Thunder Shares Love for Wildlife at the Zoo

Thunder Shares Love for Wildlife at the Zoo

by Jimmy Do | okcthunder.com

Thunder center and newly christened ambassador Steven Adams was already giddy about his official Oklahoma City Zoo name badge. Like putting on a Thunder uniform for the first time, a grinning Adams proudly put on his “Go Wild” OKC Zoo shirt.

Adams howled in delight after Russell Westbrook unsheathed his phone to take a photo of the back of the shirt to show the Big Kiwi what it said. ADAMS. AMBASSADOR.

From inside the demonstration area of the elephant exhibit, Carmelo Anthony helped feed 20-year-old Chandra by flicking peanuts into her open mouth like a pop-a-shot savant.

At the Noble Aquatic Center, the sea lions barked as Raymond Felton scooped out fish from a bucket to throw at eagerly awaiting mouths. Anthony quipped the sea lions were barking like Rottweilers drawing laughs all around. Displaying his animal knowledge, Anthony mentioned that to tell if the sea lions’ teeth were healthy, they needed to be black or dark brown.

In a day filled with oohs and ahhs, Adams, Anthony, Felton and Westbrook joined 14,805 visitors for a wildlife adventure at the Oklahoma City Zoo on Thursday afternoon. During the trip to the 120-acre complex, the Thunder teammates helped trained sea lions and interacted with the elephants.

“People that work here make it really good from my first experience here. The way they treat the animals, they’re just really good people,” said Adams. “That’s why I like the zoo.”

Being a regular visitor of the zoo, the afternoon transformed Adams into an overgrown kid with carte blanche to the candy store. He quickly bonded with 2-year-old elephant Achara by feeding her pieces of apple, sweet potato and carrot with an outstretched arm as she vacuumed his offerings to Adams’ delight. Later on, Adams would play catch with the young pachyderm akin to a beloved pet dog.

“The relationship we’ve built with Steven is awesome. He has come to the zoo several times and seen the animals, see how we take care of them and see the commitment we have to them,” said Nick Newby, OKC Zoo assistant curator. “He’s fallen in love with the zoo and we’ve fallen in love him as well.”

Adams’ love affair for the animals was contagious. The Thunder foursome watched in awe of the sea lions’ aerial display with their slick dark silhouettes exploding out of the water and gliding with the grace of ballerinas.

“These guys let us share our passion and love for the animals,” said Candice Rennels, OKC Zoo director of public relations. “They respect the animals and they appreciate them and that means a lot to us.”

Once the players stopped at the hills of Lion Overlook, they all whipped out their phones almost in concert to record an African lion named Hubert frolicking with his female companions Tia and Bridget. In an amalgam of awe and caution, Felton fixated his eyes on the lions and their movements wondering what he would do if he was on the other side of the glass.

And while NBA players are used to being the tallest and biggest ones in the room, a visit with the Asian elephants proved to not be the case with their weights reaching upwards of 11,000 pounds in a 10-foot high frame. Eyes in the behind-the-scenes area swept up and down at the sheer massive size of the elephants in marvel.

Several trunk-wielding brush strokes later, Anthony came away toting a Jackson Pollock-like masterpiece with his new elephant friend.

“It’s always a blast to have the one-on-one connection with any person and an elephant. To see them have that lightbulb moment with an elephant where they touch an elephant for the first time is amazing,” said Newby. “We love to share that with our community and with the Thunder.”

Step into the wild. Adams feeds 31-year-old male rhinoceros Chandra. The other Chandra is a 20-year-old elephant. Photo by Zach Beeker | OKC Thunder

Shock and awe. Teammates got lost in a state of wonder watching California Sea Lions and Harbor Seals showcase their vertical. Photo by Zach Beeker | OKC Thunder

Spring training. Westbrook holds a target pole to help Hendrix navigate around the pool. Photo by Zach Beeker | OKC Thunder

Pachyderm and palette. Anthony and Chandra show off their masterpiece collaboration. Photo by Zach Beeker | OKC Thunder

Selfie season. Rennells: "Our mission is to connect people with wildlife and wild places. It’s our opportunity to make that connection." Photo by Zach Beeker | OKC Thunder

Watch: Thunder Goes on a Wildlife Adventure at the Zoo