Rama was about two when we decided to loan him to another zoo for a while. This zoo didn’t have facilities for dealing with an adult bull (few do), but a young bull—or a “bull-ette”—could keep their young elephants company; they’d probably enjoy a new playmate. We agreed that when Rama became a problem (likely as he approached his early teens), he’d come back home. So, we bundled him up into the truck, and away he went. We expected to see him back when he got to be 9 or 10, or older. Certainly no sooner than then.
Rama settled into his new quarters and had a fine time, playing with the three young elephants they had up there. The handlers took to walking the elephants around the zoo grounds, and for the most part, things seemed to be going pretty smoothly. By the age of 4, Rama had grown into a nice-looking, 3,000-pound little elephant.
Then one day, the handlers were walking with Rama through the zoo’s parking lot, when a tractor backfired. At least, that’s what Gary, who was handling the young elephant at the time, claimed. Possibly, Rama mistook the sound for that of a starting gun, like they use in the Olympics during track and field competition. Only Rama knows, and he’s not talking. In any event, he moved off smartly.
Gary managed to get a hold of Rama’s tail as he took off, and with the assistance of 20/20 hindsight agreed that this was perhaps not the best move to have made under the circumstances. Rama was apparently convinced that whatever had come after him in the parking lot had in fact now got him, and he wasn’t about to slow down for a backward glance. He headed straight on down the parkway, and as Sherlock Holmes was wont to say, the chase was afoot.
Where the road curved, Rama headed straight, moving at a good clip toward the park boundary. Encountering a maple tree with a trunk some eight inches in diameter, Rama didn’t slow down. He ran into it head-on, and it uprooted. Crashing on through, Rama hung a sharp right. On through more trees, through a back yard, through a fence, through a front yard – he had a good groove going, now. Gary followed, in hot pursuit. It being a lovely summer day, one neighborhood resident had opened her kitchen window and was standing in front of it, washing dishes in the sink, when there was a sudden crash. She glanced up to see a small elephant in her back yard, and a large hole in her fence.
It’s entirely possible that she let a shriek escape her lips, involuntarily. She couldn’t remember. Rama probably knows, but he’s not talking. Whatever the reason, the elephant scooted up to the house, stuck its little trunk through the window, and splashed about in the dishwater for a few seconds until Gary, following in hot pursuit, burst through the hole in the fence and upon the scene, whereupon Rama wheeled to his left and resumed his run, blasting through the other fence in the back yard to make his escape. Gary, in hot pursuit, followed. So it went, block after block, fence after fence, tree after tree, and shrub after shrub.
In due course, Rama eventually emerged onto Pearl Street, which is a rather busy, four-lane highway. Turning an immediate right, he found himself in the parking lot of a Piggly-Wiggly market. The nice part about this market is that it happened to be built into the hillside, and each side of the parking lot was therefore shored up with a small wall of concrete. With the market at the back end, there was only one way in and one way out. This was fine with Rama, as he’d used up a lot of energy.
After a few minutes, Gary, in hot pursuit of the elephant, staggered by. This was a real stroke of luck for him. An elephant of any size, stampeding through an urban neighborhood, is going to leave a trail that’s pretty easy to spot. If they get to a highway, as Rama, had, then it gets to be a little tougher in the absence of any damaged vehicles or major pileups. Gary was dying, although still in hot pursuit, and this was perfect: that elephant had only one way out, and it involved getting past Gary. Fortunately, the elephant was meandering around the lot, sniffing car bumpers and tires. It didn’t look like he was going anywhere anytime soon, and Gary sure didn’t want to be going anywhere; he was exhausted.
Being a consummate professional, he radioed for backup staff, then fell against a wall to recover. As luck would have it, they were only a mile and a half or so from the zoo, as the crow flies (not as the elephant stampedes). The zoo’s curator was first to arrive.
“Okay, we need to keep him quiet and occupied until we can get the vet, a truck, and some elephant chains here,” Rollo said.
“He’s just gathering himself; he’s gonna take off again any minute,” Gary wheezed.
“Well, just go into the store and get some bananas,” replied the curator, “that should keep him occupied.”
"I don't have any money".
“Then steal the fucking bananas!” Rollo stormed, “And don’t stand in line!”
Gary went into the Piggly-Wiggly market, there, and explained the situation to the clerk and the customers, who had all been wondering about the elephant in the parking lot, but as it happened, every one of them had been too polite to come outdoors to ask why the elephant was there. Gary returned shortly with a case of bananas, which a tired little elephant happily began to consume, one banana at a time. He was munching contentedly when the convoy arrived to return him to the zoo.
So, they sedated Rama, and chained the front end of him to a truck, and the back end of him to another truck, and they all moved very slowly back to the zoo.
Back home, we had to wonder about all of this. We’d been seeing the media coverage of the event. So it wasn’t all that surprising when the phone rang a day or so later and Rollo was on the horn, telling us we had to come pack up our elephant and get him the heck out of there.
We had so hoped for better, but nonetheless, my partner Roger and I packed up all the needed gear and drove on up to collect our erstwhile elephant child.
We got there, walked up to Rollo’s office, and asked how things were going. We were just trying to be nice, but Rollo waved at a huge stack of paper on his desk and said, “ That’s all fence and shrub bills. You know, we’re getting repair bills for fences clear across town? The heck with it – we pay ‘em all.”
With that, we went off to collect our elephant. Once we had him secured in the truck, I took off, with Roger and Rollo following in Rollo’s car.
Well, since we were leaving and all, I stopped in the Piggly-Wiggly parking lot, opened the door to the truck, and let Rama have a farewell look around. It seemed only fitting.
From there, it was off to the freeway. We’d gone a hundred miles or so, when I happened to glance in the left rearview mirror and noticed Rollo flashing his lights and flipping his windshield wipers on and off. It being a beautiful and sunny day, I assumed they must have run into a problem, so I pulled off to the side of the freeway, and they cruised in behind the truck. Hopping out, I headed back to them.
“Son of a bitch!” Roger exclaimed as he climbed out of the car, “I figured you guys must’ve busted a hose, but I see now it was just Rama takin’ a leak!”
At 60 miles an hour. Hmmm… we hadn’t thought of that. Rollo was hoping this wouldn’t eat the paint off his car. Well, we hadn’t thought of that, either.
Hoping for the best, we all climbed back into our respective vehicles and made good time to the zoo, getting Rama unloaded and safely back in the barn. We took Rollo’s car out, and ran it right through a wash. Everything seemed okay, so we drove off to dinner. Rollo put that on his tab. Under “fence mending”, I believe.