Since being crowned, Queen Elizabeth II has experienced things that she could surely only have dreamt of, and the moment that this curious giant stomped towards her has to be one of them. After all, she held out the banana in her hand, and, in answer, the elephant extended its trunk.
In 1931 a zoo called Whipsnade Wild Animal Park opened in Bedfordshire, England. Since then, it has fallen under the ownership of a charity called the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), and it’s now known as the ZLS Whipsnade Zoo. But it’s much more than just a zoo.
In fact, ZSL is a charity that provides conservation facilities for animals, and it was the opening of one of these facilities that led to this particular royal visit. To be more precise, the reason why these very important visitors were there on that day was the addition of a new elephant center.
Yes, the Centre for Elephant Care cost $2.6 million to construct and had two special guests for its official opening. So who were these guests? None other than Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth II and her husband, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh. Naturally, then, the media jumped on the event.
On April 11, 2017, not only did the royals tour the facility, but they also experienced elephant care firsthand. Lee Sambrook, the zoo’s Assistant Curator of Elephants, was present at the event.
Sambrook showed his VIPs things like how the elephants’ teeth are inspected and how their feet are kept clean. The visiting Queen and Duke were among the first to witness the daily care that elephants receive at the new facility, and by all accounts, the royals found the experience fascinating.
Sambrook told The Telegraph that same month that the Queen took a special interest in elephant care. Actually, after seeing how the animals are looked after, she drew a parallel with her own experience at horse keeping. But it wasn’t the only resemblance she noticed.
During their visit, the royals also met ZSL’s zoological director David Field. “They were both really interested in the bond between the elephants and the keepers,” he told The Telegraph. “The Queen talked about the bond between horses and people, so she really understood that.”
And the Duke of Edinburgh had a personal interest in the Centre for Elephant Care, too. This is because 20 years before, he attended the opening of the center’s forerunner. He even expressed an interest in how much technology has improved over the years.
No doubt the advancements have helped to improve elephant care since then, as the Queen apparently pointed out. During the tour, for instance, she noticed just how content the animals looked with the center’s new equipment. Her Royal Highness even told Whipsnade staff she thought as much.
“The elephants look very happy in there,” she reportedly said. “It’s a rather nice change for them, I suppose.” Staff responded by telling the Queen that elephants make quite a mess. She concurred, saying, “Yes, they do don’t they? They are quite destructive.”
Her Majesty got a further surprise when Field pointed out a young member of the herd. You see, the day before the Queen celebrated her 90th birthday in 2016, a baby elephant was born at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo. And, in honor of the head of the royal family, the calf was named Elizabeth.
“[The Queen] was absolutely delighted and went, ‘Oh, really?’ when we told her the elephant calf was named after her,” Field told The Telegraph. Perhaps the most memorable experience, however, was a more hands-on encounter. It happened when the royal couple met Donna.
Donna is a nine-year-old female elephant that personally met the royals as part of the opening ceremony. “The elephants were excited [when they saw Her Majesty],” Field told Metro in April 2017. “And we know that, actually, because we track their communications in the barn.”
“We can see that they were excited with what was going on,” he explained. Donna was certainly eager to meet the Queen and Duke, especially when she saw what the couple held. Yes, both royals had some bananas to feed her with, and Donna wandered over to investigate.
They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, and it would seem that is also true of elephants. After all, the royal couple’s gift literally went down a treat when Donna accepted the Queen’s present with her trunk. The crowd couldn’t hold back its applause.
The clapping soon turned to laughter as Donna’s enthusiasm got the better of her and she went back for seconds. When she was unsuccessful finding a third banana from the Queen, though, her trunk waved at the Duke. The smile on Donna’s face when she got another banana was heart-melting.
“I think [the Queen] was very happy with that,” Sambrook said on ZSL Whipsnade Zoo’s official website that month. “[She] was very interested in the way they feed and how they use their nose to feed with.” It was the perfect way to end the opening of a new facility.
The official opening of the Centre for Elephant Care was also marked by a commemorative plaque. Sir John Beddington, president of the ZSL, had a speech prepared for the occasion. “[The Center] celebrates the exemplary care and conservation that really is at the heart of everything we do at Whipsnade,” he said.
Continuing, he added, “Elephants are facing terrible threats around the world. […] ZSL zoos and international conservation projects are working to tackle these issues and secure a future for this amazing species.” With patrons such as the ZSL and the royal family, we can only hope that these beautiful creatures get the prosperous future they truly deserve.