Flying For Peanuts


THIS IS the story of four Oaklanders on an odyssey — an elephant odyssey.

It all started when Howletts Animal Park, near London, offered to donate a young bull elephant to the Oakland Zoo.

“We lost our bull elephant, Smokey, over two years ago and had been searching for a replacement,” says Dr. Joel Parrott. (Yes, he’s a bird doctor and also the director of the Oakland Zoo).

Howletts is way out in the countryside, and “Doc” sent his general curator, Colleen Kinzley, to England a week ahead of him to work with the elephant. Her job: to train the “big guy” to get into a crate.

Apparently she succeeded. “When it came time to load the elephant up,” Doc says, “he was very cooperative.” The beast lumbered into the crate and was lifted by crane onto a truck, which traveled across the English Channel by ferry.

The next stop was the airport in Amsterdam, where Dr. Parrott and his crew spent the night, with Osh the elephant, in an animal hotel. KLM airlines ships so many animals overseas, that the company actually has a hotel for them near the airport.

“It was like sleeping in a heated garage bay,” Parrott recalls. Of course, he didn’t get much shut-eye — what with the elephant taking most of the covers (just jokin’). But Doc and the others did find themselves up most of the night keeping Osh company.

The next day, they loaded Osh onto a modified 747 cargo plane with the back third of the seats removed — for jumbo-sized passengers. The captain made an announcement that went something like this: “We’ve got a special guest today — a full grown African Elephant in the back of the cargo hold.” None of the passengers opted to get off, though a similar flight with a rhino caused a mini exodus.

So Osh flew, first class, all the way to Los Angeles. And for just $19,000, you might say he flew for peanuts.

But why not go straight into San Francisco? Was this a liberal conspiracy to keep all Republican symbols out of the Bay Area? Not exactly.

“There are only four U.S. ports of entry for animals,” says Parrott, who added that Osh had to go through myriad government agencies at LAX, including customs.

Through rush-hour traffic, the intrepid travelers made it to Oakland and Osh’s new home in the hills.

Rest up, big guy. In a few years when you’re old enough to date, there are three female elephants waiting for you. Waiting to continue one of the most important elephant breeding programs in North America.

It’s all happening at our zoo.

It takes a village

One thing I love about the hills is the “can do” spirit of the folks who live here — folks like Wendy Jones and Carolynn Aikawa. Together, they found the volunteers and the funding to build a new playground at Joaquin Miller Park.

The remarkable thing is that Wendy doesn’t even have kids. But her husband was a San Francisco cop for 20 years, and Wendy says she knows she can make her little piece of the world better.

“Every time I drive down the hill and see all the kids on the playground, it fills my heart with joy,” she says.

Thanks, Wendy. You and Carolyn had a dream and followed through on it. And Oakland is a better place because of it.

E-mail bag

My column on door-to-door magazine salespeople prompted a heart-rendering e-mail from a nonprofit organization that tracks criminal activity in this industry. Reader Phil Ellenbecker says the problem runs much deeper than what I was able to cover two weeks ago. He urges readers who’ve had contact with door-to-door sales people to check his group’s Web sites: http://www.travelingsalescrews.info and http://www.dedicatedmemorial.org.

After Oakland police linked a traveling magazine group to a rash of burglaries in the hills, this may be vital information for all of us.

What’s in a name?

A lot, especially when you get the name wrong, as I did last week in a follow-up piece on former lighthouse keeper Walter Fanning.

Luckily, his daughter, Sue, set me right with this e-mail: “Loved your column last Friday. It was the best I’ve seen about East Brother Light Station, but somehow, between last Friday and this Friday my father’s name was changed from “Walter Fanning” to “Howard Fanning.” My whole life I have known him as “Walter.” Do you know something I don’t?”

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