by K. S. Reetz
Misfortune on the plains of Africa. You have to feel some sympathy for the elephants.
|THE GREAT LION-ELEPHANT DEBATE...that never was.
They say the lion is king of the jungle, but be careful if you repeat that claim to the elephant. Most elephants have a bad temper, with the strength to back it up, and they're sensitive about this issue. One elephant in particular decided it was time to set things straight. His name is Bumba, and he roams the plains of the Serengeti.
"Dung showers!" said Bumba. The day was hot, over a hundred degrees, and Bumba was feeling a bit cranky. "This is hippo dung showers, you guys."
Well, this outburst caught the other elephants by surprise; they had never heard such language before, nor had seen Bumba so animated. They remembered the time Bumba had been stuck in the mud at the waterhole and had to endure three days while every jackal, zebra, and lion for thirty-three miles around came to mock him openly. When Ranger Jim finally rescued him it was the happiest day of Bumba's life; it was also his scariest.
After several attempts, using rope and Jeep, failed to dislodge Bumba from the mud, Ranger Jim remembered why he happened to be in that part of the Serengeti. A cargo plane had made an emergency landing just a mile away and he was on his way in answer to their SOS. Turns out that the plane was carrying helium tanks and balloons for the Musoma air show. To make a long and complicated story shorter, let's just say that after rigging a dozen fully inflated balloons together, creating a giant blimp-like monstrosity, the ropes attached to Bumba were cut, where in an instant he shot out of the mud hole and was zipping into the clouds. Bumba returned to earth two days later on the island of Bioko, near Malabo in Equatorial Guinea. All he said about the experience was to make the calm assertion, "I wouldn't do that again."
So, you can imagine the curiosity of the other elephants. What was more upsetting than Bumba's balloon ride? What would make his mood worse than being hit by hippo dung showers? The herd approached him with some caution to find out his gripe.
After making several bluff charges at the herd, Bumba finally settled down and poured out his agony. "It's dung showers, you guys. Everyone gives the lion credit for being king of the jungle, but where is the lion that is more intelligent than any one of us? Someone, please find that lion who is even one-tenth as strong as our weakest! Where is the lion that can match the courage and leadership ability of any one of us? The elephant should be king of the jungle and it's just plain hippo dung that we aren't."
The group stood motionless and silent. Bumba made a good case; they had never considered this injustice and thanked Bumba for his foresight and large ego. The big question now was how to persuade the lions to give up the 'King of the Jungle' title. The elephants didn't want a title gained by force, that would only breed contempt, so the idea of an outright attack on all lion prides across Africa was quickly stomped on.
One of the smaller elephants in this herd was named Taco, nick-named by Bumba because of her sexy Spanish accent, and she claimed to have a workable idea. Taco suggested a public debate with the lions, followed by jungle-wide elections. Elephants are not known for their debating skills, but all the elephants respected Taco because of her ancestry and they listened to her intently.
Her relatives were involved in the great elephant uprising during the siege of Spain in 209 BC, the battle of Canusium between Claudius Marcellus and Hannibal. Taco still had a few distant relatives from that era who were living at the Cabarceno Zoo; they wrote to her frequently and she absorbed the rich accent in those letters as she read them over and over again.
Taco was eloquent; the entire elephant herd was on board with the idea of a debate and set out to contact the lions.
You would think that lions would be easy to spot in the Serengeti, but they are not. They do not come running when you call them; in fact if it is an elephant calling them it has an opposite effect. The elephants were about to give up after a few hours of scouring the dry savanna brush and they all sat down under the acacia trees for an afternoon siesta, another thing they learned from Taco that engendered great respect for her. It was there, by the acacia grove, that a beautiful Masai giraffe was taking a snack.
She stood eighteen feet high, about twice the height of elephants, and this height advantage did not go unnoticed. Bumba approached the tall beauty, introduced himself and then proceeded to make his proposal. He offered her a place in the new elephant government if she would help them find some lions.
