Unearthing science

first_imgBy Shelly Leachman STAFF WRITER It was an odd experiment, to be sure: An enormous Asian elephant – 5 tons large – buried on a southeast section of a college campus, while yards away, near a baseball diamond, a rare black rhinoceros got similar treatment. But it happened right here in the South Bay, at Carson-based California State University, Dominguez Hills, back in 1979. The brainstorm of elephant-obsessed, then-psychology professor Jack Adams, the experiment’s goal was retrieval of the beasts’ bones for a comparison study aimed at revealing “why elephants do what they do,” Daily Breeze reporter James Bronson then wrote of the research. The elephant, Reed, had died of a heart attack and was donated by its owner for Adams’ research. It arrived on a flatbed truck and was buried near the school’s current gym. “Why don’t elephants jump?” Adams asked no one in particular as a crew of volunteers, friends and campus staffers cooperated – with the help of a massive backhoe – to dig the gargantuan animal carcass from the dirt some six months after it was buried. As if the rhetorical question were a pop quiz, a graduate student aiding the exhumation effort eagerly replied: “An elephant’s legs are straight up and down, like pylons. If they jump they could shatter bones all over their bodies. That’s why they don’t jump.” The spectacle of a pachyderm getting unearthed on a college campus drew many onlookers in addition to local media, who together looked on in “amusement, eagerness and disbelief,” Bronson wrote, as Adams – wearing a surgical mask and rubber gloves – climbed into the elephant’s grave to ensure the remains weren’t damaged. “Gently, gently!” he shouted, waving his arms at the backhoe operator while the curious were “smacked in the nose” by a “strong gaseous smell” emanating from the 15-foot-deep hole. “It’s a smelly procedure,” Adams would later note to the campus newspaper, “but it’s the only practical way to do it. The only other way is to boil the skin off, but it’s hard to find a pot big enough for an elephant.” Adams would eventually study the bones, mount them on mobile platforms and store them in his lab. He always hoped the school would be the site of an all-elephant museum – a wish that went unfulfilled. The elephant bones were ultimately donated to the Oregon Zoo. The noted professor – a longtime campus favorite – also went on to write a book, Wild Elephants in Captivity, that remains rare for its focus. Published in 1981, it contained both scientific data on elephants and a section on how to train them. Now out of print but still cited in more recent studies of the animals, used copies of the hard-to-find, Adams-penned paperback are going for nearly $500 on Amazon.com. Adams died about 10 years ago, according to campus officials. [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img