SAN FRANCISCO Zoo's last elephant packs her trunk
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SAN FRANCISCO Zoo's last elephant packs her trunk

Lulu's new home is 2,300 acres in the Sierra foothills

Patricia Yollin, Chronicle Staff Writer
Friday, March 11, 2005
www.sfgate.com

The San Francisco Zoo's last elephant is gone.

On Thursday afternoon, a 38-year-old African pachyderm named Lulu arrived at her new home, a sanctuary in the Sierra foothills that is a zillion times bigger than her concrete abode at the zoo.

For the first time in 80 years -- since Virginia, Marjory and Babe were relocated from a zoo in Golden Gate Park in 1925 -- San Francisco will be an elephant-free zone.

"It's bittersweet," said Bob Jenkins, director of animal care and conservation at the zoo.

It's the end of an era, for sure -- but a highly troubled one.

A year ago this week, the death of an Asian elephant named Calle created a maelstrom that eventually involved sanctuaries, politicians, animal rights activists and zoo accreditators.

Calle's demise last March was followed by the unexpected death of Maybelle, an African elephant, in April. In June, pressured by the city and animal rights activists, zoo director Manuel Mollinedo decided to send the two remaining elephants to a sanctuary in Calaveras County -- where they'd have more space, pachyderm pals and better surfaces for their feet.

The decision quieted local critics but prompted threats from the American Zoo and Aquarium Association to remove the zoo's accreditation for snubbing places the AZA had recommended for elephant relocation.

Asian elephant Tinkerbelle departed for the sanctuary in late November, followed by Lulu on Thursday.

It seems likely that they'll be the last of their species to call San Francisco home.

The city's Board of Supervisors passed legislation in December to keep future pachyderms out unless certain formidable conditions are met -- including requiring a habitat of at least 15 acres.

"We hate to see them go. They both have very large places in our hearts," Jenkins said Thursday from Kansas City, where the zoo's accreditation is being reviewed this week by an AZA commission.

"But it's good to see them go," he added. "Because they're going to a facility that's better than what we can provide."

He won't get any argument from Lulu: She's moving from a 9,500-square-foot enclosure and one tractor tire to 2,300 acres in San Andreas, complete with lakes, oak trees, hills, an elephant hot tub and fellow African pachyderms Mara and "71."

At noon on Thursday, Lulu set off for the Ark 2000 refuge run by the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) -- only her second trip since 1968, when she moved from her native Swaziland to San Francisco at the age of 2.

She rolled into San Andreas around 3:30 p.m., emerging from her crate 45 minutes later.

Not being an experienced traveler, she had been training for the journey since October, getting accustomed to entering her temporary home on the road: a giant green crate that is 20 feet long, 10 feet high and 6 feet wide.

"We were starting from ground zero," Jenkins said. "We got her used to the idea of looking at a crate, putting her body into a crate, getting her feet in a crate. You have to let her tell you. There was a lot of give and take."

Jenkins said Lulu was ready to leave about a month ago, but PAWS was playing "musical elephants" and wanted a bit more time. The sanctuary currently houses the two African elephants and four Asians, including Tinkerbelle -- with a pair from Detroit also arriving at some point.

"It's like a very fine piece of fragile furniture that's alive, and needs to fit into the new living-room set when it gets there, without causing consternation to the other pieces," Jenkins said.

On Thursday, he said, the 7,000-pound Lulu went right into her crate and knelt down, as bars were placed behind and in front of her, much like elephant seat belts. A forklift loaded the crate onto a flatbed truck, and her home of 37 years was soon filed away in elephant memory.

At least two dozen people, including zoo workers and PAWS employees, accompanied Lulu in a six-vehicle caravan.

Lulu, an "alert and observant" beast, is in excellent health, Jenkins said, except for a slight knee problem in her left rear leg that occurred after Maybelle pushed her into a moat one day. A few months ago, Lulu's keepers said that she had changed a lot since the death of Maybelle and had become quite energetic.

Months ago, PAWS founder Pat Derby predicted that "71" would probably become Lulu's boss, filling the role Maybelle had played for almost four decades. And Mara, playful like Lulu and of similar temperament, would be highly compatible.

As for Tinkerbelle, Jenkins said she had gone through a "down period" at the sanctuary, avoiding food and refusing to take her pain medication for three weeks or so.

"But PAWS got her out of what was a blue funk, so to speak," Jenkins said.

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