Published Sept. 14, 2020
Working with the largest mammals to walk the planet requires someone who can look past their rough exterior and imposing size to appreciate all the finer details.
That’s Jill Sampson.
“I enjoyed working with a variety of species in the first few years of my Zoo career but there was something about the elephants that really captured my attention. And my heart,” said Jill, the Elephant Area Manager at the Indianapolis Zoo. “Their intelligence, their complex social nature, their unique adaptations, their sheer size and even the way they smell — I just love everything about them.”
Jill first started working with the Zoo’s elephants in 1996. In the 24 years since, she has experienced a lot of remarkable developments. Perhaps the most significant milestones happened in 2000 when Kubwa and Ivory gave to the world’s first and second African elephants via artificial insemination. Just a few years later, the two gave birth again; Kubwa’s 14-year-old son Kedar and Ivory’s 13-year-old daughter Zahara are still part of the Zoo’s herd. Together with the herd’s two other adult females, Tombi and Sophi, Jill said it’s been gratifying to see them develop and display the same family behaviors as elephants in the wild.
“They do have very individual personalities and when you work with them for so many years you develop a unique bond with each one of them,” Jill said. “And over the years that relationship grows. In the case of Zahara and Kedar, our juvenile elephants, I have been a part of their lives since the day they were born. They are like family. That is pretty special.”
To give the herd more room to roam, this year the Zoo opened Tembo Camp presented by Central Indiana Honda Dealers— the biggest change to the Plains area since 2002. Here, guests can see some of the incredible care Jill and the Zoo’s other trainers provide for the elephants every day. Plus, visitors also have opportunities for up-close experiences of their own.
The chance to share those unique aspects of her job along with her passion for elephants is exciting for Jill.
“There are so many wonderful aspects of this job which I enjoy. But always, my favorite part is working directly with the elephants and being part of their world,” she said. “What a privilege that is.”
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