Beth Hagen and her family – especially six-year-old Eleanor – are huge fans of the Phoenix Zoo and our conservation mission.

“We have been members of the Phoenix Zoo since my older daughter was an infant,” Beth said. “She loves animals and it wasn’t unusual for us to visit the Zoo a couple times a week when she was a toddler. Since we are members and live in Tempe, we could easily justify a short one or two-hour visit. After our second daughter, Eleanor, was born we continued to frequently visit the Zoo. Now that both girls are in school, we don’t make it to the Zoo quite as often, but still try to get in a visit every few weeks.”

Eleanor’s connection to the animals at the Zoo, however, is both unique and very special.

“Without doubt, her favorite animal is LouLou the rhinoceros,” Beth added. “Eleanor has loved animals for as long as I can remember. Many of her favorite animals were along the Africa Trail, including the giraffes, rhinoceros, baboons, painted dogs and cheetahs. It wasn’t until we learned that rhinoceros Half-Ear had passed that we realized how much Eleanor loved rhinos. Eleanor was age 3 at the time, and looking back, this was her first experience with death. Eleanor would even wake up in the middle of the night having dreamt about Half-Ear.

“There were some tears, so we spent a lot of time talking about how special Half Ear was and drew lots of pictures of her.”

Fast-forward a few months later to when beautiful LouLou arrived at the Zoo – Eleanor was simply delighted. She adored LouLou’s playful behavior, seeing her run around her habitat and play in the mud.

“But Eleanor related most to LouLou’s shyness,” Beth said. “Eleanor is a bit on the shy side and loved learning that an animal as massive as a rhinoceros could be shy, too. In a way, LouLou gave Eleanor permission to honor her introverted tendencies.”  

When it was time to plan Eleanor’s birthday, Eleanor wasn’t really interested in having a party with her preschool friends. Rather, she kept asking if LouLou could come to her birthday!

“That’s completely logical to a four-year-old, right?” Beth said with a smile. “Since we couldn’t exactly invite a rhinoceros over for birthday cake, we decided to spend her birthday morning with her largest friend. We picked up bagels and cream cheese on the way to the Zoo and ate a birthday breakfast with LouLou. 

They’ve maintained this birthday tradition ever since! Beth and Eleanor stated that every Zoo program they’ve participated in has been such an educational, engaging and interactive experience.    

“Having breakfast with LouLou was our special program, but we’ve attended many Breakfast with the Animals and Zoo Tots programs, too,” Beth said. “Our first Breakfast with the Animals program was with the giraffes and we loved it. Once LouLou came to the zoo, we would immediately head to LouLou’s enclosure and eat our bagels and cream cheese there. Sometimes, LouLou hadn’t emerged from her night house yet, and it would simply delight Eleanor when she would make an appearance just to see her.”

For more information on the Zoo’s Breakfast With the Animals programs, click here.