That morning the keepers at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle had found her collapsed in her outdoor exhibit. Efforts to try to get her back on her feet failed. Her condition worsened, and the humane decision was made to euthanize her. I was saddened when I heard the news that day, and I knew that many others would be as well, including Chai and Bamboo—her elephant companions. But Watoto's passing brought up more than just sadness in others—it re-ignited the touchy issue of whether elephants should be kept in captivity at the Woodland Park Zoo (or in captivity at all, anywhere). But Watoto had her own message to share.
A little over a month ago, I submitted three of my photos to an online contest for Fine Art America. Five winners would have their art/photo featured on a billboard in the LA area. For me it felt like an opportunity to spread more awareness about the animals and nature, because (of course!) there’s a story behind each photo.
Based on an informal poll (thanks everyone!), the most popular photo of all the many I have taken is Lion Yin Yang.
It was early morning at the Philadelphia Zoo many years ago, and I was watching this gorgeous lion couple bask in the warmth of the sun.
The male wanted to be as close to his lady as possible, and kept inching forward, while she was more interested in catching the rays.
Both lions took part in the very first shamanic ceremony I did with—and for—the Zoo Animal Ambassadors, and they played a very important role in raising my awareness that animals are spiritual and energetic beings.
When I posted Lion Yin Yang on Instagram, I received a message from someone in the Philadelphia area who identified the couple as lion Merlin and lioness Jezebel. I’d never known their names, and unbeknownst to me, learning them filled a space in my heart I had not known was empty. It also brought tears to my eyes, and inspired me to see if I could learn more. So, I turned to the internet, and discovered obituary Kind exit for Merlin.
The story touched me deeply. In my heart I had known that both of the lions were in spirit—too many years had passed for them to be still in body. Reading Merlin’s story and viewing another zoo goer’s last sighting of Jezebel brought back all my memories of my many visits and interactions with them, as well as how powerfully they had embraced the ceremony for the Philadelphia Zoo Animal Ambassadors.
Merlin and Jezebel were my very first teachers in learning to listen, and in bringing the people and the animals together for ceremony.
I am so grateful for their wisdom and strength of purpose, and that of the countless numbers of Zoo Animal Ambassadors I have spent time with over the years. All the memories evoked by this one photo help keep me inspired in moments when I falter. It reminds me of the deepest wish of the wild animals and the Zoo Animal Ambassadors: that people will meet with them as equals so that we can work together to create a better future for us all (see Why I bring people to the zoo).
And if you would like bring their presence into your life, Lion Yin Yang is available as a print, and on a greeting card, mug and other useful items.
Note: Registration is now open for Listening to Zoo Animal Ambassadors, a 6-part series which begins in December, and includes four visits to local zoos. It is a yearly event that the Animal Ambassadors look forward to, and so do I!
Learn how to connect more deeply with animals, restore balance to your life, increase intuitive skills, and help heal the Earth with live Reiki and shamanic teleclasses, available worldwide.
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A WILD WAY TO HEAL
Rose De Dan, Wild Reiki and Shamanic Healing LLC, is an animal communicator, Reiki Master Teacher, shamanic energy healer, and author. Her classes, sessions and ceremonial work are inspired by wild and domestic animals who have issued a call to action for personal and global healing.
Her book Tails of a Healer: Animals, Reiki and Shamanism features heartwarming stories about animals and their role in her evolution as an energy worker and shamanic healer.