San Francisco's Tinkerbell Stands Corrected: the Truncated Account of a Major Feat

updated 01/19/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/19/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

When Peter Pan's Tinker Bell gets a wart, she doesn't make the Six O'clock News. Even the lithe fairy's best friends probably don't know about it, because with one wave of her magic wand the ugly growth discreetly disappears. Unfortunately, her namesake at the San Francisco Zoo isn't so lucky. This Tinkerbell is a 7-foot-tall, 6,712-pound Asiatic elephant, and when she sprouted a papilloma the size of a small orange on her right front foot, her surgery became almost as big a local story as Joe Montana's return to the 49ers.

To her credit, Tinkerbell passed through the ordeal with a composure that would have gladdened Miss Manners' heart. First the pachyderm had to endure the indignity of being weighed on a portable truck scale; the doctors had to know her exact weight to determine the proper dose of anesthesia. Then, as 12 reporters gawked, Tinkerbell got a knockout shot in her right ear, had an oxygen tube inserted into her trunk and her left front foot chained to the floor. Actually the chain turned out to be unnecessary because she never stirred, not even when Palo Alto podiatrist Elston Rothermel laser-zapped her wart. In fact it was Dr. Rothermel who had the shakes; after all, his practice is normally confined to humans. "I had some second thoughts about Tinkerbell getting up and stomping around, but I had a good escape plan," he says. "It was kind of exciting."

Recuperating nicely, Tinkerbell is back on her old daily diet—100 pounds of rolled oats, carrots and oranges with an occasional peanut. "Tinkerbell is squealing and squeaking with delight," reports her keeper, Connie Channon. "Without her wart, she's a lot friskier." This is good news for the zoo people, who feel that at age 20 the now surefooted Tinkerbell is ready for some romance. The press, however, won't be invited to witness the courtship. "Dating is stressful," says Channon, "even for elephants."

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