HOHENWALD, Tenn. - After teasing staffers and press for more than four hours, at 5:27 p.m. CDT yesterday, a former Philadelphian named Dulary became the latest pampered permanent pachyderm guest at the Elephant Sanctuary here.
She left the Philadelphia Zoo at 8 a.m. Monday for the 900-mile drive to Hohenwald in a specially designed trailer she proved reluctant to leave, despite the encouraging welcome from Tarra, the first elephant at the 2,700-acre sanctuary, which opened in 1995.
It was Dulary's first trip off the grounds of America's First Zoo, where she arrived 42 years ago from Thailand as a 1-year-old infant. In all the ensuing decades, she never got to commune with her own species - Asian elephants.
For her arrival, the sanctuary's plan was to back Dulary's trailer up against the opening of a large stall in the huge and immaculate elephant barn. A ramp would be positioned, the trailer doors opened and Dulary would walk out of her own accord. She had entered the trailer in Philly in a few minutes. She would not be prodded or forced in any way.
How long could it take?
The Elephant Sanctuary's co-founder Scott Blais told me that Debbie had been the most reluctant, taking three hours to leave the trailer.
Ladies and gentlemen, we interrupt the column to announce a new world record: It took our Dulary four hours and 17 minutes to get four on the floor in Tennessee.
Jen Robertson, Dulary's Philadelphia Zoo keeper, said the trip down "was smooth as it could be," that Dulary was relaxed and not stressed. How do we know that, you ask?
Her bowel movements were routine and on schedule. (Don't blame me - you asked.)
Robertson believed that Dulary had become comfortable in the trailer, a safe environment where she was fed and pampered, and was reluctant to leave it.
Carol Buckley, co-founder of the sanctuary, believed that Dulary had made a decision on her own Monday, and that led to a road trip, so Dulary is going to use caution about other decisions.
My opinion? Dulary's been in Philly long enough to know how to be a pain in the butt, and when you weigh 8,153 pounds, that's quite a butt.
So with the Daily News waiting, along with Reuters, the "CBS Sunday Morning News" and even a blond Norwegian guy covering for - get this - Al Jazeera International, Dulary refused to be coaxed from her comfy trailer.
Hours passed with press and staffers standing in the barn, watching Dulary occasionally stick out her head or trunk. Treats were offered. A hose was brought out to give her a drink, The hose was put down, Dulary picked it up and sprayed it around, then bit off the nozzle. She then played with a 2-foot length of hose.
Staff and press laughed.
Sanctuary primo elephant Tarra, who serves as the welcome wagon, was brought around. She had greeted Dulary's trailer with what elephant people call chirping, but sounded like the barking of a large German shepherd. It was a welcome greeting, but Dulary didn't care.
She teased the crowd a dozen times by putting a foot on the ramp, and once started backing out and placed two hind feet on the ramp, but always retreated back into the trailer.
After three hours, when coaxing her out the side door of the trailer failed, the ramp was moved to the rear of the trailer, treats were offered and Tarra came close.
The elephants entwined trunks, Tarra quickly scarfed the treats brought out for Dulary, Tarra chirped, but Dulary wouldn't leave the ramp.
Pressed by deadlines, some of the press melted away.
Another hour passed.
Finally, at 5:27 p.m., Dulary stepped off the ramp, but in a final fuhgedaboudit moment, Dulary didn't enter the barn, but instead followed Tarra - her new friend - into the woods and out of sight.
Dulary is in Tennessee, happy and free.
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