Elephants in the room

10-elephants grazing botswana


It seems only appropriate that Indian River County became home for the National Elephant Center. After all, our county is heavily Republican and the GOP symbol is an elephant. Originally, the Elephant Center was supposed to be located in St. Lucie County, but then there are many more Democrats in St. Lucie County, so the elephants would probably have felt out of place. If they ever establish a national donkey center, St. Lucie County should be first choice, hands down.

Now, the elephant symbol is quite a bit different than the animal itself. A real life elephant can be 12-15 feet tall and consume 3-400 pounds of food a day. Fortunately, elephants don’t eat meat. They are committed vegetarians.

I’ve seen many elephants in Africa and they love to eat the leaves of thorny acacia trees – not just the leaves, but the branches and thorns as well. The thorns are indigestible and actually pass through the elephant as is, which might account for the animal’s sometimes foul disposition. When cartoonist Thomas Nast created the elephant symbol for Republicans back in 1874, he chose it for being docile when calm and unstoppable and destructive when excited. I can’t think of anything more excitable than an elephant with three inch thorns scraping through its digestive system.

We don’t have thorny acacia trees here in Fellsmere, so hopefully the elephants will remain docile. Whatever they eat though, you have the formidable task of cleaning up waste from the 3-400 pounds of food they eat each day, per elephant. In Africa, the natives use the waste as construction material for their homes, much like we use stucco here in Florida. I don’t see much of a market for that in Indian River County, but I also don’t want to see it slip sliding away into the Indian River lagoon either.

Elephants are destructive as cartoonist Thomas Nast said, but not because of a mission to impose their political will. It’s merely a consequence of their size. In the process of going about their daily business, elephants destroy forests, but create wetlands. We destroy forests to create subdivisions If you weighed four tons, you could probably destroy everything in your path too.

Elephants do like to exercise. In the wild, they walk 30-50 miles a day. The elephant center in Fellsmere is only 225 acres. The fence on its perimeter looks like something out of Jurassic Park. It has to be. Can you imagine if one of those ever got loose?  Why, the trail of you-know-what could stretch all the way from Fellsmere to The Moorings.

Elephants are also very smart and have keenly developed social skills. Females rule the roost much like humans and males lead a lonely existence until they are needed to, you know, create new elephants. They gossip, discipline their kids, even mourn the dead. I wouldn’t be surprised if they figured out how to blend in with groups visiting them at the elephant center and sneak out as the groups leave.

Of course, the elephants in Fellsmere will most likely be retirees from the rat race of zoos and circuses, coming to Florida to live out their years in the sun, make new friends, complain about taxes and the cost of living and walk around the complex at five miles per hour in the passing lane. The problem is, no matter where they go, there’s always that elephant in the room.




  1. I wonder if there’d be a market for elephant dung elsewhere in the world–as fertilizer or, as you pointed out, building materials. Bagged and shipped overseas, perhaps to China, it might help defray the costs of keeping said retired pachyderms. A loose elephant, given its size and all, should not be hard to follow, and as far as I’m concerned, it can go anywhere it wants while unleashed. This is an exceptionally well-written piece of droll humor (and fact). Look forward to more from you.

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