Man visits elephant he helped get for NC Zoo

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C'Sar the elephant (NC Zoo photo by Tom Gillespie)

ASHEBORO, N.C. — A Charlotte man was reunited with an elephant he brought to the North Carolina Zoo when the animal was no bigger than a pony.

The News & Record of Greensboro reported that Angus Mercer went to the zoo Friday in Asheboro with three generations of his family to visit C’sar. He helped the zoo acquire it through a sponsorship program in the late 1970s.

“That’s the little guy you brought here,” mammal curator Guy Lichty said after Mercer’s family visited C’sar at an off-exhibit holding barn at the back of the Africa section of the zoo.

“I can’t believe it,” Mercer, 85, said as he rounded a turn and saw C’sar’s tusks that are the size of baseball bats for the first time in decades. “Boy, ain’t he big!”

The popular attraction, who is about 38, kept his eyes on the group, which got closer than normal ticket buyers to feed him bread and peanut-butter snacks.

Mercer, the owner of an equipment sales and rental company, was inspired to pay for the elephant in 1978 by then-Gov. Jim Hunt. The governor was urging businesses to support the new state zoo.

Some companies gave money to the zoo. Mercer bought into an idea brought to him by Rep. Sue Myrick, who then ran a marketing company with her husband. Donate a baby elephant, she said, and use him to help make the company a household name.

“Something big and powerful tied right in with the company,” Mercer said.

A 4-year-old elephant for purchase was located through the International Animal Exchange at a Cincinnati zoo — and Mercer got out his checkbook. Mercer made the four yearly installments of $3,000 to get him.

C’sar would get his name from the acronym of Mercer’s equipment sales company: Contractors Service and Rentals. The Charlotte-based company — later sold and renamed United Rentals — had branches all over the state, including Greensboro. Mercer still holds stock.

“It worked,” Mercer said. “We were on just about every television station in the state.”

C’sar, who tipped the scales at 1,600 pounds then, now weighs about five tons. He is now one of seven elephants at the zoo.

C’sar is mostly healthy, but he was unable to mate with any of the female elephants because of reproductive problems.

The last time Mercer saw C’sar was a year after the elephant’s arrival at the zoo, when keepers let the family throw him a birthday party.

“The kids made a birthday cake — two loaves of bread, side by side, and covered with peanut butter,” Mercer said. “He ate the peanut butter birthday cake like it was delicious.”

At the end of Friday’s visit, C’sar’s trainers got him to perform a few tricks.

“He’s just a gentle giant,” Mercer said.

Credit: The Associated Press.