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Crimson White Online

October 18, 2004

Ton o' Crimson Tide fun
Some say elephants never forget, but many Tide fans might never forget the elephants that showed up for the UA Homecoming festivities this weekend.

by Heather Henderson
Managing Editor

When the Crimson Tide scores a touchdown during a home game, the sound of an elephant trumpeting reverberates in Bryant-Denny stadium.

Hours before the Tide's Saturday game against Southern Miss, that same sound awoke Clay Koenig from his bed in the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity house.

Three African elephants, ready to emerge into the sunlight after spending an evening in the trailer of an 18-wheeler to escape the chilly night air, celebrated their much-anticipated freedom under a tent pitched in the DKE front lawn, rolling, running around and trumpeting repeatedly.

"That was my wakeup call in the morning," Koenig said.

On Saturday, Oct. 16, three African elephants with a combined weight of nearly 21 tons paraded onto the Deke House lawn in Tuscaloosa.  Sullivan-St.Clair Marketing and Public Relations, the agency of record for the University, saw a tremendous opportunity for publicity and agreed to sponsor the elephants’ appearance at Homecoming.  “Traditional PR certainly has its place,” said agency president and DKE alumnus Rich Sullivan Jr. “But we’re talking about elephants here. Three enormous African elephants on campus demand attention.”  John McNeil, president of the DKE House Corporation and a Deke International board member, said, “This chapter had a great idea and worked really hard to make it a reality. I think everyone who came by the house – even those who couldn’t come by but heard about the event – was absolutely delighted. When you see the determination of this group of young men, it’s easy to understand why the chapter received the Lion Trophy as the best chapter in the nation this year.”

Last weekend, thousands of Tide fans and students stopped by the lawn on University Boulevard to take a look at the three pachyderms, which could become a part of the UA Homecoming tradition if approved by the University.

The elephants, riding in a trailer marked "Frisco's Elephants," arrived at the DKE house Friday afternoon. Curious onlookers, including UA President Robert Witt, tried to sneak a peak as the three females - Dumbo, Gina and Joyce - waited to emerge. Later, DKE members, family and alumni watched in coats, ties and dresses as the enormous animals calmly made their way under a tent on the front lawn, quickly taking the opportunity to devour the hay placed under them.

Koenig, a junior health care management major, said securing the elephants' appearance turned out to be more of a hassle than they had planned. "But once I saw the elephants walk off the trailer, I knew it was all worth it," he said.

Since last year, DKE members discussed, at first half-jokingly, the possibility of bringing an elephant to campus for Homecoming festivities this year, said Joseph Dennis, a senior majoring in journalism and a DKE member.

At first, the University worked with the fraternity to find out whether having the elephants walk in the Homecoming parade, and then parking them at the DKE house, would be feasible, Koenig said. But even after they found that the city lacked the permit to allow such a venture, DKE members continued to work to bring the elephants to Tuscaloosa, funding the rental themselves and eventually securing last-minute approval from the University, Koenig said.

"No one really knew the protocol for getting elephants on campus," he said.

Koenig said the rental turned out to be convenient both for the elephants' owners, the Friscos, and for the fraternity: The animals were passing through Alabama on their way to their 5-acre ranch in Florida, where they spend the colder months of the year, he said.

Koenig was one of only a couple people who were allowed to sit on an elephant - his was Dumbo - and take a picture. "It was my first time riding an elephant, so it was pretty interesting," he said.

The elephants, each about 22 years old, didn't seem fazed by the crowds of fascinated Tide fans, Dennis said, even staying calm during a Friday night party, where they hogged more of the attention than The Woodpeckers, the night's featured band.

The Friscos told Dennis that the experience was a sort of first for the animals.

"They told us they had never done anything like this, especially at a frat house," Dennis said. But added, "It didn't seem to bother [the elephants]."

The UA Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee had to discuss and review protocol before the animals could be allowed on campus, said UA biology professor Stephen Secor, a member of the committee who spoke to fraternity members Friday night about caring for the elephants.

"I pressed upon them that they were responsible for the well-being of the elephants while they were on campus," Secor said. "The safety of the animals was something that a lot of people were concerned about."

On Sunday, Secor said he had not heard whether everything went according to protocol during the animals' visit.

"I pressed upon them that I hope this goes well, and if it does, maybe it leaves open the possibility for it to happen at a later date," Secor said.

One onlooker was injured, Dennis said, when he tapped the back of one of the elephants, which swung around and inadvertently knocked the man over with his trunk.

"I think he broke his hand," Dennis said. He said the man, who was not a student, told concerned DKE members not to worry too much about the incident. "I might just have y'all make me an honorary member," Dennis said the man joked later.

All three elephants, however, left safe and sound during Saturday's game, leaving behind a dumpster full of droppings waiting to be picked up by garbage collectors, Dennis said.

He said that cleaning up the muck had been the responsibility of the elephants' owners, and not that of any unfortunate DKE pledges.

"The Friscos take care of it," he said, adding, "It smells like a zoo."

Dennis said the fraternity hoped the University would agree to let the elephants become a permanent part of UA Homecoming happenings.

"Since everything went smoothly, I think we're going to try to make it a tradition," he said.



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