Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Elephant Bones

It was a dark and stormy night when Rep got the call.  An elephant had died at the San Francisco Zoo.  Could he come investigate?  Recent investigations into the death, by shark attack, of a 13 million year old paleoparadoxia (now renamed paleoparadoxia repenningi) had left him unsatisfied regarding the bone structure of the feet of these large mammals, so the elephant case intrigued him.  Sure.  He'd come.

As he drove north through the night in the kind of rain you only get on the sunny California coast, his headlights, wipers and brain were racing.  Would he find the answers he was looking for?  Or just more questions?

The keeper who met him seemed nervous.  The recently deceased elephant's mate had a bullet proof alibi.  He had been in the pen at the time of death.  But now the bull seemed intent on breaking out.  As they walked toward the scene, they could hear him crashing against the bamboo fence that separated him from his deceased mate and bellowing over the sounds rain, wind and surf.

The electricity was out.  They had to drive the station wagon into the pen and turn the head lights on the body.  As the bull continued to attack the bamboo fence, Rep turned to ask the keeper about tools for the autopsy.  He was met by a blank, frightened look.  He had no tools.    Fortunately, Rep had a few carpentry tools in the back of his "Woody" station wagon.  He began his work.  The bull became more determined.

Rep asked the keeper if the fence would hold.  The keeper replied that he thought it would,  but perhaps it would be best if they hurried.  He provided Rep with some large plastic bags for the "evidence" and together they loaded two of the feet into the back of the Woody. Then he began his long drive home.

Rep had met the zookeeper while he was a grad student at the University of California, Berkeley.  He was frequently the first to hear about strange deaths at the zoo and often given the chance to take all or parts of the deceased for his research.  In the beginning, he borrowed the weber grills from all the houses on the block and cheerfully cooked the meat off the bones.  Eventually he acquired a huge cauldron (big enough to cook a missionary) and set it up behind a bamboo fence in the far reaches of his back yard.  He decorated the fence with scary African Masks to keep neighborhood children out.  

The elephant's feet were his biggest specimen yet and too big to fit comfortably in the cauldron.  He left them in the plastic bags in the garage for a few days trying to come up with a sensible solution.  He didn't find one.  

Here's where I come in.  As his oldest child, I found the elephant feet in the garage completely fascinating.  A lot more interesting than the pet tarantula and the various snakes, not nearly as interesting as my best friend the raven, about the same as the pet skunk, bobcat and geese.  The other neighborhood kids and I snuck into the garage whenever we could to marvel at the ghastly sight.

I think that's what gave him the idea.  He bought a bunch of shovels and told us to "find China".  We cheerfully
excavated in the back yard for several days.  We had quite a good hole dug by the time Barbara Burkemper fell in and broke her arm.  At this point, the shovels were confiscated.  

Then the elephant feet were buried and almost forgotten for several years.  

But I was famous for being the only girl at my high school who had an elephant buried in the back yard.  

Today the one remaining foot of that elephant is in the Paleontology lab of Professor Chris Bell at the University of Texas at Austin where it continues to fascinate people.  

No comments:

Post a Comment