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Elephant calf christened at Lowry Park Zoo

Tamani (hope) best expressed the feelings of more than 10,000 voters who participated in a contest to name the calf.

Published December 22, 2005

Trey Barnes, 10, thought "Moja" was a good fit for the baby elephant born in Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa on Oct. 17. It's an African word for "one" or "first."

"I think it makes sense," said the fifth-grader from Muller Magnet Elementary in Tampa. "It's the first baby elephant ever here."

Austin Dibler, 5, didn't have such a specific answer for why his kindergarten class at Purcell Elementary in Mulberry chose "Jabali," which means "strong as a rock." But he knew this much: "It's the greatest name in all of life."

Maybe so, but more than 10,000 people voted, and the clear winner in the zoo's elephant naming contest was Tamani (tah-mah-nee), which means hope.

Teacher Sarah Eichler involved her second-grade class at Frontier Elementary in Clearwater in the contest as part of a lesson about endangered species, extinction and conservation. The class chose the name because breeding African elephants in captivity gives the endangered species hope for survival.

After the elephant's birth, the zoo invited Tampa Bay area schools to submit African names with special meanings. Nearly 600 names were submitted, and from those, five finalists were posted on the zoo's Web site.

Zach Lomerson, 7, observed the baby elephant through his blue binoculars Wednesday morning. He was one of 565 children, parents and teachers who flocked to Lowry Park Zoo for the unveiling of the elephant's name.

He seemed to grasp Eichler's lesson.

"If we lose all the elephants, there won't be elephants on the Earth any more. That's why we needed Tamani to come from his mom and dad so we can have more elephants so they wouldn't be extinct," Zach said.

Joseph Piazza, who teaches at La Voy Exceptional Center in Tampa, also had a lesson for his students. He decided to include his class of six visually impaired young adults with cognitive disabilities in the contest to get them involved in the community. They chose "Kidogo," which means "something small."

It was a fitting name for the elephant, which weighs 250 pounds. Still pink behind his big, floppy ears, with a wrinkly trunk that seems to baffle him, he looks tiny next to his 20-year-old mother, Ellie, at 7,250 pounds.

After learning that a La Voy entry had made the finals, parents, teachers and students sent e-mails to family and friends to get people to vote. Piazza said "Kidogo" got votes from university students at Notre Dame, Louisiana State and the University of Florida, as well as relatives and friends in France and Argentina.

"We were everywhere," Piazza said. "It was a great thing to come together."

The naming contest also united Frontier Elementary with other Pinellas County schools that helped Eichler's class win the contest by voting for Tamani.

When zoo CEO and president Lex Salisbury unveiled Tamani as the winner, 13 Frontier second-graders jumped and cheered as they hugged their teacher.

The winning class will get a special field trip to the zoo early next year, including transportation, admission, lunch, a guided tour and T-shirts. Each student in the class will also receive a six-month family pass to the zoo.

Frontier second-grader Toby Amass, 7, thinks the Swahili name will give the baby elephant something, too.

"It will give the baby elephant lots of hope so it can live a long and happy life," Toby said.

Alexandra Zayas can be reached at 813-226-3354 or at

[Last modified December 22, 2005, 00:58:15]

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