The other elephant

friendlyelephantsSheila Davis, a resident in Old Prebendal House, takes up our challenge to readers, a challenge to recall a memorable animal encounter.

When I was about five, my father took me to the Regents Park Zoo. I loved animals but this was my first visit to a zoo so it was a real thrill. I had never seen an elephant so we went first to the elephant house. There were no other visitors and only one keeper. He came over to chat and soon asked us if we wanted to go into the elephant’s cage. So of course we did. We walked around him, admiring his huge size. Then we were shown his games – if his leg was patted and the magic words ‘Up, Up!’ were said, he would raise that leg in the air. We all had turns at this – after a while, I realised the men were talking about football, not animals, so I slipped away to see what was in the next cage.

The answer was another huge elephant so I joined him in his cage. I stood and talked to him until I was sure he knew me, then I went up to a front leg, patted it and said ‘Up, Up!’. No response. So I tried the other foreleg – still no response. At this point, I heard the keeper say, “Come with me little girl, there’s something else I want to show you”. I went out saying, “He’s a lovely friendly elephant, he tickled me with his trunk but he wouldn’t play ‘Up, up!’”. “I’m glad he was so friendly” said the keeper, “but he doesn’t know how to play games yet – he’s only just come to the zoo”.

It was several years before I heard the rest of the story. My father was afraid of being scolded by my mother if he went home and told the whole story the keeper had told him. The elephant had only been in the zoo a matter of days – he had arrived with a young man who was clearly terrified of him and handed over a letter from his boss saying that the elephant was unusually bad-tempered and should be handled only by the head keeper. So an order was issued that nobody else must go in his cage. Our keeper friend said,

“Even grumpy elephants are normally alright with children but my heart missed a beat when I saw your daughter tapping his legs. And I wouldn’t have done what she did for all the tea in China”.

June – July 2020