MUSCATINE, Iowa — They say elephants never forget. Well, neither do their fans.
Just ask anyone old enough to remember the Pearl City’s favorite pachyderm, Dolly, who was housed at the Weed Park Zoo for more than a decade.
More than likely, when they tell you about their visits to Muscatine’s menagerie, their stories will involve the star of the show, Dolly.
But if you ask people where Dolly is now, you’d be hard pressed to get an answer.
Now, nearly 30 years after the zoo closed, officials at the Denver Zoo say they know where Dolly is — well, at least they’re 99.9 percent sure they do.
According to Dale Leeds, curator of large mammals at the zoo, Dolly has called the Mile High City home since 1990, when the zoo obtained her.
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How does he know? The trunk tells the tale.
After studying photos of Dolly taken in Muscatine with ones now, zoo officials feel confident — “99.9 percent” confident, they say — in saying they have Dolly. Slight deformities in the trunk seen in photos of Dolly in Muscatine match those of Denver’s Dolly.
“She’s a smart, sweet elephant,” said Leeds. “She is easy to be around and is in good health.”
Elephant on parade
Dolly’s parade around the country began in the 1960s when she came to the Weed Park Zoo.
The zoo was located on 5.5 acres on a hillside in Weed Park overlooking the Mississippi River. Today, the Weed Park Zoo Garden spreads across the same hillside, a horticultural homage to the original zoo. The three-acre garden also contains metal sculptures of animals once found at the zoo, including, fittingly, an elephant.
When Dolly, an Asian elephant, arrived in Muscatine in 1966, she was about 2 years old and weighed 700 pounds. She joined 165 neighbors at the zoo, including birds, reptiles and other animals.
According to a 1966 article in the Times-Democrat, Dolly — named after the Broadway musical, “Hello, Dolly” — was obtained from an animal dealer in Burlington, Wis. She replaced Candy, an elephant who had grown too large for her enclosure.
Dolly was sold at auction in 1981 after the zoo closed and she went to Baton Rouge, La. She eventually ended up in central Florida — but not to retire. She lived there until she was obtained by the Denver Zoo in 1990.
Today, she’s about 47 years old and has packed on a little weight — over three tons worth. She tips the scales at 7,500 pounds.
In 2001, Dolly was sent to a breeding program at Dickerson Park Zoo in Springfield, Mo., but was returned to Denver in May 2002, deemed too old
Soon, Dolly can look forward to some bigger stomping grounds. The Denver Zoo is building a new 10-acre Asian Tropics enclosure, set to open in 2012. Dolly is even featured in an online video of the groundbreaking at
http://www.denverzoo.org/ AT/construction_updates/photos_updates/video.html (scroll to the bottom of the page). Dolly appears at about
3 minutes, 10 seconds into the video.
Later in the video, Dolly even helps solve the problem of providing power for her new home by raising a stink — or, rather, dropping one.
Power for the Asian Tropics will come in part from gasification, a process where energy is extracted from organic materials, such as animal feces, through a reactive process using high temperatures and oxygen and/or steam. At the Asian Tropics, animals’ waste products will be combined with trash to provide power.
The new area will house Asian elephants, Malayan tapirs and Indian rhinos. The animals will rotate through different outdoor yards throughout a day, leaving sensory clues as they would in their natural habitat.
New habitats will include mud wallows, scratching trees, shade structures and plenty of water for swimming and bathing. The extra space will also allow the zoo to house a number of bull elephants and eventually become a breeding facility for elephants, rhinos and tapirs.
These days, said Leeds, Dolly is an inquisitive and playful member of the Denver Zoo family.
Not only that, she’s taken up a hobby: painting.
Dolly’s been known to grab a paint brush with her trunk and create paintings for auctions as special “thank-you’s” for zoo donors.
As for her time here, apparently the seeds of Melon City put down roots in Dolly’s memory, and diet.
As the saying goes — kind of — you may be able to take the elephant out of Muscatine, but you can’t take Muscatine out of the elephant.
One of Dolly’s favorite foods is — you guessed it — watermelon.
—News Editor Rusty Schrader contributed to this story