Narrating the correlation of elephants as related to their import, groupings, breeding and transfers,
along with other elephant related topics.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Tom Packs Elephants

The Tom Packs Elephants were considered the best trained elephant act of its time. Trained by elephant master Mac MacDonald, they represented the epitome of class and skill throughout the 1950s and into the 1960s. Originally trained as a group of five elephants for the Tom Packs Circus, four of the animals represent part of a larger group imported together in 1948. Another was added during the training period; several years later an elephant was replaced for medical reasons. The focus here is on the Tom Packs group, but will address in some detail their original shipmates as well.
In November 1948, Catalina Wild Life Expeditions, owned by Noel Rosefelt, imported a group of animals on the SS Swarthmore Victory including elephants, monkeys, bears, birds and pythons. Four days before landing, the cargo ship sent a distress call to the US Navy requesting food for the animals aboard. Eight "four year old" baby elephants were reported trying to "kick the ship to pieces." The Navy provided a plane to fly 1500 miles to parachute crates of worms for the birds and a bale of hay for each of the "800 pound" elephants. The ages and weights given here are announced as such in The Billboard, though are not concurrent with possible statistics. According to Rosefelt, nine four feet tall elephants were boarded upon the ship before the journey. Three elephants died; two of them died at sea. The boat originally docked in San Francisco. Four of the elephants headed for the Tom Packs Circus in New Orleans by boat, one to the Sacramento Zoo by truck and the sixth to the Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison, Wisconsin.

The Tom Packs Elephants circa 1951 with Mac MacDonald.
"Alice", "Jean", "Mary", "Penny" and "Tommy" (female) in front.
Photo Courtesy of Buckles Blog 05/17/2009

Arrival and Training
The Tom Packs elephants arrived in New Orleans by ship during Thanksgiving week. Mahouts unloaded Alice, Jean, Mary and Penny into the Shrine Circus building; the Tom Packs Circus was showing there for the annual contracted date. These Asian elephant handlers had accompanied the animals through the overseas journey. At the time, Bill Woodcock was presenting the Bailey Brothers elephants, the second act trained by Mac MacDonald and later owned by Caren Cristiani. The elephants arrived in horrific shape, malnourished and disease ridden with lice and internal parasites. One named Mary limped badly as a result of one leg measuring shorter than the remaining three. Jack Leontini pursued MacDonald to train the act at the recommendation of Woodcock. Mac reluctantly agreed to train the animals at Captain William Hyer’s facility in Sarasota, Florida, during the winter of 1948-49; a younger female named Tommy was added to the act as well. As with all other Mac MacDonald acts, it was the “top of its day" and “talk of the circus world."

Tom Packs elephants in 1951. With Mac's training and Peggy's acrobatic skills, each act they presented remained the top elephant act of the day.
Photo Courtesy of Buckles Blog 07/13/2008

Slivers Madison
In December 1952, James "Slivers" and Josephine Madison took over the act, replacing Mac MacDonald who moved to train a new act for the Polack Brothers Circus. The new act would become known as the Besalou Elephants and receive acclaim even greater than the Tom Packs Elephants. During that winter, the Tom Packs Circus wintered their equipment and elephants at the Jefferson Barracks near St. Louis, Missouri.

In July 1953 in Indianapolis, Tommy slipped off a tub during the Merry-Go-Round and fractured her hind leg between the ankle and knee. Slivers reset the bone on the picket line and laced a tight leather support for the leg. She and Mary were both left in Indiana until healing under the care of Fred Clark.

The five act was sold to the Polack Brothers Circus late in 1953, the same year the Packs show was awarded by the Shriners a five year contract for the New Orleans, Louisiana, date. During their first year working the animals, Mary’s limp became more noticeable and Slivers donated her to the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans in November 1953. Mayor d'Lesseps Morrison officially accepted the eight year old elephant and in his speech urged the public to attend the circus. Mary was replaced with Shirley.

In November 1955, the Tom Packs elephants arrived in New Orleans early for the Shrine date due to severe snowfall in St. Louis. The animals were boarded at the Audubon Zoo but not exhibited, rather taken daily to schools to promote business for the circus and distribute special school coupon tickets.

