By Emily Williams
The Birmingham Zoo’s newest event sheds light on a little-known fact: even the world’s largest mammal has to find time to work out.
According to Laura Schillinger, zoological manager for the Trails of Africa, the three African elephants who call Birmingham home start each day by working out.
“Exercise is a big part of their day,” Schillinger said. “We have them do a lot of stretches, they have to move heavy objects … We also do some mentally stimulating exercises throughout the day. We’ll hide food in certain spots so they have to dig around and search for it.”
Seeing a similarity in habits of humans and elephants, she came up with the idea to host a workout class at the zoo that treats participants to a boot camp-style workout followed by a front row view of the elephant’s morning routine.
From Aug. 15-19, guests who register for a boot camp at the zoo will be treated to an intimate workout session, held two hours before the zoo opens for the day, followed by a chance to cool down and watch either Bulwagi, Callee or Ajani do their exercises.
The human workouts have been coordinated by Birmingham resident Doug Cooper, who, though he’s been a fan of the Crimson Tide, is forming a new appreciation for the elephant.
“I’m learning so many things that I never knew,” Cooper said. “I had no idea that the elephants have to exercise and I’m looking forward to learning more about them.”
Though he is fairly new to the personal training vocation, Cooper’s business, Legit Fitness LLC, isn’t new to working with zoo staff. His first client and the person who pushed him to create his business, he said, was Cindy Pinger, curator of birds and reptiles for the zoo.
Completely by chance, Cooper approached Pinger at their gym after watching her lift weights with improper form, and Pinger requested further assistance in her workouts.
“I can’t remember what exactly she was doing – if she was deadlifting or squatting – but she looked like she was about to break her back,” Cooper said. “She once told me that I should be a personal trainer and it helped me make the decision to start my business.”
Cooper said he has always had a passion for athleticism, whether in high school or training for his past career as a correctional officer.
“I’m a big believer in using exercise to help your mind,” he said. “I don’t tend to use a lot of heavy lifting in my workouts. It’s more about using your own body against itself with things like lunges and squats.”
He said he likes to keep a light atmosphere with fun music and an upbeat atmosphere. Though Cooper likes a laid back environment, he said he doesn’t let his client’s slide while they are working and sweating.
“There are no shortcuts in my workouts,” he said. “If I see you slacking off and not giving it your all, I’ll call you out on it.”
A bonus for attendees, those who participate in the $100 week of workouts will be supporting elephant conservation through the International Elephant Foundation.
“We work with various conservation programs, but IEF is one of the largest elephant conservations organizations in the world,” Schillinger said. “Their efforts are very focused so we thought that would be the most effective way to give back.”
Guests interested in attending the Exercise with Elephants boot camp can register on the zoo’s website. For more information, visit birminghamzoo.com.