Here's how it works: One of the trainers holds the glass or ornament and Surapa walks up, holding the paintbrush in her trunk, focuses carefully and delivers a few brush strokes to the item.
The job "pays" pretty well — she is rewarded with small food items such as jellybeans, loaves of bread, whole cobs of corn and apples. The zoo gets to keep the money from paintings and other items sold since, um, elephants don't have bank accounts (yet).
Surely with an elephant being so big and the glass items being so delicate she's broken a few, right?
"Actually, the only broken ornaments are from us keepers when we hang them up to dry!" King said. Surapa has never broken a single glass or ornament.
"With the smaller stuff like wine glasses and ornaments it requires a little more focus," King said. "Instead of using her elephant strength, she has to focus on the task at hand! And she really seems to enjoy it."
Some of the other money-raising programs the zoo has implemented since the recession are "Buy the Animals Lunch," which raised about $1,200 to $1,500 a year, selling "Adopt-an-Animal" limited-edition ornaments, which has brought in $3,000 to $5,000 per year, and the "Tops Shop for the Animals" program, where they ask visitors to pick up something extra for the animals when they shop at Tops grocery store. That's raised $1,500 to $2,000 a year. Some of the items on their grocery list are animal crackers, cereal, beef or chicken broth, bird seed, cranberry sauce, dried fruit, honey, jams and jellies, Kool-Aid, maple syrup and nuts.
— Additional reporting by Richie.
This is a story that was made up by the Team Green kids in an exercise for CNBC's Bring Your Child to Work Day. Surapa the elephant, however, is real. She is still painting at the Buffalo Zoo in Buffalo, NY.