New butterfly whisperer Steven Adams was casting his net for monarch butterflies. Piper, a charming sea lion, snuck in a goodbye peck on the blushing cheeks of Enes Kanter during a group photo. Dakari Johnson flexed his green thumb in the garden. Alex Abrines and Jerami Grant mingled with baby elephants.
The Thunder teammates strapped on their wings (literally) to tag monarch butterflies and plant milkweed in the garden in honor of monarch butterfly conservation at the Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden on Wednesday afternoon.
Hilarity ensued as Adams feigned dismay when realizing he caught non-monarchs while the increasing elusiveness of the butterflies served as Kanter’s foil. Meanwhile, Abrines was capturing hearts as he handed out Thunder bracelets to the kids.
Eventually, each netted monarch butterfly was followed with a satisfying howl by Adams and Kanter in fist-pumping fashion to the delight of onlookers on hand while teammates guffawed.
With their striking orange and black stained-glass patterned wings, these southbound butterflies are expected to flood Oklahoma skies this weekend. So the tagging project was part of collecting data to understand the fall migration patterns toward conservation efforts.
“It’s the first time in my life catching butterflies and we’re putting stickers on here to see if they made it or not,” said Kanter.
According to Oklahoma City Zoo Chief Marketing Officer Greg Heanue, the monarch population declined 90 percent over the past two decades.
The caped compadres made their next stop at Aquaticus, which showcases more than 1,500 marine life creatures from around the world. Piper emerged from the waters to wave hello at her tall guests setting the tone for a mutual admiration society.
During the rendezvous, hearts melted and cheers erupted when each player took turns hugging the affable sea lion. Piper and the players officially cemented their friendship with each slippery embrace.
By the end of the day, the Thunder teammates forged a few more friendships with a visit to see their much larger counterpart, the elephants.
One moment of bonding took place when Grant held a blank canvas in front of a brush-wielding elephant to produce a painting. Created on the spot, the Grant-pachyderm collaboration was a masterpiece in Abstract Expressionism.
In the mean time, Adams shouted, “My boy, Rex!” akin to catching up with an old buddy when meeting a baby elephant named Rex.
For Adams, the experience allowed him to channel one of his favorite TV figures, nature writer and broadcaster Sir David Attenborough.
“It’s good for children to learn about these different animals,” said Adams. “This zoo in OKC helps rehabilitate animals. So that’s a good thing.”
The Big Kiwi's passion for wildlife stemmed from his family background.
“What’s great about Steven is not only is he a friend of the zoo, but he is really curious,” said Heanue. “He asks great questions that allows us to tell our story. We are experts in animal care and conservation, which allows us to communicate that.”
Watch: Thunder Visits OKC Zoo