What’s the most bizarre thing you’ve considered buying? So outlandish that people would say “he’s crazy,” why would anyone do that? A new Lamborghini? A ten-year supply of facial tissue? A dozen red roses every day of the year? A flock of pink glow in the dark flamingos for your front yard? A floor to ceiling velvet Elvis painting? An elephant? A . . . wait a minute, did you say AN ELEPHANT? Not a stuffed elephant but a real live two-ton elephant. Yep, that’s what I did. As improbable as it may seem, it is not impossible. There are no elephant lots, like car lots. You don’t kick its toes like tires—they kick back. Check the yellow pages? Not really. Internet sites are a scam. So, where do you get an elephant?
The hurdles are daunting but I, an old Minnesota farm boy, found a way. It is a curious, amusing tale beginning on one continent, crisscrossing another, eventually a third. A story of twists, turns and real choices to be made and it began on my family homestead.
So let us begin the story there.
Of course, Minnesota farmers don’t usually raise elephants. Cows, chickens, pigs, ducks and at times more exotic animals, like Llamas or Ostrich’s, but elephants, not something I dreamed of when young. I knew enough of the farmer’s life, a hard life, that that was not my future. Enlist in the Military? Not being big and strong (thought that would be a requirement) that was out. Short of options, I settled on becoming a teacher, following in my mother’s footsteps.
Four years later, my studies over, a new problem. World events eclipsed my well-made plans. Teaching no longer seemed an option as war raged in Vietnam and Uncle Sam had a plane waiting. Now big and strong enough but feeling trapped I reviewed my options. Then the same Uncle Sam offered me a golden opportunity, the Peace Corps, go to Mali, help raise chickens, which, of course, I knew how to do. Where is Mali? I didn’t care. I would be saving humanity rather than bombing the hell out of it. A new world was opening to me.
The chickens I introduced in Mali were a big hit, a fast growing breed, one simmering in every Malian housewife’s pot. Mission accomplished, on to solve Africa’s other problems. I was young, Kennedy era idealistic, ready to dedicate my life to a cause. Two decades later, having established health programs in five countries of Africa it was time to return to California.
Culture shock! Physically home but not emotionally, no job, no money, no prospects and no hope, this was not the time for big decisions. Blindly I charged forward. My first decision nearly bankrupt me, the second placed millions of grant dollars in my hands, and the last returned me to teaching, where I met an elephant.
No, the elephant wasn’t in a California public school classroom, though he could have been given the wild challenges of my first year. I survived, with an end of the year trip to Thailand my reward. I fell in love with the country. Every summer I returned to teach English, as Thailand became my home away from home.
At 62, retired, a new uncharted world opened. Single, no dependents, financially stable, beholding to no one I moved to an elephant camp in Thailand.
One day when the sale of a gentile young male elephant was announced I pounced. He had all the right traits, a straight tail, right number of toenails, nice ears, unblemished trunk, good color and was only five years old, trainable. Most important he’d follow me anywhere if I had a banana. I was in love.
Sold, ready to close the deal, a bombshell dropped. The price. Exorbitant! Out of my price range. No way! My emotional attachment aside, I needed to be resold. The sale pitch began.
Elephants are a great investment, better than the stock market, an IRA, or even real estate. Unlike a car, elephants don’t loose value they actually appreciate. Look at his big feet, he’ll probably grow to over 12 feet and weigh five ton. He could live to a 100 and sire many babies. Check out his ivory! Stunning for an elephant so young.
My objections gone I took out a calculator to crunch the numbers. With the Thai banks not giving elephant loans, there could be no monthly mortgage. The asking price was due, in cash, at the time of sale making my calculations meaningless. No matter, I wanted to see what the monthly payments might have been.
Knowing the elephant was 5 and could live to a 100 I amortized the sale price over 95 years. Punching the numbers I was skeptical of the first amount so recalculated. Amazed, I shook my head. For under a dollar a day I could buy a cup of coffee AND this elephant!
My purchase quickly became a major topic of conversation.
“Why did you buy an elephant?” people asked.
“Why not!” I’d reply!
Leslie A. Temanson
Writer / Photographer
Currently living at an elephant camp in Northern Thailand, involved in conservation efforts, after 20 years of non profit work in Africa, 5 years in hunger related grant making and 14 years as a California public school teacher and mentor.