Elephants' departure to leave huge void

City Diary

November 12, 2003|By Elizabeth Heubeck

IT JUST won't be the same without them.

Driving down the Jones Falls Expressway, then taking in the view of the lake as we curve around Druid Hill Avenue and head toward our destination, I toss out the question to my kids in the back seat: "Who's ready for the zoo?"

"I am!" my 3-year-old shouts with glee. Her younger brother, though not yet able to express himself verbally, nods vigorously.

"And what will we see at the zoo?" I ask.

"Monkeys, penguins, flamingos and elephants," my daughter responds, not always in that order. But the elephants are always included. After all, who ever heard of a zoo without elephants?

I still remember marveling at the elephants when I was a kid and my parents took me to the Baltimore Zoo. They didn't have to do much to impress me - the sheer size of them was enough to enthrall me. But when they paraded around, their big ears flopping and their trunks swaying, it was really something special. It made my visit complete.

I think my kids feel the same way.

Just the other week, as my children were leaning over the railing admiring the penguins as they waddled out of their cave-like dwelling and plopped into the water, my daughter announced, "Time for the elephants."

She knew they were waiting right around the bend. What will I tell her when they're gone? I can envision the dreaded conversation now.

"Mommy, where did the elephants go?"

"Honey, the elephants had to find a new home."

"But why, Mommy? Didn't they like it here?"

"Well yes, sweetie. But the zoo couldn't afford to keep them right now."

"What does `afford' mean, Mommy?"

"It means the zoo can't pay for the elephants, honey."

"Can we pay for them, Mommy?"

I wish we could. In a rare prescient moment, I recently thought of buying my kids zoo animals - of the plastic variety - for Christmas; I know it would be a sure-fire hit. But there's no way I could afford what it would cost the zoo to keep the real elephants, Dolly and Anna, in Baltimore. And supposedly the state can't, either.

At our last visit to the zoo, as my kids jockeyed for position in front of the elephant exhibit with schoolchildren from all over the region - many of whom probably would not have the opportunity to enjoy the zoo animals if it weren't for school-sponsored trips - I thought of what a wonderful resource the zoo is for our city.

I wonder if schools will still sponsor trips to the zoo when they learn it has no elephants and that hundreds of other animals also were forced to leave.

Where else can a child see a real elephant but at the zoo? Safaris are out for most kids. The Discovery Channel just doesn't have the same effect. When I buy those plastic zoo animals for the kids this Christmas, I'll have to include elephants. If they become extinct, I can tell my kids that when I was a little girl, elephants roamed the Baltimore Zoo.

Let's hope it doesn't come to that. I'd much rather have Anna and Dolly return home.

Today's writer

Elizabeth Heubeck is a writer who lives in North Baltimore.

City Diary provides a forum for examining issues of concern to Baltimore's neighborhoods and welcomes contributions from readers.

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