Posted Online: Oct. 24, 2013, 5:53 pm

Niabi, and elephant story, matter to Q-C

Comment on this story

By John Marx, jmarx@qconline.com

ROCK ISLAND — It's a shade past noon on a way-too-cold-for-October Wednesday.

As I nestle into my lunch seat at a local thirst-aid station, a holler the entire joint can hear comes from a corner of the crowded room.

"Hey (cannot write the word because it's a family newspaper), shouldn't you be out covering the elephants?" the obnoxious sort said, hitting his mouth with every third handful of free popcorn.

"Geez, you'd think the president was moving to Arkansas the way you guys covered it. It's in the paper, it's on TV, the radio. It's everywhere. Dude, it's elephants moving."

I thanked the man for reading and handed him a much-needed napkin (I did not have a bib), because if he was as accurate with his burger and fries as he was with the popcorn, he was going to be an afternoon mess.

"What's the big deal?" he asked, referring to stories about the relocation of the two elephants, Babe and Sophie, from Niabi Zoo, to the Little Rock Zoo. "Who cares?"

"I do," I said. "I like the zoo."

I'm no Marlin Perkins. For you youngsters, Marlin was the host of TV's "Wild Kingdom" in the 1960s and '70s. Perkins took us on safaris to far away lands and then stayed in the safety of the truck and narrated while his assistant, Jim, did all the work.

Anyone who had an affection for the wild while I was growing up was dubbed "Marlin Perkins." I do not have an affection for the wild. Truth-be-told, I never paid Sophie and Babe much mind, but I dig the zoo they used to call home.

I have never been to a big-time big-city zoo, so I don't have much to compare Niabi to. That said, for a community our size, Niabi holds its own and has come leaps and bounds since I first visited more than 25 years ago.

And though my zoo-going days have dwindled since my son has advanced in age, I find Niabi Zoo to be fun, economical, and an educational, neat way to spend an afternoon.

As far as Sophie and Babe go, I was a Kathy Sh-Boom supporter, she of early zoo fame. It was commonplace around our newsroom to cover her birthday every year and to mark other milestones about the zoo. Kathy Sh-Boom was cool, had an entertaining flare and ruled the joint for years.

Kathy was so cool I once took a date — a girlfriend who grew up in San Diego — to Niabi. All my date did was make fun of the place. It was too small. The train, my favorite part of the zoo, was cornballish and homespun. Whatever good I said about Niabi, she countered with something Southern-Cal-like that shot it down.

The young lady was placed on waivers shortly after visiting the zoo and given her unconditional release.

I get that two elephants being shipped to a zoo in Arkansas because it's a better place for them to live is not hard news. It's not even as hard-biting as two fools getting a sailboat stuck in the Mississippi River, but it's worth sharing with the public.

Plus, Niabi Zoo rocks. Especially the train.


Columnist John Marx can be reached at 309 757-8388 or Jmarx@qconline.com