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Elephant Walk

O.C. Animal Lovers Join Trek for a Fluffy Afternoon

June 05, 1997

It was really no different from giving Fluffy a bath and taking her for a walk.

Except her name is Nellie, and she weighs 2 tons.

Nellie's a 9-year-old African elephant with the disposition of pussycat, and 10 people from Orange County paid $89 each to drive to the open spaces north of Santa Clarita and spend the day with her.

As part of a class for animal lovers offered by the Learning Tree University in Irvine, the group joined in to bathe Nellie, feed her apples and go for a stroll and a bareback ride.

It's at such close quarters that you notice details you can't see at the zoo.

Like Nellie's skin. Tough as a two-dollar steak over most of her body, it's soft and supple as a baby's behind her ears.

And her hair, which is stiff as baling wire everywhere except in her eyelashes, which are long and graceful.

The point? It's hard to explain, says Ralph Helfer, an animal trainer who conducted the day's events. Such an unusual and unhurried contact with a majestic animal is a spiritual experience, he says. "It's a demonstration of the beauty in the beast."

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