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Zoo gives Louie star treatment for 8th birthday

Keeper attacked by animal back at work, helps plan celebration

  • louie-elephant-50-pound-birthday-cake

    Louie gobbles up his 50-pound birthday cake made of cornmeal with peanut butter frosting. Celery stalks stood in for candles.

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  • louis-the-elephant-birthday-cake-sam-misiura

    Louie samples his birthday cake made by chef Sam Misiura. After finishing his cake, Louie then chowed down on a card made by 5-year-old Elora Russell of Monroe.

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  • crowd-watches-louie-the-elephant-on-birthday

    A large crowd gathers to catch a glimpse of 8-year-old Louie tackling his presents and birthday cake. An estimated 4,600 people from Lucas County and beyond attended the annual birthday celebration for the Toledo Zoo’s youngest elephant.

    <The Blade/Lori King
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  • don-redfox-elephant-trainer

    Don RedFox, the elephant trainer who suffered critical injuries last year when he was attacked by Louie, attends Louie’s party.

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louie-elephant-50-pound-birthday-cake

Louie gobbles up his 50-pound birthday cake made of cornmeal with peanut butter frosting. Celery stalks stood in for candles.

The Blade/Lori King
Enlarge | Buy This Image

Clinging to the railing with their faces pressed against a fence, three young girls — including brunette twins in nearly matching pink and purple outfits — burst out in song, singing “Happy Birthday” to Louie, the youngest elephant at the Toledo Zoo.

“It’s baby Louie’s birthday!” exclaimed Reagan Meyer, 5, of Maumee.

Reagan and her twin sister, Mackenzie, recently celebrated their birthday, part of the reason their mother took them to the zoo for Louie’s.

Saturday was the elephant’s 8th birthday and people — young and old — from all over Lucas County and beyond showed up to celebrate. About 4,600 in all attended.

Among the dozens of attendees who stood craning their necks for a glimpse of the birthday boy was Donald RedFox, elephant manager at the Toledo Zoo.

Last July 1, Louie attacked and critically injured Mr. RedFox when the man, who has worked for the zoo since 1977, entered the elephant’s stall, apparently startling the animal. Mr. RedFox left and soon re-entered the stall and was challenged and knocked to the ground by Louie.

crowd-watches-louie-the-elephant-on-birthday

A large crowd gathers to catch a glimpse of 8-year-old Louie tackling his presents and birthday cake. An estimated 4,600 people from Lucas County and beyond attended the annual birthday celebration for the Toledo Zoo’s youngest elephant.

The Blade/Lori King
Enlarge | Buy This Image

Mr. RedFox suffered multiple rib fractures and punctures to both lungs in the attack.

The trainer has declined to comment to reporters, but he issued a statement through the Toledo Zoo’s Facebook page on April 18, thanking everyone for supporting him during his recovery.

Mr. RedFox returned to work about a month ago on a light-duty, part-time basis. He helped organize Louie’s birthday party and is working with the construction department on the second phase of the elephant facility renovations, said zoo spokesman Andi Norman.

“I am still healing and taking one day at a time, but I have been able to return to work at the Toledo Zoo in a limited capacity. … I hope to be able to return to the zoo on a full-time basis,” he wrote in the message to zoo fans.

Mr. RedFox is also helping with Renee, Louie’s mother, who is pregnant, to prepare for what the zoo hopes will be a healthy birth in early summer, Ms. Norman said.

“I understand that people would like for me to comment about the incident in which I was injured,” he wrote.

don-redfox-elephant-trainer

Don RedFox, the elephant trainer who suffered critical injuries last year when he was attacked by Louie, attends Louie’s party.

The Blade/Lori King
Enlarge | Buy This Image

“There’s very little I can say; I have no memory of that day, and I can only rely on what people have told me. What I can say is I am looking forward to continuing to work with the elephants for years to come. … I’ve been asked about retirement, but elephant guys never really retire — they just don’t shovel as much.”

Louie’s birthday was celebrated in two parts — first, of course, the presents.

Louie was given two cardboard structures — one shaped like a building, the other like Godzilla — filled with hay, pineapple, melons, air-popped popcorn, and other treats.

The crowd watched Louie tear into the boxes and lift the contents with his trunk to feed himself. He even occasionally shared with Twiggy, a 25-year-old female elephant, which prompted giggles from children, one of whom exclaimed, “That’s a crazy elephant.”

Melaina Torongeau, 7, of Temperance said she would have given Louie a box full of clothes and a pair of sunglasses. But not shades like the pink ones she carried on the collar of her T-shirt. Maybe, said her mother, Rachel Torongeau, Louie would prefer a blue pair.

Melaina’s sister, 12-year-old Madison, said she would give Louie a big bag of popcorn.

The zoo celebrates Louie’s birthday every year, Ms. Norman said. “He’s our star. Sometimes I think he knows that,” she said.

louis-the-elephant-birthday-cake-sam-misiura

Louie samples his birthday cake made by chef Sam Misiura. After finishing his cake, Louie then chowed down on a card made by 5-year-old Elora Russell of Monroe.

The Blade/Lori King
Enlarge | Buy This Image

Next was the cake, a 50-pound rectangular treat made of cornmeal, covered in peanut butter “frosting,” and adorned with fruits and vegetables — eight celery stalks were used like candles.

A huge crowd gathered outside Louie’s exhibit, little boys and girls sitting on the shoulders of their parents, clamoring to get closer, afraid they wouldn’t be able to see.

The cake, made by the zoo’s executive chef, Sam Misiura, was delivered in a white van before Louie was allowed out from his stall inside the elephant house. When the door opened, Louie came charging out, strutting past the fence in front of an adoring crowd of shrieking, giggling children and adults armed with cell phones taking pictures.

After most of the crowd cleared, Elora Russell, 5, of Monroe handed one of the elephant trainers two birthday cards she made for Louie, her small fingers still stained purple from the markers she used. She and her mother, Gina Russell, made a special trip to the zoo just for the birthday.

The trainer promised to hang one in the office and gave the other to Louie. The elephant eyed it for only a moment before curling it in his trunk and chowing down.

“He had double cake,” she giggled, noting the picture on the front of her card was a birthday cake.

Contact Taylor Dungjen at: tdungjen@theblade.com or 419-724-6054.

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