The Mystery of ChanTen, the Amarillo Zoo’s Only Elephant
One of my coworkers today showed me interesting picture. It was of a young elephant that seemed to be in a pool of sorts. She said it was take here in Amarillo in the 1960s.
Now, I'm naturally a curious person so I decided to dig deeper. I'm a big fan of the Amarillo Zoo and it's been fun to see to some of the additions--like the new bear cub Mesa and Daisy the Camel. So that makes it fun for me to look into the past and see what once was.
The Beginnng: Children's Story Land Zoo
Let's start at the beginning. The zoo as we know it today started on two and half acres of land at Thompson Park and was humbly known as Children's Story Land Zoo. It had a much smaller display with only 25 animals. Looking at the pictures, I can see that the zoo had a much more fairytale book appearance.
Among the early exhibits were barnyard animals, Willie the Wale and even a teepee for the children to romp in. The entrance was known as "The Mountain" and it's still very much part of the current zoo today (minus the Seven Dwarves' Mine). There's even a marker if you happen to be out there and remember to take a look.
Time marched on for the zoo and in 1963, a campaign was started by the folks at KFDA and the children of Amarillo. The goal? To bring an elephant to town.
The Nickel campaign was launched and by the end of the year, an elephant arrived from Thailand. The baby was given the name ChanTen--which I gotta admit, you can see where it comes from yet it has somewhat of a lovely ring to it, doesn't it?
The introduction of ChanTen was a big deal. The picture below shows the mayor at the time, Byron Reese, overseeing the festivities (on the right) along with Freddie the Fireman, who was a big part of the children's programming at the time along with Bob Scruggs, president of the Zoological Society.
What Happened to ChanTen?
The Zoo continued the expand and Story Land eventually transformed into the Amarillo Zoo. Somewhere in that transition, ChanTen's story gets a little fuzzy. There's not much by way of solid coverage of ChanTen's fate. I was able to track articles with her photo presence through at least the early 1970s. Then all traces of her fade away.
And what's more, there seems to be several theories of what happened to ChanTen, the one and only elephant of the Amarillo Zoo. I found stories of her passing due to a disastrous flood; whispered anecdotes of how a group of teens were suspected to have poisoned her; and finally, I collected reports that she had been given to a sanctuary in another part of the state.
Perhaps you can solve the mystery of ChanTen?