Slivers and Josephine Madison with the Tom Packs elephants in 1953.
"Alice", "Jean", "Penny", "Tommy" and "Shirley"
Photo Courtesy of Buckles Blog 10/13/2007

Jungleland Inc
Louis Goebel, owner of Jungleland Inc in Thousand Oaks, California, purchased the five act in November 1956, truck included. During his ownership, the elephants appeared in several movies.

Rudy Brothers Circus and Circo Hermanos Bell
In 1960, the Rudy Brothers Circus purchased the five act from Louis Goebel. Arky Scott worked the elephants. They were sold to Circo Hermanos Bell in Mexico in 1964, worked by Gene Garner.

Gene Garner with the former Tom Packs elephants circa 1965.
Photo Courtesy of Buckles Blog 04/21/2006

Follow up
Mary died in August 1961 at the Audubon Zoo. According to the records of Bob Cline, Alice died in the spring of 1965. Jean, Penny, Tommy and Shirley are all lost to follow up after their arrival in Mexico. No further information is available at this time; given their age, the animals are all assumed to have died.

Old trouper Mary, a former Tom Packs elephant, retired due to a bum leg.
Photo Courtesy of Joey Ratliff

Remaining Catalina Imports
Sue arrived at the Sacramento Zoo, the first elephant at California's capitol zoo, in November 1948 and resided there until her death in April 1989. Her moniker was devised from an S for Sacramento, U for The Union newspaper that sponsored her purchase and E for elephant. Several elephants also resided at the zoo during her life there, but Sue spent the majority of her duration with an elephant named Winky, imported in May 1955. After Sue was euthanized in April 1989 by Dr. Murray Fowler due to severe arthritis, the Sacramento Zoo relocated Winky, their last elephant, to the Detroit Zoo and permanently closed the elephant exhibit.

The three year old elephant destined for the Henry Vilas Zoo arrived in Wisconsin via a C-46 Slick airways plane three days following her ship, the Swarthmore Victory, landing in San Francisco, California. The 900 pound creature was named Annie II in remembrance of her predecessor. The children of Madison collected change totaling $3500 to purchase an elephant to replace Annie, the zoo's previous popular animal who died in 1948. However, the replacement also known as Annette, who only spoke Malayan commands upon arrival, only lived for several months. She was replaced in June 1950, imported into New York by Henry Trefflich. City Parks Manager James G Marshall and Zoo Director Harold Hayes were given first pick from the group of seven elephants imported. Their second replacement, to be named Winky, was purchased for $4000 with the money collected from the first replacement's life insurance policy. A picture taken on Annie II's arrival at the zoo in November 1948 shows the insurance agent handing over said life insurance policy.
Annie, the new elephant at the Henry Vilas Zoo, November 1948.
Photo Courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society

Contradictory Records
According to a news article in The Billboard, four of the elephants imported by Noel Rosefelt in 1948 were destined for New Orleans and the Tom Packs group. However, five were trained that winter in Florida by Mac MacDonald. According to the 1952 elephant census published in The Billboard, four of the elephants arrived at the Tom Packs Circus in 1948 while Tommy arrived in 1949, confirming the statement as quoted in a letter from Rosefelt to the news article. Elephant historian William "Buckles" Woodcock contradicts this information and states that the five purchased all arrived by ship in New Orleans Thanksgiving week.

The North American Regional Studbook for the Asian Elephant provides a different history for 'Mary Twinkle'. According to their records, Mary left the Polack Brothers Circus to Lou Reed and then arrived at the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus in 1950. She was then transferred to the Audubon Zoo in 1953. The 1959 Elephant Census, published in Bandwagon, tells a similar history. She is recorded by author Don Marcks as arriving at Ringling in 1952 (named Mary) and then the Audubon Zoo in 1953. After finding her new residence in New Orleans as a donation from the Shriners, she was renamed Twinkle through a local contest. The information provided as the correct scenario is based on sources from elephant historian William "Buckles" Woodcock, Audubon Zoo Elephant Manager Joey Ratliff and news articles published in The Billboard.

