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Francestown

In the toy truck: ‘Bling’ for elephants

CREATURE COMFORT: Francestown architecture student,  a ConVal grad, designs toys to help keep elephants moving

  • An "Elephant Bling" toy designed by students at Massachusetts College of Art & Design has holes that will allow treats to fall out when elephants move it.<br/><br/>Courtesy Photo<br/><br/>Please confirm receipt.

    An "Elephant Bling" toy designed by students at Massachusetts College of Art & Design has holes that will allow treats to fall out when elephants move it.

    Courtesy Photo

    Please confirm receipt. Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Cameron Leandri, right, shapes holes in an "Elephant Bling" toy that students at Massachusetts College of Art & Design are creating to entertain aging elephants at a New Bedford, Mass., zoo.<br/>Courtesy Photo

    Cameron Leandri, right, shapes holes in an "Elephant Bling" toy that students at Massachusetts College of Art & Design are creating to entertain aging elephants at a New Bedford, Mass., zoo.
    Courtesy Photo Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • Cameron Leandri of Francestown shapes holes in an "Elephant Bling" toy that students at Massachusetts College of Art & Design are creating to entertain aging elephants at a New Bedford, Mass., zoo.<br/>Courtesy Photo

    Cameron Leandri of Francestown shapes holes in an "Elephant Bling" toy that students at Massachusetts College of Art & Design are creating to entertain aging elephants at a New Bedford, Mass., zoo.
    Courtesy Photo Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

  • An "Elephant Bling" toy designed by students at Massachusetts College of Art & Design has holes that will allow treats to fall out when elephants move it.<br/><br/>Courtesy Photo<br/><br/>Please confirm receipt.
  • Cameron Leandri, right, shapes holes in an "Elephant Bling" toy that students at Massachusetts College of Art & Design are creating to entertain aging elephants at a New Bedford, Mass., zoo.<br/>Courtesy Photo
  • Cameron Leandri of Francestown shapes holes in an "Elephant Bling" toy that students at Massachusetts College of Art & Design are creating to entertain aging elephants at a New Bedford, Mass., zoo.<br/>Courtesy Photo

How do you entertain an elephant in captivity?

That was the challenge given to students at the Massachusetts College of Art & Design in Boston this spring. The Buttonwood Zoo in New Bedford, Mass., is home to two elderly elephants named Emily and Ruth, according to Cam Leandri of Francestown, one of the MassArt students in a class called “Toys for Elephants.” They’re both around 50 years old and they need to be more active. So Leandri and his fellow students have been working to come up with devices that will intrigue the two animals and get them moving.

“The problem is that they are very large and try to break just about everything,” Leandri said by phone from Massachusetts last week. “We’ve been working closely with the elephant trainers to learn their personalities and interests. Emily is the matriarch. She always likes to drum her trunk on something. Ruth has a crippled trunk and can’t lift with it.”

Leandri, 22, who is a senior studying architecture at MassArt, and his classmates broke up into groups, with each developing three or four possible toys. They tried to determine which would be the most feasible to build and most cost-effective.

“It’s a school-wide class that brings in students from all different disciplines,” Leandri said. “I’m working with a sculptor, a metalsmith and industrial design students. We each use our own skills. I used [Computer-aided design] programs to work on dimensions of the toys. Other people have a better idea how to fabricate. I did take a welding class, so I’ll help with that.”

One of the toys they’re creating is called “Elephant Bling.”

“It’s diamond-shaped, which is where it got the name,” Leandri said. “It’s made of wood. The idea is to fill it with food or treats. It has holes in the sides, so the food will come out if the elephants move it.”

Leandri said the Bling is a pretty solid structure, using wood that’s at least six inches thick, in order to stand up to the rigors of elephant playtime.

The second structure is called a “Rockin’ Roller.”

“It’s essentially a rolling cage, with chains in the middle and tubes around the chains to make noise as it rolls. It will be a steel-frame structure,” Leandri said. “We may collaborate with another group that’s making a similar one with tires.”

The students will be delivering the toys to the zoo this week.

“We’re hammering out six or seven of them,” Leandri said. “It will be fun to see what the elephants think.”

Leandri is a graduate of ConVal High School, where he said he especially appreciated the graphic and design programs offered at the Region 14 Applied Technology Center.

“I took classes there with Karen Fabianski,” he said. “It’s a great program they have to introduce people to design. A lot of schools don’t offer that.”

Leandri, who is planning to get some work experience after he graduates and then probably go to graduate school to become certified as an architect, said the “Toys for Elephants” class has been fascinating.

“It’s a cool project and it’s unique to MassArt,” he said. “We’re trying to spread the word.”

Dave Anderson can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 233 or danderson@ledgertranscript.com. He’s on Twitter at @DaveAndersonMLT.

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