Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Old Postcard Wednesday -- Bertha and Tina, John Ascuaga's Nugget, Sparks, Nevada

I have cried during the composition of this post because Bertha and Tina were a huge part of my life growing up and I only today, while researching, discovered real information about them as captive elephants instead of the performers I knew (and loved).

Our family saw them at John Ascuaga's Nugget showroom in Sparks, Nevada, as the brief but exciting warm-up act for big headliners who performed there. Easter, however, was their day to shine as the main act and we attended many of those annual performances. In the early days, kids with parents gathered in the back parking lot to see Bertha and Tina up close before the Easter brunch shows. Their trainer handed out peanuts that we in turn fed to the elephants, a trunk-to-hand experience I could never forget. Inside the casino, brunch was a beautifully-crafted buffet just outside the entrance to the showroom. Once our plates were piled high we'd be seated inside and would wait with anticipation for Bertha and Tina to come on stage. They never disappointed, bless them.

An impressive database containing information about elephant breeding in America provides the history of documented captive elephants. While claiming to be the largest elephant database on the Internet, the site notes that it is incomplete. I can attest to the truth of that, since the death of a baby elephant at the Nugget in the 1970s is not noted. My post tomorrow will concern that baby elephant.

The elephant database also contains a Nugget Casino in Sparks page containing information about Bertha and Tina.

Additionally, each elephant has a separate page at the website.

I didn't know, dear Bertha, that you were born the same year as I, in 1951. No one told us that you were born in the wild in India, that you were captured there in 1956 and the "Tote-em-in Zoo" (now Tregembo Animal Park) somehow transferred (sold?) you to the Adams Brothers Circus in 1958. A man named Wilbur W. Deppe obtained you from the circus and had you from 1960 until 1962 when you were transferred (sold?) to the Nugget Casino in Sparks, Nevada. You performed there at the Nugget for 37 years until your death at age 48 in 1999. During those years you were joined by Tina, who arrived in 1979 and was transferred out in 1989, and by Angel from 1989 to 1999 (the year you died) when she was sent to the Fort Worth Zoo. It is common knowledge that elephants are extremely intelligent, that they form close bonds and mourn the deaths of other elephants. Who knows the kind of trauma you and Tina experienced when separated, and the mourning that Angel (who was the only captive-born of the three of you at the Nugget) endured upon your passing. The cause of your death in the vicinity of the casino is unknown, although 48 years is a long life for a captive elephant so I hope you passed painlessly, an elder performer, in the presence of those you came to trust.

I remember you when you were a young elephant, smart Tina, but certainly never knew that you, too, were born in the wild, in 1974. You were captured and wound up at Carson and Baines Circus, which, in 1979, transferred (sold?) you to John Ascuaga's Nugget. In 1984 you went from the Nugget to Riddles Elephant and Wildlife Sanctuary. The Sanctuary held you until 1994, when (this seems strange to me) you were transferred (sold?) to the Miami Metro Zoo, then transferred back to the Elephant Sanctuary in 1997, where you died six years later at age 29. The database lists your death as being in January 2003, while also noting that you had a stillborn calf in March of 2003. Obviously, there is an error in the database and I am left to wonder if your death was as a result of medical problems related to your carrying or delivery of the stillborn calf. Yours seems a life of chaos. I hope you had tender care that compensated for all you endured.

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The website database mentions the successful elephant productivity at the Oregon Zoo in Portland, of note because the zoo had an elephant birth on August 23, 2008 that has captivated the area.
The first births was [sic] in 1880 and 1882, but ut [sic] took long time until next births. From 1962 until 1994, 85 births were recorded, with a birth almost every second year. In 1994 about 50 of these were still living. Second Zoo generation offspring has been born in the most productive Zoo; Portland in Oregon.

Rose-Tu, the mother elephant at the Oregon Zoo, at first rather violently rejected her baby which necessitated zookeepers separating them to protect the baby. While feeding the baby by hand zoo professionals slowly, over the next days, introduced mother and baby to one another in hopes that Rose-Tu would accept her newborn calf (vital for the survival of the baby, since rejected calves have a much higher rate of death than those nursed and loved by their mothers). As the media reported daily, the public interest and concern swelled. Rose-Tu did begin to nurse the baby, they have bonded, and all is well. The baby was named Samudra, or "Sam," as a result of 17,000 votes from the public. Samudra is Hindi for lord of the ocean, which seemed fitting as the calf loves his baths. You can read a press release about the baby and see a heart-warming photo of him standing next to Rose-Tu here.