A contradiction is found for the origins of all six surviving elephants from the 1948 import. As reported in The Billboard, Rosefelt stated the animals and birds were collected in Siam to sell to zoos and circuses. However, a Wisconsin area newspaper tells that Annie only understood Malayan commands upon arrival at the Henry Vilas Zoo. In addition, the North American Regional Studbook for the Asian Elephant describes that Sue originated from Sri Lanka; prior to her trip to America she resided at the Sri Lanka National Zoological Gardens. They list her birth around 1944.

Regarding the records of Annie II, the only discrepancy found between news articles and the North American Regional Studbook occurs regarding the elephant's location before the Henry Vilas Zoo. The studbook states she first arrived at Louis Goebel's facility in Thousand Oaks, California; the date is unknown. Annette's arrival date in Wisconsin is also listed there as about 1949; the zoo's date of acquirement is found in primary sources.

Alice, Female Asian
1948 - Collected in Siam
15 Nov 1948 – Imported by Catalina Wild Life Expeditions
Nov 1948 – Tom Packs Circus
1954 – Polack Bros Circus
Nov 1956 – Jungleland Inc, Thousand Oaks, California
1960 – Rudy Bros Circus
1964 – Circo Hermanos Bell, Mexico
Spring 1965 - Death

Jean, Female Asian
1948 - Collected in Siam
15 Nov 1948 – Imported by Catalina Wild Life Expeditions
Nov 1948 – Tom Packs Circus
1954 – Polack Bros Circus
Nov 1956 – Jungleland Inc, Thousand Oaks, California
1960 – Rudy Bros Circus
1964 – Circo Hermanos Bell, Mexico
Lost to follow up

Penny, Female Asian
1948 - Collected in Siam
15 Nov 1948 – Imported by Catalina Wild Life Expeditions
Nov 1948 – Tom Packs Circus
1954 – Polack Bros Circus
Nov 1956 – Jungleland Inc, Thousand Oaks, California
1960 – Rudy Bros Circus
1964 – Circo Hermanos Bell, Mexico
Lost to follow up

Tommy (Tommie), Female Asian
1949 – Tom Packs Circus
1954 – Polack Bros Circus
Nov 1956 – Jungleland Inc, Thousand Oaks, California
1960 – Rudy Bros Circus
1964 – Circo Hermanos Bell, Mexico
Lost to follow up

Mary (Mary Twinkle), Female Asian, SB 459
1945 - Birth
1948 - Collected in Siam
15 Nov 1948 – Imported by Catalina Wild Life Expeditions
Nov 1948 – Tom Packs Circus
09 Nov 1953 – Audubon Zoo, New Orleans, Louisiana
04 Aug 1961 – Death

Shirley, Female Asian
Nov 1953 – Polack Bros Circus
Nov 1956 – Jungleland Inc, Thousand Oaks, California
1960 – Rudy Bros Circus
1964 – Circo Hermanos Bell, Mexico
Lost to follow up

Sue, Female Asian, SB 209
1944 - Birth
Unk - Sri Lanka Zoo, Dehiwala, Sri Lanka
15 Nov 1948 – Imported by Catalina Wild Life Expeditions
15 Nov 1948 - Sacramento Zoo, Sacramento, California
21 Apr 1989 - Death

Annie II (Annette), Female Asian, SB T2105
1945 - Birth
1948 - Collected in Siam
15 Nov 1948 – Imported by Catalina Wild Life Expeditions
Nov 1948 - Jungleland Inc, Thousand Oaks, California
18 Nov 1948 - Henry Vilas Zoo, Madison, Wisconsin
22 Aug 1949 - Death

