LouLou and Missy also do paintings onto paper and canvas.
Learn more about Lucky and all our elephant artists in the Artist Profile section below.
Elephant Artists Profiles
Born in 1980, Lucky – who weighs about 8,000 pounds and stands 9 feet tall – has called Cheyenne Mountain Zoo home since 1981 after being orphaned in Kruger National Park, South Africa. She shares her residence with her best friend Kimba, another female African elephant (the two have been together for over 30 years!), and two newer female African elephants Malaika and Jambo.
One of the many things Lucky’s zookeepers have done to keep this highly intelligent animal mentally stimulated and challenged is to teach her to paint as an “enrichment” activity. Enrichment is a term used to describe various activities that increase the animals’ physical and mental activity levels and stimulate natural behaviors.
A quick study, Lucky took to this new activity in a matter of weeks. Despite her large size, she is quite attentive to detail as she applies paint to the canvas using her favorite paintbrush. (Elephants have over 100,000 muscles in their trunks, providing them great strength, dexterity and coordination.) Zookeepers have learned to modify paintbrushes by removing the handles -otherwise they end up in Lucky’s mouth (she loves to chew off the wooden handles!). Her paint medium is water-based tempera. She loves keeper interaction so much however, that she’s been known to throw things (especially poop!) in their direction just to get their attention.
Lucky often makes vocalizations that sound like a loud purr while she’s painting. This is a contented noise, which gives every indication that she enjoys expressing her creative side.
The largest of our African elephant herd, Kimba weighs more than 10,000 pounds and stands 9.5 feet tall. Born in 1978 at Kruger National Park in South Africa, Kimba came to Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in 1981, along with Lucky. She is known for her love of eating – especially bananas, watermelons, pumpkins and cabbage. She – along with Lucky, Malaika and Jambo – eat a total of more than 450 lbs of grain and hay per day! You can tell Kimba apart from the other three by her mismatched tusks; she has a long left tusk and a short right tusk.
Kimba’s one of a kind artwork is an imprint of her skin. An elephant’s skin has a unique texture with many “wrinkles” and grooves. These prints are created by applying a clay and water based paste (like a mud treatment) and then canvas paper is pressed over the “mud” area revealing a skin print. During the sessions to create this art, Kimba will lean into the canvas paper and help the zookeepers make the impression. She enjoys training with zookeepers and earning food rewards during her sessions.
The youngest elephant in our herd, Malaika, was born in 1986. She weighs about 8,500 pounds and stands 9 feet tall. Malaika came to Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in 2008, after a career in film and television with a private owner. When she arrived, she quickly assumed the role of dominant female, using her confident and assertive personality to rise to the top of our group hierarchy. She had no hesitation about meeting Lucky and Kimba, wanting to get close to them and investigate as soon as she arrived. With the addition of Jambo to the zoo, Malaika moved into the role of second on the hierarchy.
Malaika is a gentle and good-natured elephant who loves attention from her keepers (in fact, she demands it!) and particularly enjoys enrichment items like puzzle feeders. Like Kimba, Lucky and Jambo, Malaika gets plenty of one-on-one keeper time per day, with multiple daily training sessions. Favorite foods include apples, watermelons and bananas. Malaika has two equal tusks, which are longer than Lucky’s but shorter than Kimba’s.
Malaika paints with quick short strokes of the brush in a quick fashion. She prefers to hold the brush sideways as she creates her master pieces.
Jambo, which means “hello” in Swahili, is the newest addition to Cheyenne Mountain Zoo’s African elephant herd. She was born in Zimbabwe in 1983 and spent most of her life in the entertainment business before moving to the zoo in 2011. Jambo weighs about 8,000 pounds and stands 9 feet tall. She has the shortest tusks in the herd and has a lot of hair compared to the other three elephants.
Jambo is still getting to know Malaika, Kimba, and Lucky, but her outgoing personality will likely change the current social structure of the group. Jambo is a very energetic, eager to train elephant and is known for double-checking the locks in the barn with her trunk. She’s always looking to stay busy with animal care staff and enrichment activities.
Jambo thrives on her training sessions with zookeepers, and painting sessions are a great way to engage her and highlight the dexterity of an elephant’s trunk.
Private Elephant Painting Session
How can I purchase elephant artwork?
Browse our Elephant Art Gallery for available artwork below. Order online or by phone.