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home : education : schools December 15, 2017


12/5/2017 1:48:00 PM
Elephants take center stage
Sisters Middle School sixth-grader Miliani Spencer presented an elephant in origami that she made for Don and Linda Miller. photo by Carol Packard
+ click to enlarge
Sisters Middle School sixth-grader Miliani Spencer presented an elephant in origami that she made for Don and Linda Miller. photo by Carol Packard

By Jim Anderson
Correspondent

Fifth- and sixth-graders at Sisters Middle School were treated to a program about the elephants of the Namibia Desert of Africa on Monday, November 27.

Don and Linda Miller, elephant researchers from Whidbey Island, were in town to deliver a similar message to the folks of the Sisters Country the next day in a Sisters Science Club/Friends of the Sisters Library event at The Belfry.

Don Miller is a great believer in getting people involved in his talks, and true to form, he asked for a student in the audience to come down and help him as he began to tell the story of elephant genetics. Jake Buetler came forward and did a superb job of assisting Don as he went through a detailed discussion regarding the genetics of elephants and how that aspect of their biology, combined with the social order of elephants, has made them what they are today.

Don asked for questions toward the end of his talk, and was rewarded with several students asking well-thought-out questions about elephant society and individuals. All the time Jake had his hand in the air, but Don was caught up with other students' questions and the program ended before Jake could get an answer to his.

He wanted to know if the stories about the accuracy and longevity of an elephant's memory were true.

"Yes, Jake, it is," Miller replied.

He recalled several instances when he discovered elephants he knew personally returning again and again to watering holes and feeding areas they remembered, as well as meeting other elephants they knew over the years. Even baby elephants can remember places to avoid because of some type of danger.

In the 1960s, Miller and his parents regularly traveled all the way from their wheat ranch at Pilot Rock, near Pendleton, to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) in Portland, where Don attended the museum's many and varied science programs and

camps.

That effort helped set the stage for him to continue on in several areas of science, as he became more involved in higher education. That in turn took him into medicine where he became a nurse and traveled around the world helping people to learn about and manage their diseases.

And that in turn took him into the study of elephants after he came into close contact and photographing them in the 1980s in what today is the Oregon Zoo. All that part of his life he shared with the audience who came to hear about his work Tuesday evening at The Belfry.









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