Elephants Gone Wild, Part 2On July 7, 2021 by Elyse
What makes an elephant turn to a life of crime? Nature? Nurture? Second Glance History’s guide to pickpocketing? We may never be sure, but what we do know is there are enough incidents of mammoth misconduct for a full season of “CSI: Ele-felony.”
Last time, elephant bad boys Peanut and Basil impersonated a sea serpent and knocked over a few fences. Their antics may have been relatively harmless, but Basil kept some sordid company:
Mrs. [Emma] Morone visited [the Glen Island Zoo] with a party of women friends. . . Babe and Basil, the two big elephants, were engaged carrying visitors for rides in the howdah [a seat for riding on the back of an elephant]. . . Mrs. Morone and her party. . . took a ride, and some time afterward were standing by the railing back of which the big beasts were standing.
Mrs. Morone placed her pocketbook on the rail while she adjusted her hat. Her attention and that of her friends was centered on the hat for an instant, and then she reached out for the pocketbook, but it had disappeared.– The Washington Times, July 23, 1904
“My purse is gone!” screamed Mrs. Morone.
Superintendent Healy of the Zoo looked at Babe and Babe looked innocently at him, flapping her ears and swaying from side to side. . . The elephant threw up her trunk and opened her mouth to show there was no pocketbook there.– The Salt Lake Tribune, July 25, 1904
Babe was as indignant when accused—and guilty—as our old friend the Underwear Thief.
Healy was suspicious of Babe, for years of close companionship had given him a knowledge of her stealing propensities. If the pocketbook had been a basket of choice fruit, a box of bonbons, or a [bin] of cookies, he would have been able to say what had become of them, but he is a married man and knows that a woman’s pocketbook usually contains only a few stray hairpins, a powder rag, a few addresses, and some loose change, and these are not articles that appeal to the appetite of an elephant.– The Washington Times, July 23, 1904
When the elephants were taken to the stables late in the afternoon the missing pocketbook was found under the seat of the howdah.
That Babe was a thief was clearly proved. She had taken the pocketbook thinking it might be good to eat. Not finding it toothsome she had tossed it over her head into the howdah. . . “Don’t leave your pocketbook on the rail,” is a sign that has been put up near where Babe stands.– The Salt Lake Tribune, July 25, 1904
This is what happens when you let a four-year-old train elephants.
Babe wasn’t the only one sticking her trunk where it didn’t belong.
At Kansas City lately an elephant turned pickpocket. A rosy-cheeked apple, in the pocket of a fair, unconscious damsel, was too much for his virtue and he confiscated it.
Having once began the downward career he, no doubt, formed the opinion that it was as well to be hung for a sheep as a lamb, and so he cleared her pocket out. Presently he wished he hadn’t. It contained a bottle of ammonia and the elephant’s stomach was strangely surprised.– The Sunbury American, August 13, 1875
What goes around comes around, no matter which appendage you steal with.
Every once in a while, even elephants enjoy an expensive meal out:
An elephant, with a circus, at Dundee, Scotland, put his trunk into the pocket of a farmer the other day took out a bank note for £20 ($100) and swallowed it.– The Starkville News, July 28, 1905
Gunda, an elephant at the Bronx zoological park, abruptly ended a couple’s honeymoon by chewing up all their ready cash.– The Hopkinsville Kentuckian, July 27, 1907
Gunda didn’t make it to the church in time to stop the wedding, so he did the next best thing. The honeymooners should be grateful cash was the only thing he ate.
The scourge of elephant delinquency is rampant. To protect your valuables while at the zoo, you could consider investing in a pickpocket-proof knee watch. Otherwise, always be mindful of your surroundings, and keep an eye out for important signage.
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Disclaimer: The modern era is far from the first to grapple with rampant “fake news.” As I am neither a historian nor journalist, I make no claims about the accuracy or lack thereof of the above sources. I assert only that they make for a good story.
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