The zoo's brightest creatures go into the Wild

The Oklahoma City Zoo launched its fifth annual Art Gone Wild animal art show earlier this month, with a.k.a. Gallery hosting for the first time. The exhibit will run through the entire month of August and features original pieces of art created by the zoo’s most creative and artistic animals. From gorillas to giraffes, stingrays and sea lions, the art is created using a wild palette at the zoo.

“Making connections between wildlife and wild places with people is a major part of the zoo’s mission,” said Tara Henson, the zoo’s director of PR and marketing. “Providing healthy and fun activities for our animals is paramount for their health and well-being. Enhancing each species’ behavioral, physical, social, cognitive and psychological well-being are important. Enrichment activities such as painting [are] just one of the ways our animal care team accomplishes this goal.”

Art Gone Wild will provide guests with an opportunity to view and purchase these unique pieces of art, with net proceeds supporting the zoo’s conservation initiatives.

“My hope is to raise a lot of money for the zoo and the wildlife conservation groups that they support,” said Ashley Griffith, owner of a.k.a. Gallery. “I also hope people walk away realizing that each and every person can make a difference in helping preserve these beautiful animals and their habitats. Hopefully, with the money we raise, this can be the gallery’s part for now.”

Art by zoo animals is one part of providing a stimulating environment.

If you’re worried about the safety and health of the animals, there is no need. Creating the art is safe for all the animals; the paints are nontoxic and washable.

“Programs like Art Gone Wild help elephants in their natural habitats and at the zoo,” Henson said. “Painting is a collaboration between the animal team and each animal. The animal has a choice on whether it wants to participate. Each animal receives a reward such as a favorite treat if they choose to do so.

If not, there’s no negative interaction. Everything is based upon positive reinforcement.”

A new addition to the animal artist crew this year is Togo, one of the zoo’s silverback gorillas, along with giraffes Bogy, Ursula, Noel and Ellie. The exhibit will also feature painting by Gus, a Von der Decken’s hornbill, and Zeppy, a salmon-crested cockatoo, who will be showing off their newly acquired painting skills with a paintbrush. Also, back by popular demand is the zoo’s toddler elephant Malee, who has painted more of her “Malee kisses.” Expect to also see other artists like a Komodo dragon, a Red River hog and Galapagos tortoises.

The caregivers of these animals should get as much credit as the talented artists. They deeply love and care for each animal, and they support them in their artistic endeavors. Some animals enjoy using paintbrushes, while others choose to paint with their trunks, paws or even noses, all under the encouraging eye of the caregivers.

“I think the trainers have the most fun with this fundraiser,” Griffith said. “I got the opportunity to go to the zoo and watch the trainers and animals work together, and it was really spectacular to see how much love and care each of the trainers spend with the animals.”

  • or