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What a Babe!

A camel makes an elephant feel like a jet plane.

- Jacqueline Kennedy

Babe is our 13-year old elephant whose mother was killed in a culling in Africa.  Babe was crated and sent to the US, and performed in a circus for 10 years until she came to Black Beauty Ranch (near Murchison, Texas).  When she arrived a few years ago, she was skinny, and had dry skin, an injury above her ear from another elephant’s tusk, and two legs in poor shape.  Her right front ankle had been broken and is frozen, and her back leg was badly injured as a result, we believe, of her having been hit by a larger elephant while chained.  Although she was not in pain, it tugged at the hearts of staff and visitors to watch Babe’s laborious movements.

Babe laying down at the Ranch

Recently, she began having problems with her back leg and lying down to avoid the pain of standing on it.  Chris Byrne, the ranch manager, decided that the time had come to have Babe’s problem reevaluated and a course of action determined.  He marshaled all his resources, and arranged an evaluation for Babe at Texas A&M.  This included:

bulletBorrowing a trailer normally used to haul exotic animals (but never before an elephant) from the Adelaide Ostrich Farm
bulletWorking with Tom, the welder, to ensure the trailer was in perfect shape to move Babe
bulletInstalling lights and a camera in the trailer so Chris could watch Babe during the trip
bulletConvincing the Texas Department of Public Safety to bring us scales normally used to weigh semi-trailers so that we could weigh Babe
bulletDevising a step so Babe could climb into the trailer
bulletWorking with Babe to convince her that she wanted to go into the trailer
bulletLeaving the Ranch with Babe at 4am to ensure they arrived in time for their appointment at A&M
bulletAccompanying her through her x-rays and other tests and providing a trusted, loving figure for a stressed-out Babe.

Chris knew that finding out how much Babe weighs was of paramount importance in case they needed to sedate or operate on her.  The drug dosage would depend on her weight, and too high a dosage could kill her.

Babe weighs in at a dainty 3,400 pounds

Weighing Babe was no easy task, as Chris had to convince her to put three legs on separate scales and lift the fourth leg into the air.  But Babe’s a trooper, and she finally did as Chris asked.  Speaking of troopers, the troopers with the Department of Public Safety seemed a little unsure of this whole thing when we initially talked to them on the phone.  They were curious about how big the elephant was, how well she obeyed, and (unspoken) just who was going to do the actual weighing.  However, Troopers Kim Drummond and Ken Sellers gamely arrived early one morning and helped with the weigh-in.  We are convinced that they fell in love with Babe and with the Ranch.  Our many thanks to them for all their help and cooperation.

Conga, our 10,000+ pound African elephant keeps a close eye
on Texas Troopers at the weigh-in - and vice-versa

Probably the biggest challenge Chris faced was convincing Babe that she wanted to get into the trailer.  He had a number of practice sessions with her although we must admit that none of them ended with Babe actually in the trailer.  When the morning for departure (Monday 23 March) came, Chris was determined.  And when Chris is determined to do something for the good of an animal, it happens.  So Babe was loaded on the trailer and off they went.  The trip to A&M was uneventful.  However, Babe discovered she could streeeeatch her trunk far enough to reach the camera that had so carefully been positioned in the highest, farthest reaches of the trailer, and she dismantled it before they even reached the highway.

Conga and Tara, our adult elephants, do not like it when Chris leaves the Ranch for even one day (which he seldom does), and we all anticipated that Conga, in particular, would be greatly out of sorts when Babe and Chris both left.  Chris even arranged for nice weather in case Conga refused to go into the elephant barn at night.  However, Conga and Tara behaved beautifully while they were gone.  Later we’ll tell you of Conga’s loving welcome when Babe returned.

There was quite a welcoming committee waiting when Chris arrived at A&M.  We think they were quite excited and pleased to have an elephant come there for help.  They initially tried to x-ray Babe in the truck, but it wasn’t powerful enough.  So Chris had to walk Babe down the hall of the school to the Radiology Center.  Needless to say, the people in the rooms off the hall were quite excited to see an elephant walk by.  Chris said that Babe was somewhat stressed but that she behaved beautifully both in walking down the hall and while they took x-rays.  If we haven’t mentioned it earlier, Babe is a very sweet-natured elephant who has maintained her good disposition through all her adversity.

Babe at Texas A&M -the only time she’s been chained since coming to the Ranch

Two years ago, Babe was evaluated and Chris gave her a drug to dissolve some calcium deposits.  Apparently that was successful, and the new x-rays showed that Babe’s bones look dense.  However, they also showed that the bones are curving.  The doctors at A&M decided that the best course of action for Babe is to fabricate a boot for her right rear leg.  The purpose of the boot is to arrest the decline of her aberration.  This is really high tech treatment, and an A&M engineer will use aerospace equipment to design and create the boot.

Notice Oxygen tube in her trunk

Babe spent the night in an enclosure next to a camel, Omar, whom Babe hated.  There was a nightwatchman who had Chris’s beeper number in case Babe needed anything during the night.  She was really glad to see Chris in the morning, and purred and rattled when she saw him.  They gave her M99, a powerful drug that knocked her out quickly.  Babe prefers to lay on her right side, so a key challenge for Chris was to get her to lay on her left side so they could work on her right leg.  That accomplished, Chris whittled on her feet (removed any calluses) so that the boot cast would fit properly.  They made a cast of the leg, and A&M is now in the process of creating the boot.

Babe ready for cast of her foot at A&M

They gave Babe M50, a drug that reverses the effects of M99.  Everybody clapped and cheered when Babe groggily awoke, as that was the most critical part of the procedure.

Never one to let grass grow under his feet, and knowing how unwilling a fully-alert Babe would be to get back on the trailer, Chris loaded a somewhat groggy but more cooperative Babe on the trailer and headed back to the Ranch.

Babe willingly disembarked from the trailer at the Ranch.  Conga got as high on the enclosure railing as she could and trumpeted her welcome back; she laid her trunk the length of Babe’s body.  Tara also touched Babe all over and provided lots of love and reassurance to the young elephant she was once so afraid of.  Conga roared for the next 24 hours, and is still very watchful of Babe.

We want to take this opportunity to thank Doctors Jim Jenson and Peter Rakestrau and the rest of the staff at A&M for their wonderful help and for the outpouring of love and support that came Babe’s way from everybody there.  The staff donated their time, and we have only had to pay for actual supplies.  Thank you.

Babe with Tara at the Ranch

Thanks again to Texas A&M, to the Texas troopers, and especially to Chris Byrne who so skillfully planned and executed this project and who is a source of inspiration for those of us who so dearly love the animals at Black Beauty Ranch.

If you have questions or comments, email them to the Black Beauty Ranch at [email protected] or "Black Beauty Ranch" [email protected]


Would you like to watch a five second video of Babe taking a bath?

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This page last updated on: Sunday, 18 January 2004

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