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Keeper is under elephants' spell

He is Buffalo's elephant man.

Daryl Hoffman -- named executive-director of the International Elephant Managers Association in 2005 -- admits that he didn't feel love at first sight of the world's largest land animals.

Over a decade ago, when he was a Buffalo Zoo keeper who was partial to gorillas, he was asked to work with the elephants.

"I reluctantly started working 'in elephants,' " Hoffman recalled. "My boss thought I'd be a 'good fit' with elephants, but I had no interest in working elephants -- they were messy and smelled. All you had to do was walk into the elephant house, and you'd smell like elephants all day."

It didn't take him long to adjust to the great beasts.

"After a few days being around elephants, I was hooked, and I have been ever since," says the lead elephant keeper, his official title at the zoo.

And it's an elephant-sized job. Every day, the zoo's Buki, Surapa and Jothi -- each eat about 100 pounds of hay, five pounds of "elephant grain," a few pounds of produce like apples, bananas, carrots and other veggies, and supplements such as vitamin E, biotin and beet pulp. And they're bathed every morning.

"Elephants are amazing animals," Hoffman exclaims. "They have so much personality, and are by far the most intelligent animal I've ever been around."

Hoffman says he quickly became enthralled with elephants.

"I wanted to know everything I could about them," he said. "I started traveling around just to see elephants at other zoos, circuses, or with private owners. I bought or borrowed every elephant book, magazine article I could find."

He looks forward to the new elephant barn to be built behind the landmark Elephant House, designed in 1912 with its elephant-head sculpture over the main entrance at what is the third-oldest zoo in the country.

"I can't wait to see construction on a new barn for the elephants," Hoffman says. "It's long overdue. Our two younger elephants need to be bred before they get too old -- which will be only in a few years."

Growing up in North Tonawanda, he was hired at the Buffalo Zoo in an entry level position after graduation from Niagara County Community College with an associate's degree in animal management in 1992.

"Being in Buffalo, I was fortunate to be centrally located between two of the best elephant programs -- Rosamond Gifford Zoo at Burnet Park in Syracuse and African Lion Safari in Cambridge, Ont. Both had a great reputation for trainers, and both facilities bred elephants. I spent many weekends and days off visiting these places."

He became lead elephant keeper in 1998.

"By this time, I was totally engulfed in elephants," Hoffman says. "My passion for the magnificent creatures is like nothing else."

Have an idea about a local person whose life would make a good profile or a neighborhood issue worth exploring? E-mail: or write to Louise Continelli, The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, NY 14240.

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