Subscribe to Canada Free Press for FREE

Kiko's Korner

Elephants can't fly but they sure can paint!

by Judi McLeod

February 21, 2005

Kamala, one of the Calgary Zoo’s four elephants, really DOES paint. and according to Canada Free Press business manager Brian Thompson who visited the Calgary Zoo, Kamala’s art is more Van Gogh than kindergarten.

In the wild, elephants have been observed picking up sticks or rocks to draw in the sand or soil, proving that doodling is not just a human pastime.

Those in the know say that giving an opportunity to paint provides Kamala with an interesting activity that stimulates a natural behaviour.

Calgary Zoo staff say that this is just one example of environmental enrichment that works. animal Care staff are always looking for ways to provide animals with new and diverse activities to encourage natural behaviours.

Other animals share in Kamala’s artistic talents, as all funds raised from the sale of her works are applied exclusively by the operations of the Calgary Zoo.

although all three of the Zoo’s female elephants have been given the opportunity to paint as part of the enrichment program, Kamala is the only one who has displayed a continuing interest in artistic pursuits. Kamala, at the easel, doesn’t mind a bit when the two other pachyderms go off in other girlish pursuits.

When Kamala started out, she began with "finger painting" by rubbing watercolours over a piece of paper on the ground with her trunk. She moved on to using a basting brush on a piece of paper taped to the wall. Hey, lots of starving human artists started off on watercolours!

Since april 1994, Kamala has practiced her art using custom brushes made especially for her, and is now applying acrylics to an easel-mounted canvas.

a long way from home, Kamala was born in 1975 in Sri Lanka’s Yala National Park. Orphaned at three months of age, she was found at the bottom of an abandoned well by park staff. Even her name, which means "Lotus Flower" is artistic and was given to her at an elephant orphanage near Pinnawala, Sri Lanka.

Through a cooperative effort with the Sri Lankan government, Ms. Kamala, and two other elephants orphaned around the same time, were brought to the Calgary Zoo, in 1976.

Ten years later, Kamala gave birth to a male named Chanda (Calvin), making her a single mom. Chanda was the first asian elephant born in Canada. Kamala’s second offspring, a female named Maharani, was born in 1990 and is still with her mother at Calgary Zoo. Kamala added the title of grandmother to her impressive status, as Maharani gave birth to her first baby on November 16, 2004.

Endearingly, Kamala is Canada’s most famous animal.

although Zoo animal care staff always knew Kamala was destined for great things, it became official in 2003. It was in the summer of 2003 when an article was published in the British airways Magazine, rating the 10 most famous animals in the world. Kamala, due to her creative talents, ended up seventh on the list. Since she was the only animal in Canada to make the list, she now proudly holds the title of "Canada’s Most Famous animal".

all artists are proud of their work, including the ladylike painting pachyderm, who produces for human delight, limited edition prints.

View Kamala’s art gallery at

Canada Free Press, CFP Editor Judi McLeod