The elephants moved over a bit to accommodate some quite large friends of African wildlife (including actor Jimmy Stewart and 200 others) in a festive bash inside the elephant house:
"You're going to have to squeeze over to let us by, sir," cried a martini-bearing fellow trying to part a Red Sea of humanity as it were, with his wife hopefully in tow, and sure enough they got to their table well before Tuesday midnight, though human guests could hardly help noticing the roomy quarters of the elephants who kept peering over the banquet scene about the fringes.
More people seemed to be showing up to celebrate the coming of age of the African Wildlife Leadership Foundation (established in 1961) than had been actually expected. The tables held eight. Just before everybody drifted over from the Great Ape House, where cocktails and orange juice were served, one or two extra chairs were set hopefully at odd angles among the original eight, conveying the impression that everybody would fit nicely, until--but then nobody starved, and many took home the coconuts (many rare and for that matter common finches like to peck at coconuts) in which chicken salad a la water chestnut and grapes was served.
"I understand President Reagan is coming?" someone said to Alice McIlvaine, uncontested queen of the wheel-horses who arranged the exceptional event (you just try getting the National Zoo to let you have drinks with the gorillas and salad with the elephants).
"There isn't room," she said, briefly setting aside the bullhorn through which she was encouraging the herd to move right along to the elephant house, "so we asked him to stay home."
"Oh, that is just Alice's delicious sense of humor," said her husband, Robinson McIlvaine, "and the truth is the president was indeed invited but said 10 days ago he couldn't make it."
This being Washington, and therefore full of Washingtonians who dearly love inside poop, some guests were deep into considerations how you would phrase it to the president, while others speculated the security was not good enough, etc., and it was rather a disappointment to get to the source of the little ripple, and find it was just Alice having her little joke.
James Stewart, Russell E. Train and Peter Mathiessen, all with international reputations in the field of African conservation, were guests of honor.
Theodore Reed, director of the zoo, said he spoke for the animals in welcoming one and all. George Plimpton, the super-duper-athlete and serious champion of African fauna, complimented people on exemplary behavior saying the gorillas had forsaken their television sets (television has been found ideal to amuse the great apes and the sets are kept turned on to "stimulate" them) in order to watch the people.
Crystal Tanna, who keeps accounts for the Smithsonian Institution, observed it is rude to stare at gorillas, they really cannot stand to be stared at, and she felt the crowd behaved rather politely; she had not seen anyone staring rudely.
Nancy, one of the great African elephants, sounded off through the evening with a curious sound between a whinny and a whuffle at appropriate times during the speeches. In fact, investigation showed, the elephant was not concerned with the speeches but was gently spraying Diane McMeekin with minute particles of moisture. (She is a staffer at Foundation headquarters here and was authorized, indeed commanded, to sally about the room tending to small crises, and the elephant noticed this and took amusement catching her as she passed every few minutes). "I am grateful the elephant was facing me," she stated.
The foundation was established on the proposition that if the elephants and gorillas are to be saved in Africa, the emerging nations of that continent would have to do it. The foundation assisted in starting two colleges to train Africans in conservation techniques. The foundation began a number of educational programs, too, at the request of Africans, and is the only major wildlife group to maintain a full-time staff in that continent.
Spectacular slides were shown, through which the pygmy hippopotamus (who lives with the elephants in the house) yawned widely though the humans were riveted. When you left you could buy a wild African tablecloth or, for that matter, could write a check for $5,000 if you wished, to provide two-way radio communication used in protecting African national parks, not that they asked for money.
Marlin Perkins, known to television viewers as Mr. Animal Himself, won a safari for two to Africa in a drawing. Them as has gets. He goes twice a year anyway. He gave his prize to Henry Washington and his wife, who have never been to Africa. "Been to Connecticut," Washington said in accepting it. Saw no elephants.
"I have not been to Africa, but now I am free to travel," said Laura Winslow, "since my old cat has died." Only those who have lost a very old and treasured pet can know--but life goes on.