Robert Cline, Cheraw, South Carolina
Joey Ratliff, Audubon Zoo, New Orleans, Louisiana
North American Regional Studbook for the Asian Elephant 2003-2005
"Annie the Elephant Fundraiser," Wisconsin Historical Society, 1948-02-27
"Navy Sends Rescue Plane to Feed Eight Baby Bulls," The Billboard Vol 60 No 47, Page 62, 1948-11-20
"Annie, Madison-Bound Elephant, On Her Way," The Manitowoc Herald-Times, Page 16, 1948-11-18
"Annie, New Elephant at Henry Vilas Zoo 1," Wisconsin Historical Society, 1948-11-18
"Annie, New Elephant at Henry Vilas Zoo 2," Wisconsin Historical Society, 1948-11-18
"Annie, New Elephant at Henry Vilas Zoo 3," Wisconsin Historical Society, 1948-11-18
"Annie, New Elephant at Henry Vilas Zoo 4," Wisconsin Historical Society, 1948-11-18
"Annie, New Elephant at Henry Vilas Zoo 5," Wisconsin Historical Society, 1948-11-18
"Annie, New Elephant at Henry Vilas Zoo 6," Wisconsin Historical Society, 1948-11-18
"Successor to Zoo's Annette May Arrive Here Wednesday," Wisconsin State Journal Vol 172 No 85, Section 1, 1950-06-25
"Modern Noah's Ark Docks at San Fran," The Billboard, 1948-11-27
"Elephant Census - First in a Decade," The Billboard Vol 64 No 15, 1952-04-12
"Elephant Census Zips Toward Peak," The Billboard Vol 64 No 15, Page 93, 1952-04-12
"Packs Sets Up St. Louis WQ," The Billboard, Page 60, 1952-11-15
"Rain Cuts Packs Crowds; Bull, Two Performers Hurt," The Billboard, Page 60, 1953-08-01
"Tom Packs," The Billboard Vol 64 No 46, Page 63, 1953-08-01
"Tom Packs Gives Elephant to Zoo," The Billboard, 1953-10-24
"New Orleans Builds; Packs Wins 5-yr. Pact," The Billboard, 1953-12-05
"Tom Packs Elephants," The Billboard, 1955-11-26
"Louis Goebel Buys Five Bulls of Packs Act," The Billboard, 1956-11-17
"Elephantania - 1959" compiled by Donald Marcks, Bandwagon Vol 4 No 2, March/April 1960, pages 4-9,17
"Sue, 46, An Elephant to Remember," The Sacramento Bee, Page B1, 1989-04-22
"Jungleland #4," Buckles Web Log, 2005-11-11
"Tom Packs Circus/ Josephine and Slivers (Claude) Madison," Buckles Web Log, 2006-02-10
"Rebecca, is this better?" Buckles Web Log, 2006-04-21
"Tom Packs Elephants #1," Buckles Web Log, 2006-05-05
"Tom Packs Elephants #2," Buckles Web Log, 2006-05-05
"Tom Packs Elephants #3," Buckles Web Log, 2006-05-05
"Tom Packs Elephants #4," Buckles Web Log, 2006-05-05
"Tom Packs Elephants #5," Buckles Web Log, 2006-05-05
"Claude ‘Slivers’ Madison #2," Buckles Web Log, 2007-10-13
"Bailey Bros. Elephants #3 (From Buckles)," Buckles Web Log, 2008-01-15
"From Joey Ratliff #3, Buckles Web Log, 2008-04-05
"From Joey Ratliff #2, Buckles Web Log, 2008-04-05
"Peggy MacDonald #3," Buckles Web Log, 2008-07-13
"Polack Bros. (Eastern) 1951 #1," Buckles Web Log, 2008-11-26
"Mac MacDonald #5," Buckles Web Log, 2009-05-17

Last updated:
18 October 2010, 03:00 PM by Ryan Easley

Published at, 2010-10-06


  1. Nice job, Radar.

    I look forward to following your blog.

    Keep up the good work.

    Don Covington

  2. Have bookmarked your new blog, Radar, and look forward to following it.


  3. Nice research, Ryan. More of this please!

  4. Radar,
    Well done!
    Bob Kitto

  5. G'day Radar.

    This is a great idea and is very well done. You've put a lot of work into it and it shows - congratulations.

