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Tim Istock column: The poop on elephants 

By Tim Istock

So recently, I asked our adorable 3½-year-old neighbor what she enjoyed most about her previous days trip to the zoo. “Zebras and cheetahs,” she answered without hesitation, and then added, “and I saw an elephant poop!”

“Did you now?” I replied with a smile, suddenly whisked back to my own childhood.

I was 8 years old, and a traveling circus was in town for a Saturday evening show, which was a major big deal for our tiny remote island located off the Delmarva peninsula. On the afternoon of the big event, my brothers and I were to meet some other fellas for a pick-up baseball game, but when we got to the ball field, we discovered much to our surprise that the circus had chosen to set up camp smack dab in the middle of centerfield, where they were busily engaged in tending to the needs of the many circus animals.

Needless to say, any and all plans for our World Series showdown were quickly scrapped as we made a bee-line for our own personal version of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. In the time it took a band of wide-eyed, energized kids to scamper across that field, there we were, standing face to trunk with two of the largest creatures any of us had ever seen, and for the first few minutes, we all simply stood and stared — most of us in awe, but some genuinely fearful that any sudden noise or movement might somehow incite the elephants to stampede like they did in the Tarzan movies. However, once it became evident that the big guys in gray were more interested in eating hay and swatting flies with their scrawny little tails than in making pancakes out of a bunch of puny, insignificant little pip-squeaks, we all lightened up and began to bask in the magic of the moment.

Following a few rounds of dopey elephant jokes and Tarzan calls, we were finally ready to jump ship and head to the general store for a NeHi, when my little brother suddenly shouted, “Look! There’s smoke coming out of that elephant!” Well sure enough, when we glanced back to see what all the commotion was about, there appeared to be a cloud of smoke emanating from the rear end of one of the elephants. Now it was only after my feeble brain was able to deduce that this elephant couldn’t actually be on fire that I realized that what was filling the airspace around this massive beast’s back bumpers was in fact a very, very large pooter, as my mom would politely call them. That’s right, folks, we were witnessing the natural workings of one of the animal kingdoms largest gastrointestinal systems up close and personal, and it was a sight to behold indeed. The volume and sheer speed of the exiting gas was sufficient to blow a fair amount of dust off the elephant’s wrinkled buns, giving the ‘broken wind’ the appearance of a cloud of smoke. “Cooool!” we all said in unison, but the show was only beginning, for the big guy’s epic gas passing display was little more than a prelude to bigger and ‘better’ things.

Before we could say, “Holy elephant excrement Batman! Dumbo nonchalantly took to dropping a steady procession of cannonball-sized bowel biscuits that made cow pies look like M&Ms in comparison. So amazed were we by this larger-than-life spectacle that we just stood frozen, mouths agape and eyes bugged out, trying to comprehend the magnitude of the giant fecal Milk Duds as they plop, plop, plopped to the hard-packed ground.

Then, just when we thought we had seen it all, the elephant, who by now must have sensed that he had fully captured this highly impressionable young audience in the palm of his hoof, decided to bring the house down with what must have been a 10-minute long, high-velocity, high-volume whiz. On and on it flowed like someone had left on a garden hose until, finally, after converting most of the immediate vicinity into a large yellow lake, the relieved pachyderm gave us one final glance, as if to say, “Let’s see you top that, you little wimps!” and sauntered off in search of more food, more privacy, and most importantly, a dry place to park his prodigious feet.

Now, to most folks, this entire scene would undoubtedly have been looked upon with an air of casual indifference, if not pure disgust, but to a handful of naïve little kids, it was something every bit as wonderful and mesmerizing as anything we had ever seen in our short lives. And while I may never go on to experience first hand a volcanic eruption or the Aurora Borealis, on a hot summer day in 1962, on a patchy, weed-infested baseball field in Chincoteague, Virginia, I saw an elephant pass gas, poop and pee with my own eyes.

And hey, how many folks will ever be able to lay claim to having witnessed that kind of natural phenomenon?

I know of at least one, and she lives across the street.