But as the small motorcade, which included a chase car, weaved through the afternoon traffic with lights flashing, a long, mysterious object curled out the back window of the truck.
It was the trunk of an elephant.
But, by then, the Smithsonian’s National Zoo was only a mile or so away, and the trip was all but over for Washington’s new Asian elephant, Bozie, who arrived safely about 3:30 p.m after a top-secret, carefully planned journey from Louisiana.
The date and time of her departure and arrival had been closely guarded, zoo officials said, for fear of public intrusions.
“We don’t reveal our transportation plans in order to avoid unnecessary attention,” zoo spokeswoman Pamela Baker-Masson said, adding that animal safety was critical.
“We need to eliminate any possible interference, even if it’s a well-intentioned curious bystander,” she said.
There were some gawkers in Tennessee, who had spotted the elephant’s trunk sticking out the truck window Tuesday and cruised along taking pictures from their car. But apparently no word leaked out.
Bozie’s caravan had come from the Baton Rouge Zoo, where she lived for 16 years and where her companion elephant, Judy, died in March.
For the long ride to Washington, keepers brought along bales of Bozie’s favorite hay, as well as apples and bananas.
She was scared to enter the truck at first, so they let her go in backward. That way, she could stick her trunk out the rear widow to catch the breeze on the interstate.
And because she was moving so far away, a favorite keeper will stay with her until she gets settled.
The journey was a step into uncertainty for a 37-year-old with no bags to pack, an unfamiliar new zoo in which to live and three big-city elephants to get to know .
Plus, 28 hours was a long time for a 7,500-pound lady to be on her feet.
The trip began about noon Tuesday, Eastern time. The truck, operated by professional animal movers, and the chase van stopped for the night in Tennessee. The driver slept in the truck. The van occupants stayed at a motel.
Although elephants can nap standing up, Bozie was not allowed out of the truck to stretch her legs. Keepers soothed her with peppermints.
“All of this is carefully planned out, carefully orchestrated,” said Brandie Smith, the National Zoo’s senior curator.
Zoo officials had to determine: Would Bozie be flown here? Would she be driven? Should there be a chase car? If so, who should ride in it? What medicine should they bring with them? How would they get the truck into the National Zoo? What time? How would they get the elephant out of the truck?
“There is nothing that is happening that has not been planned down to the smallest detail,” Smith said.