    Here is an elephant issue that is going to get more urgent as elephant breeding becomes more commonplace in captivity - what do we do with all the males?

    I asked this on WGB's blog but couldn't get any thoughts.

    Do you know of any stable, long term herds of bachelor males?

    What else could be a solution to the problem?



  6. Thank you everyone for the compliments. I extend many thanks as well to Dan and Crystal for their constructive criticism. At Crystal's suggestion, the font has been darkened to ease readability.

    Steve, I am not sure of the European ideas for handling this situation. It is my understanding that they advise the construction of facilities to focus primarily on male-only collections. These locations would hold surplus males and facilitate "swapping" bulls between zoos to maintain genetic diversity. There is at least one in Spain that has a group of several males from across Europe. I do not know any more details or whether they are having success. Perhaps someone from that continent could share additional information.

    In America, I do not know of many facilities that house mature males together. Disney, Portland, Fort Worth, Carson & Barnes and San Diego, in addition to others (including possibly Ringling) keep all their males separate from one another.

    The only instance I can recall of a group of cohabitating, mature males residing together on a permanent basis were at Scott Riddle's facility in Arkansas. There was a group of three bulls in their upper 20s-30s that shared a large acreage compound. This lasted several years until Tuffy was sold to the Baltimore Zoo and Solomon died. Two of the males were used for semen collection. The other group he had was a similar age group, two males used for both natural breeding and semen collection. They resided together until Artie was sold to the North Carolina Zoo and Willie died.

    The Birmingham Zoo plans to create a bachelor herd, with arrivals beginning late this year. I heard they will receive Bulwagi from Disney, Ajani from Indianapolis and Callee from Pittsburgh.

    Pat Derby's facility wants to collect bulls as well, but they advertise a separate barn/yard for each. At this point, they hold Nicholas from the Hawthorn Corporation and Sabu from the Ringling retirement farm. Prince will arrive next year upon completion of the third bull facility. They advertise several more male elephants they are looking to "rescue" from the circus industry.

  7. Addendum to Steve,
    I just received this information from Peter Stolk, elephant record keeper, regarding bull our conversation. Sevilla was the location I was referring to in Spain.
    "At this moment 5 places have special bull-facilities keeping Asians.
    Ieper, Belgium (place for 2)
    Plock, Poland (2)
    Mierlo, Netherland (3)
    Heidelberg (3)
    Sevilla (place for ?)

    La Fleche in France and Vergel in Spain are keeping African bulls. Gaziantep, Turkey is another zoo with just bulls. Gabi (born in Jerusalem) and Pili (born in Ramat Gan) are currently there."

  8. Thanks Radar,

    Looks like nowhere keeps any more than 2 or 3.

    Are any of these multiple bull groups castrated bulls?

  9. Steve,
    There is a lot more to be researched on this subject and I am far from educated on each location that holds multiple males, including their policies on cohabitation. Some places may house together outdoors but separate at night, or only while supervised, etc. The vast majority, unless including young male calves, house their bulls separately. This morning I quickly put together a list of the elephant facilites in America and Canada that currently house multiple male elephants. Some have both species, some have male calves and their sire only and not multiple mature males.

    + African Lion Safari – 40yro Asian, 11yro Asian, 9yro Asian, 4yro Asian, 2yro Asian, 0yro Asian
    + Riddle’s Elephant Sanctuary – 30yro African, 22yro Asian, 7yro African
    + P.A.W.S. – 28yro Asian, 17yro Asian
    + San Diego Wild Animal Park 21yro African, 20yro African, 6yro African, 3yro African, 1yro African, 2.0 0yro Africans
    + Disney’s Wild Animal Kingdom – 32yro African, 29yro African, 28yro African, 7yro African, 2yro African
    + Ringling – 47yro Asian, 40yro Asian, 37yro Asian, 17yro Asian, 13yro Asian, 11yro Asian, 9yro Asian, 8yro Asian, 5yro Asian, 1yro Asian
    + Two Tails Ranch - 25yro Asian, 23yro Asian
    + Zoo Miami – 30yro African, 44yro Asian
    + Indianapolis Zoo – 10yro African, 5yro African
    + Maryland Zoo – 27yro African, 2yro African
    + Rio Grande Zoo - 2.0 12yro Asians
    + North Carolina Zoo – 36yro African, 27yro African
    + Columbus Zoo – 39yro Asian, 6 yro Asian, 1yro Asian
    + Carson & Barnes – 19yro Asian, 18yo Asian, 7yo Asian
    + Portland Zoo – 48yro Asian, 38yro Asian, 27yro Asian, 2.0 Asian
    + Fort Worth Zoo – 40yro Asian, 38yro Asian
    + Houston Zoo – 45yro Asian, 5yro Asian, 0yro Asian

