VALLEJO — A 50th birthday party at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom will last through the weekend – but the cake including 50 watermelons, 50 oranges and 12 quarts of strawberries had a shorter life.
Birthday girl Liz, the Asian elephant described as “the lady in charge – our matriarch,” crushed whole watermelons before eating them Friday.
She began the celebration by walking through a paper birthday banner and stomping open two brown packages with French bread inside one box and peanuts in another.
Trainer Andrew Barlow served her ice cream sandwiches after Liz worked her way through the birthday cake prepared by David Zellner, director of In Park Services and the former executive sous chef at the Grand Hyatt Washington, D.C. He has cooked meals for three presidents as well as James Brown, Nelson Mandela and Muhammad Ali.
But his focus Friday was on Liz.
It took Zellner about an hour to create the cake for the 9,600-pound pachyderm, who also received an elephant-sized birthday card.
Patrick Abtey, assistant supervisor of elephants, said the birthday girl can be playful. She’ll charge out of the pool and run face first into a sand pile, said Abtey, who dubbed the elephant “our matriarch.”
“She’s got some spunk,” he said of Liz.
Abtey told people waiting for her appearance – delayed while park officials stood by for a TV news cameraman to arrive – that it would be fun to see how Liz dealt with the fruit-rich birthday cake. Would she pick at it or take it whole?
The answer seemed something in between as Liz used her trunk to scoop up crushed watermelon.
“That’s what they do to pumpkins, too,” elephant trainer Andrew Barlow said of the stomp-and-scoop dining method.
Concord resident Michele Fravel, at the park with her grandson Dante Freeman, 3, said the family and the others had once participated at Six Flags in a tug of war with Liz.
“The elephant won,” Fravel said.
Median life expectancy for female Asian elephants is about 46 years, park officials said, although Taj from Six Flags died at the age of 71 in 2011.
Suisun City resident Jade Boots, 28, and her son Caden, 2, watched Liz’s birthday celebration as Caden pointed to the animal and announced, “phant.”
“This is a treat for us,” Jade Boots said.
Still, Caden prefers another eating machine at Six Flags to pachyderms.
“He loves the sharks,” mom said of her 2-year-old and his favorite park exhibit.
Reach Ryan McCarthy at 427-6935 or [email protected]