It was a good offer and Zarafa didn't hesitate in expressing her approval. She thought about what government position would best elevate her status; she remembered stories of her great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandmother, also named Zarafa, who was a royal gift from the viceroy of Egypt, Muhammad Ali, to the French. The old Zarafa was the toast of Paris in 1827. The young Zarafa now treasured the hope of herself experiencing such fame and affection from the masses. She finally decided that her best chance of real status would be to take charge of the EIEIO, or the Expansion of Interiors to the Eastern Islands Organization.
With that agreement in place, Zarafa lifted her long neck and spotted a pride of lions napping under another acacia tree about fifty yards south of where they were. The elephants could never hope to sneak up on this pride if they had been awake, but the lions being sound asleep in the hundred degree shade prompted some inspiration in Bumba's head. Bumba thought it would be entertaining to give the lions a fright - sort of an opening salvo to chip away at their arrogance.
Bumba suggested they surround the lions, lie down in a circle with their butts facing the lions, and try hard to coordinate their best fart. It would be a grand effect even if only a couple of them succeeded, and it would provide the added benefit of demoralizing their rival before the debate even began.
It worked in spectacular fashion. Fifteen of the eighteen elephants were incredibly successful at producing a simultaneous explosion, similar in effect to a small volcanic eruption. It actually shook the trees. There was also an instant and synchronized leaping of lions. Science has never explained how a static body can suddenly, and without prior motion, shoot straight up into the air as if jolted by a million volts of electricity. The elephants trumpeted loudly at their success.
The lions weren't so amused. It really irritated them as a matter of fact. There wasn't a thing they could do about it, however, because they were no match for the elephants - except for their speed and leaping ability. The lions used both advantages, right over the backsides of the elephants, and kept running until they collapsed about a half mile away. The elephants had no problem catching up as they lazily meandered over to the tired and confused pride.
Bumba simply explained the elephants discontent and offered the debate and election request. The lions were surprised and greatly relieved about all of this; the odd introduction of the elephants caused some concern and uncertainty. They immediately accepted the proposal, set the debate and election date to take place in three weeks, and then politely asked the elephants to get lost - with no hard feelings.
Now, the elephant population in Africa is said to be between 400,000 and 650,000, compared to an estimated lion population of fewer than 40,000 total. It's also true that lions piss off more animals than do the elephants, and the lions are aware of this. The lions aren't stupid and they aren't particularly ambitious; in fact they are known for being smart, but lazy. It's not unusual for a lion to sleep sixteen to twenty hours straight, as long as their belly is full. The point is that there is no way the lion can prevail in a vote with the number advantage that the elephants have. Why waste valuable sleeping time on a lost cause? What good is the title 'King of the Jungle' anyway?
The lions were about to throw in the towel when Zeke, one of the senior lions, spoke up forcefully. "Hippo dung showers," said Zeke, "have you all forgotten the Wizard of Oz? Do you remember my great-great-great grandfather and how he suffered being a coward? I was named after him so I know all about being a coward, and I don't like it one bit."
The pride was quiet. Several of the lions began to blush from yet another humiliation, not a typical reaction from the king of beasts. Zeke had inspired them. Each lion began to study the jungle issues so they could at least hold their own against the formidable elephants. There were many issues that needed fixing:
*Noisy water holes - all the chatter while the lions wanted to nap.
*Squawking birds always warning gazelles, "The lions are sneaking up on you!"
*Baboon high jinx. Can anyone calm these guys down? And how much longer
do we lions suffer their constant "mooning"? Baboons have the nastiest butts
in the entire world!
And the list went on.
The elephants were doing the exact same thing. Bumba was determined to win in a landslide vote, and that meant prepare, prepare, and prepare.