    The only locations that currently house multiple castrated males is Ringling, Two Tails Ranch and PAWS. I do not know if Ringling houses any of them together. The other two do not.

  10. Just heard that Vergel in Spain (33 years old) has closed down their Zoo in September 2010 due to financial reasons.


  11. Wow - thanks for all that info.

    So it looks like there are lots of institutions housing multiple bull elephants but hardly any housing them together?

    I wonder how the problem of lots of bulls is going to be solved over the next 10 years or so?

  12. Exactly, Steve. And a very important question.

    Perhaps the Birmingham project will be a success and a predecessor for other facilities of its kind.

    The other, off-site locations that can hold multiple males in larger settings will be of great aid and interest as well, such as Riddle's Elephant Sanctuary, the National Elephant Center and the International Conservation Center.

  13. Steve,

    The Birmingham Zoo received the first of their males this month. Bulwagi was transported via trailer, accompanied by Birmingham's new elephant manager Pat Flora. (I'm sure you are familiar with Mr. Flora after his recent contributions building the elephant program at the Melbourne Zoo.)

    Regarding the exhibit:

    Regarding the move:

  14. Thanks Radar,

    I didn't meet Mr Flora when he was in Australia but I am aware of his work.

    In terms of realistic elephant husbandry I believe that Australia's loss will be Birmingham's gain.

    Do you know Mr Flora? If so, I'm sure that he will be able to explain my comment to you.

  15. Steve,

    I do not know Mr Flora though I have heard much about him as well. I am sure the Birmingham Zoo is in capable hands and I wish them the best of luck with their endeavor.

  16. Steve,

    I plan to move these comments regarding male elephants to a new thread since they are unrelated to the Tom Packs elephants. However, until that time I wish to note that the San Diego Safari Park's herd of African elephants gave birth to four males in 2010. This brings their number of male elephants to nine, outnumbering the females by one.

    The Wuppertal Zoo in Germany has experienced the birth of two male African elephants within a span of four days; the most recent occurred yesterday. The zoo now houses nine elephants, females outnumbering males by only one.

  17. Good idea. Sorry to lead this off topic.

    Your work on the Tom Pack's elephants is awesome and shouldn't be overshadowed.

    However, I would really like to hear more from other posters as to their thoughts on where all these males are going to be in 20 years time.

  18. Hello. Regarding Penny, the wonderful elephant with Circo Hermanos Bells, I rode her in Cabo San Lucas and in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico in the Spring of 1987. Somewhere I still have photographs of her. I noticed on this blog that you could not trace her whereabouts or health after 1964 and thought your readers would like to know that as of 1987 Penny was still very much alive and being well cared for by a trainer who seemed quite fond of her! Encountering her and the circus while I was traveling about has always been one of the high points of my life, thus far! The Bells Circus folk were really kind to me and I am sorry that I lost touch with them and with Penny!!! If anyone has any information regarding the circus I would love to hear more about them. Hope my comment helps in keeping track of one of the most amazing creatures I have had the priviledge of "knowing.".
    Thank you. Pamela Ruby Russell (Songwriter & Photographer)
    PS You can reply at my page on Facebook. Just send me a message from that page.


I eagerly anticipate associating with new individuals with an interest or history in elephants, elephant history and elephant record keeping. If you have further information regarding the animals or locations questioned in the article, please leave a comment or message me in an effort to complete their records for elephant historians.