- The Washington Times - Friday, July 11, 2003

GABORONE, Botswana — It was supposed to be a priceless photo-op, showcasing the first family marveling at African wildlife on a pristine game preserve. It turned into a sexually awkward moment of elephantine proportions.

President Bush and first lady Laura Bush took daughter Barbara, 21, on a tour of the Mokolodi Nature Reserve in Botswana yesterday.

“It looks a lot like Crawford,” said Mr. Bush, referring to the Texas town he calls home, as he gazed across the 10,000-acre savanna.

White House press wranglers then hustled a gaggle of journalists to positions for the day’s photo opportunity. Four elephants stood in a clearing and munched the top leaves of an acacia tree.

The presidential vehicle pulled up two minutes later and parked 15 feet in front of the pachyderms. Mr. Bush leaned over to shake the hand of elephant trainer Uttum Corea with an affable “How you doing?”

As news cameras began clicking and whirring to record the moment for posterity, a male elephant named Shaka reared up and tried to mount a female elephant named Thandi.

The journalists convulsed with laughter as Mr. Bush turned to the cameras and smiled sheepishly. Miss Bush threw back her head in embarrassment and covered her face with her hands.

Then Mr. Bush pulled his cap over his face to shield himself from the impending union, which turned out to be unsuccessful.

In an attempt to relieve the tension, Mr. Corea told the president: “Shaka has been practicing this since he was five years old. This is how elephants learn about the birds and the bees.”

After Shaka’s passions had cooled, Mr. Corea said he “looked into the elephants’ eyes” and decided it was safe to approach them. One of Mr. Corea’s trainers walked over and climbed onto Shaka’s back.

“Any volunteers?” Mr. Corea asked the Bushes. The president jumped out of his truck, followed by Barbara and a Secret Service agent.

“Sir, do you really want to do that?” the agent was overheard murmuring in an urgent tone.

Unfazed, Mr. Bush approached the elephants, stroked their tusks and turned to face the cameras. He gestured for his daughter to come closer, although she moved behind the president when an elephant raised a tusk.

“Good boy,” Mr. Bush said as he patted a pachyderm.

“OK, darling, that’s enough,” called out Mrs. Bush.

“Bye, Shaka,” the president said as he walked back to the truck.

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell was as diplomatic as ever when asked whether the symbols of the Republican Party had wandered off message.

“The elephants were on message,” Mr. Powell deadpanned. “We were all on message.”

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