The elephants had the same kind of complaints, with pretty much the same characters, but the elephants went a little further. Take the primate control, for instance. Baboons weren't the only nuisance. The elephants knew that all monkeys, apes, and chimps were thieves; if it wasn't nailed down it would get swiped for sure. The elephants knew they would lose votes in the monkey/ape population, but figured to gain from all the others that were annoyed, which was pretty much every non-primate population.
The elephants also had a plan to eliminate, or reduce, the population of tsetse flies. This fly was more than an intolerable pest, it was known to drive some animals insane, even to the point of committing suicide. It also spreads the dreaded parasite that causes Sleeping Sickness, which inflicts a slow and painful death to its poor victim. They didn't have a workable plan to eliminate the fly, but hoped the promise would get them votes anyway.
News of the debate spread quickly and there was a sharp excitement among the animal population; they were eager to cast the first ever jungle and African savanna vote. What an historical event!
The stage was set. Lake Manyana would host The Great Lion-Elephant Debate. The moderator would be HM King Mswati III, of The Kingdom of Swaziland. It was hoped that his selection would make it easier to acquire the prized Marula, which they would turn into the delicious Marula Margarita (thanks again, Taco). Win or lose, there wouldn't be a sad face in sight after two or three of these.
The strategy worked perfectly. King Mswati III brought an entourage of four hundred friends and servants, just over a hundred were dedicated to hauling tons of the Marula fruit. This was very good news.
Attendance would show staggering numbers with this kind of majesty; participation in the election would be awesome - yielding results that would exalt the winner and devastate the loser beyond dispute. The elephants couldn't have been more confident with their platform and the lions were nearly crazed with excitement at the opportunity to roar at such a large gathering.
What happened next is a little difficult to talk about, even a year after the most unfortunate events took place. It was like this:
One of the chimpanzees overheard Bumba practicing his lines, specifically the part about the primates being a nasty jungle pest. The chimps were in favor of the elephants up to that point, they hated the lions. They hated the way lions strutted around all day and night trying to scare everyone, getting the animals all worked up in a panic, finally catching a bite to eat and collapsing into long slumber parties as though nothing had happened. The chimps decided to take action by emptying half the water in the elephant's private pond and replacing it with the king's special concoction, privately labeled "The King's 150 proof Marula Moonshine." Eight tanker trucks (52,000 gal. total) were pumped into the half emptied pond, making it the biggest cocktail the world has ever seen. It's still a mystery how the chimps figured out how to hot-wire the king's trucks.
The elephants were pleasantly surprised when it came time for their after-dinner dip; the water had a tingling zip to it, not at all objectionable. They bathed and splashed around in a carefree manner, drinking gallons and gallons of the pungent punch. It was the best water hole they had ever come across.
The elephants were now stoned drunk, and very frisky. It wasn't long before they charged out of the giant cocktail and stomped on every object and animal in sight, they rolled over many of the friends, guests, and servants of King Mswati III. The famous "bluff" charges were failing to end, crashing the elephants headlong into, and over, the villages that surrounded Lake Manyana. Damage was estimated in the billions, but miraculously, because of the muddy ground, there was no loss of life. There were, however, a bunch of stunned people and animals squished down into the mud.
The elephants slept until three PM that afternoon, awaking to an abandoned encampment with more than sixty buildings laying in shambles, flattened to the ground and scattered throughout the area. There was an eerie silence that screamed their defeat.
Stapled to Bumba's ear was a nasty note from King Mswati III stating his disfavor with their larking about. There was also an invoice for 52,000 gallons of the King's moonshine - terms: net fifteen days, certified check only. Bumba was barely able to stand, there was still some kind of an earth rotation thing going on, but he managed to face the other elephants, he was struggling to collect his thoughts and form the right message.
At that very moment, afar off in the wilderness, a lion's roar could be heard, followed closely by the faint echo of shrieking chimps. Bumba hesitated, then spoke his first and last words of the day, "This is hippo dung, you guys, real nasty hippo dung showers."