Mystery elephant, wading in the gulf, was just working a party

Published May 20, 2014

REDINGTON BEACH — Judy the elephant finished her shift and waded, by all accounts gleefully, into the Gulf of Mexico.

She sprayed herself, soaked her legs and looked fairly serene.

"Elephants are so symbolic," Claudia McCorkle said. "Symbolic of karma and such wonderful qualities as loyalty and love, memory and longevity."

McCorkle was 5 when she passed on a chance to ride an elephant in Fort Lauderdale. The regret has lingered, so much so that for her 60th birthday party Saturday, McCorkle paid $4,500 to have Judy brought from Orlando.

She also jumped through the required hoops at City Hall.

"Mayor Simons referred to the letter from Claudia McCorkle and her request to be able to have an elephant on her beach property for a birthday party," meeting minutes read. "Motion passed with all ayes."

Someone asked if this meant people could start bringing dogs to the beach.

Mayor Nick Simons, who attended McCorkle's party, said that is a separate issue.

"A lot of dogs on the beach as an ordinance as opposed to a one-time event with an elephant?" he asked. "I fail to see the comparison."

On Saturday, McCorkle finally got her ride, climbing onto Judy's back.

"I'm sort of effervescent about it," she said.

Judy also gave rides to some of the 40 guests as a pianist played the Elephant Walk inside McCorkle's beachfront home. The elephant waded in around sunset, and her presence bewildered other beachgoers.

"It was crazy," said Todd Unbehagen, 35, who shot a cellphone video of Judy that quickly went viral. "It was unbelievable."

Judy weighs 6,200 pounds. She is 58. She was imported in the 1950s, probably from Burma or Thailand, and she likes the ocean, usually.

"There's days that she seems to like it and days that she doesn't," said Bones Craig, her trainer. He has owned her since 1977 and drives her around in a 75-foot trailer.

Judy works a lot of Hindu weddings and parades and the occasional circus, he said, but he never forces her to wade into the water if she doesn't seem interested.

She spent about 30 minutes in the water Saturday, Craig said. When guests wouldn't come inside for dinner catered by Mis en Place because they wanted to watch her stand in the surf, Craig was asked to usher her back onto the sand.