Mike and I hope to see Samudra at the zoo soon, this coming weekend if possible since Monday, September 22 is Elephant Appreciation Day.


Don't Feed The Pixies said...

Thank you for this post - i really liked the personal touch you brought to it.

Just out of the area where i live there have been regular fairs and circuses for as long as i can remember - though these days no live animal circuses come to the UK.

My only memory of actually going to the circus though is at a different location - a theatre that has long since been pulled down. I was only a kid, but this Animal Rights protestor forced a leaflet into my hand and went on about how the creatures were treated. Maybe he had a point, but i still don't think his approach was right

Wayfaring Wanderer said...

Who ever knew there was an Elephant Appreciation Day?! I agree with DFTP, the personal touches you add to the PC Wednesday are always thought provoking. I find myself wishing that I had a better memory of my childhood--I think that I've blocked out a lot of stuff.

Elephants are a symbol that my sister and I have shared for years now.

When she was 12, she was in a fatal car accident with 4 other teens; one of the girls died. Her name was Amy and her most favorite thing in the world were elephants. As tribute to Amy we took on a love for elephants as well. It's been a mighty long time since that happened, but every time I see an elephant, I think of AMY.

Lydia said...

Your comments are always so kind, and so interesting. Live animal circuses are on their way out for sure. It's sad that you have that memory because his approach was really out of hand. There was plenty of time for you to see the real picture later.

Thanks for such a thoughtful comment and poignant story.

I'm putting Elephant Appreciation Day on my calendar to remember and I'll think of your sister's friend. September 22 can now also be Amy Day.
As to childhood memories, I'm amazed at the things I don't remember when my sister recalls them. But some things are crystal clear. Do you have many photos from childhood that could serve as triggers for memories?

Wayfaring Wanderer said...

You know, I do have photos that I've sifted through, but no reactions.....I have more memories of my later years in middle school and up, but virtually none when I was younger than 10. I remember 5th grade and on.....maybe I had some traumatic experience somewhere along the line that is inhibiting memories of my early years?!

I kid that in order to learn new things, I have to purge old memories have a short shelf life if that's truly the case eh?

Anonymous said...

I have been doing some research as I too knew Bertha and Tina. My mother was a cocktail waitress at the Nugget 67-68
I was very young at the time but having done some research and trying to conjure my memories - I believe there were deaths of both of them in the late 60's. I would hope that John Asquaga's prodigy are contributing heavily to any funding for elephant's welfare,

Anonymous said...

I remember seeing Bertha and Tina at my Elementary School (Jessie Beck) graduation in 1973. I am a little confused because your article show she was born in 1974.

Anonymous said...

I grew up in Reno from 1964-1975, I remember seeing Bertha and Tina perform during this time, so Tina's timeline is different from what you show. We went to John Ascuaga's Nugget to celebrate my mom's birthday and as small children, my sister and I were thoroughly bored by the showgirls. The waitress took us back through the kitchen, picked up a basket of rolls, and let us go in with Bertha and Tina (YES! right up to them!!) and feed them the rolls from our hands. Something we will never ever forget, but that could never happen in this day and age. Thanks for posting what happened to those lovely souls.


Unknown said...

I was there 1996-2004. Saw the elephants at the pull up garage door twice a night. Then one died or left & the other refused to come out of the cinder block asphalt jail. Tyke.. Life changing

Unknown said...

Thank you for this information. As a native of Reno/Sparks, I also grew up with Bertha and Angel and was employed at J.A. Nugget when the beautiful Bertha passed. It was the saddest night at the Nugget,full of both tears and memories. I always parked near the elephant house so I could say hello to the girls on my way in and it was certainly the highlight of my shift when we would look up and see those massive animals strolling down Nugget Avenue!

Katherine said...

Bertha was born in the 1940's not 1951. Also Tina's timeframe is not correct either. When I was a kid saw them in the NV day parade, in the mid-late 1960's. But interesting info.



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