Sunday, July 15, 2007

The Runaway Elephant

Last night, Dr. Romulo Bernardo and Tita Ming of the Manila Zoo came to visit us at our Alabang house, after they gave a bird-and-animal show at the Palm Country Club which is near us. Since animals are what they have in common with us (Kathy founded the MyZoo Volunteer Group Foundation while John still takes care of Mali, the female Asian elephant at the zoo), the conversation over Yellow Cab pizzas and San Mig Lites naturally focused on animal stories.

One of them was when an Asian elephant (not Mali) escaped and walked down Quezon City roads. It was a male Asian elephant, which was part of the Elephant Show near the Araneta Coliseum. It was musking, and could not be contained. Somehow, it got out of its enclosure and wanted to explore the city (I don’t blame him).

News traveled fast, and one of our friends who knew that John was doing volunteer work taking care of Mali, sms’ed me. His wife had called him to share the exciting news that she saw this huge elephant sauntering down Kamuning Street, going towards Tomas Morato (restaurant row). He called me because he didn’t have John’s number and because he thought that John would be the best person to know what to do. He told his wife that his friend, John Chua, was the elephant expert. I corrected him – John was not an expert on elephants. He was an expert on one – Mali.

John had a shoot, and could not be contacted, so I told Kathy so she could in turn inform the people at the zoo. Thankfully, the vets at the zoo had been informed, and one of them had rushed to the site. This was the first case of a runaway elephant for him (and for everyone), so there was a lot of excitement to go around, even for people from media.

Kathy called friends and contacts in zoos in three countries. She first called Johannesburg Zoo where she had previously done volunteer work, but they told her that they had no experience with Asian elephants. She remembered and called an Indian mahout at the Singapore Zoo (who also trained John at some time), but he preferred to refer her to a vet and elephant expert in Malaysia.

You would have to be here to listen to Kathy recount her phone conversations so you can join in the suspense as well as in the comedy. The Malaysian expert asked Kathy, “Describe the elephant,” and Kathy answered, “It’s big and grey.”

“I know what elephants look like. Tell me what it is doing.”

“It is tied to an Indian...” and realizing she was talking to an Indian, and didn’t know if he would be offended promptly corrected herself. “It is calm now and tied to a small tree.” He asked what tranquilizers were available and rattled off some scientific names. Kathy said no, and offered the names of what was available – which turned out to be tranquilizers for cats and dogs. Moving on, they finally found something suitable.

The local vet knew he had to tranquilize the elephant but he didn’t know with how much or with what. So, there was Kathy, without any degree in veterinary medicine, dictating names and dosages of tranquilizers to him. You can imagine that he was not very pleased, and very reluctant to follow Kathy’s instructions. But he probably had no choice, and somehow knew that Kathy’s information was coming from a foreign expert (Kathy lost no time in naming him and reciting his credentials).

The zoo had no tranquilizer gun, so he tied a big syringe to a pole (not a good idea but there was nothing better). He bravely approached the elephant – as far as the pole could separate him, and poked him, making sure his aim was on target. Then, he ran. Really fast. The fastest he ever ran. He knew the elephant would not be happy, and he had to be away, at least until the elephant was fully sedated.

Kathy told us that the right way was to sedate the elephant so it would be groggy , but not asleep. Then, it could be led to the truck. But it was given a bit too much (there was no time or opportunity to weigh the elephant to see how much would be the right dose) and the elephant went to sleep, and therefore had to be lifted to the truck. In the process, the harness broke, and the elephant fell on a taxi that was following the truck.

The taxi was the only casualty. Fortunately, nobody was hurt, and the elephant was successfully returned to its enclosure. They soon thereafter closed the Elephant Show, and returned the entire herd to Thailand, where they originally came from. I hope going home was a happy ending for the elephants in this story.

Since our visitors share our love for animals, we had a really pleasant evening, and swapped many animal stories. I hope I can write all the stories told so that they can be shared with you.

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