Animals’ art hits the auction block

Zoo animals pick up paintbrushes to help out their counterparts in the wild.

Care for a piece of modern art passionately painted by a 34 year-old elephant? How about a meerkat group piece, or the slithery impressionist work of a 17-year old Ball python? If any of these items strike your fancy, and you’d like to support wildlife conservation globally, consider hitting up before the weekend’s over.

For the second year in a row California’s Oakland Zoo is holding an art auction online, where each and every exhibit has been crafted by the trunk, paw, beak or paint-smudged-belly of one of the zoo’s residents. Last year there were 10 items for sale, which brought in around $10,000 USD, but this year the number has grown to 32 paintings from 20 different species.

Amy Gotliffe, the zoo’s conservation director, says she’s hoping this means that profits will at least triple too and so far things look good. Most items up for bid are sitting comfortably at $300 USD, some well beyond.

‘Last year the public loved it, our caretakers loved it, and most importantly, our animals loved it,’ says Gotliffe. ‘It’s all for an amazing cause, close to the heart of many—the preservation of wildlife—so this year, we just decided to go for it.’

Photo courtesy of Oakland Zoo
Photo courtesy of Oakland Zoo

Gotliffe is clear the decision to take up painting was entirely up to each individual caretaker-animal pair. If it wasn’t a good fit for an animal, something that could add stimulation and interest to their routine, then involvement in the project wasn’t pushed. Gotliffe explains there was definitely positive reinforcement at play, mostly of the treat variety, but adds that in a zoo setting building this type of comfortable-closeness between caretakers and animals is important.

‘We’d much rather have our animals happy to see us, willing to show us their paw, stick out their tongue or let us check out a tooth without getting too stressed,’ says Gotliffe. ‘This lets us avoid invasive techniques and sedation, something we strive for whenever possible.’

But how do you decide which animal to back? Don’t worry—everyone’s a winner here. All funds raised go to the zoo’s conservation efforts worldwide, which includes over 25 partners, all doing awesome work for wildlife.

Examples include the Budongo Snare Removal Project in Uganda, helping out chimps who become entangled in traps left by hunters seeking other species. The project trains community based teams to physically remove the snares and educate locals, and there’s a free goat for those willing to give up snaring. There’s also ARCAS, an animal rehab facility in Guatemala that services around 250 to 350 victims of poaching per year, caught by authorities on their way into the illegal market. In the zoo’s own backyard, the endangered California condor is getting a second chance, with veterinarians employed to provide expensive but necessary emergency detoxification for birds after they’ve been exposed to their species’ version of kryptonite—lead, ingested through their food.

Photo courtesy of Oakland Zoo
Photo courtesy of Oakland Zoo

The bidding action is still hot, the auction opened September 10 and doesn’t end until the 20th. So what are you waiting for? It’s not like a Sun bear or chuckwalla painting comes along everyday. Don’t know what a chuckwalla is? Here’s a hint—their creativity was likely fuelled by rewards like fruit and veggie mash, rose petals, and especially good basking rocks.