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Elephants Don't Belong in a Zoo

Story ID:5146
Written by:Suzana Margaret Megles (bio, contact, other stories)
Story type:Musings, Essays and Such
Location:various various USA
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As a former elementary school teacher who sadly was unaware of animal
suffering when I taught school - if I could -I would go back and tell the children
not to attend any zoos or circuses which had elephants. There probably would
be a good chance that if I did this today, some irate parent would tell the
principal that I was overstepping my authority. How sad- if true that compassion
cannot be taught in our schools.

Most of the animals in captivity do suffer in these two venues, but it is believed
that the elephants suffer more than the other animals. I think Care2's
petition says it so well with the introduction to their petition: "Baby elephants
are ripped away from their mothers and forced into a life of abuse and humiliation
that is reinforced with bullhooks, whips, and electric prods."

How sad that the petition says that Ringling Bros. Circus elephants are
scheduled to appear at Coney Island, New York this summer. New York City
officials announced that Taconic Investments has donated land for Ringling Bros.
which should help save the "suffering" amusement district.

How nice - the "suffering" amusement district needs to be saved by causing
suffering to the elephants -and they do suffer. I would advise anyone going
East on vacation to skip Coney Island and instead visit "The Teardrop Monument"
on the Jersey shore. How many people know that this monument was given
to America by the Russian people in response to their sorrow surrounding the
tragedy of 9/11? I think the Media dropped the ball on this one.

I was saddened to read an account of one elephant who died on a street corner
in Cleveland in the 40's. She was being featured for a circus promotion. She
had been tethered on a downtown corner on a very hot day in summer without
shade or shelter of any kind. To my knowledge, she probably wasn't hosed down
all day or even given water to drink as the crowds milled around her in
fascination with their cold drinks. She would not see another dawn. Perhaps
it was the best thing that could have happened to her. She would no longer suffer
from the lack of concern of her handlers and the uncaring crowd.

This happened a long time ago you say - things are better today. Well, let's fast
forward to August 1994. You might recall the story of Tyke which made the
news. During a Circus International performance in Hawaii she crushed to
death her trainer who had been accused of elephant abuse in the 80's. We
seem to be more tolerant and understanding of people in abusive situations
who perform cruel acts in retaliation but can't figure out why animals behave
likewise in similar circumstances. It's really quite simple - she was an abused
animal and finally could take no more and lashed out at her abuser.

On that day Tyke bolted from the arena and raged through downtown Kakaako.
Police fired 86 shots in their pursuit, and Tyke eventually collapsed from her
wounds. The photographer who took the picture of this poor beautiful creature
struggling to make a statement to man who abused her for so long wrote:

"Not one day goes by that I don't think of that poor elephant. At the end she could
only lift herself on her front feet and swing her trunk, pathetically trying to ward
off the bullets. It was the sickest thing I've ever seen and I've been shooting
news for over 20 years."

On June 20th -In Defense of Animals e-mailed us a message - "Lily Tomlin
Wants YOU to Participate in IDA"s International Day of Action for Elephant in
Zoos." Ms. Tomlin (actress and activist) has called for "mammoth changes" for
elephants in zoos.

She said "Elephants were never meant to live in confinement of small urban
zoos, where they are suffering terribly every day. That's why I'm urging everyone
to get involved in the first International Day of Action for Elephants in Zoos on
June 20th and help bring about the mammoth changes that elephants so
desperately need. I don't think anyone in their right mind would think a zoo
display provides enough space for these giants of the earth. But if the public
is informed, they will raise an outcry and demand change. It's time to stop the
destructive practice of keeping elephants in zoos."

I couldn't agree with you more Ms.Tomlin and thank you for speaking for those
who cannot. I think many of us don't want to see them in circuses either.

IDA has listed the What, the When, and the Where:

What: Many demonstrations, around the world, on behalf of elephants suffering
in zoos.
When: Saturday, June 20

Where: Zoos all around the world. Events are already scheduled in California,
Georgia, Florida, Illinois, Missouri, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas,
Washingon, and internationally in Australia, Canada, France, Spain, and Thailand.

Anyone wanting to help arrange an event or to volunteer with an already-scheduled
event please e-mail melissa@adausa.org.

Thinking of elephants, I am reminded of a happy ending for some of them who
were lucky enough to retire to an elephant sanctuary in Tennessee. Carol
Buckley had been performing with her elephant Tarra in amusement parks
and circuses for years when she began to realize that this was no life for either
her or Tarra. So in 1995 she and her partner Scott Blaize bought 800 acres of
rolling farm land in Tennessee and started an elephant sanctuary. It is a virtual
"heaven" for Tarra, Barbara, and Jenny. (I wrote this in my homespun book in
2003. There are probably many more lucky elephants there now.)

But the story of Shirley intrigued me. She had spent 20 years in Louisiana without
any elephant companionship. For elephants this is very difficult because they are
social beings. Shirley had no one but her human keeper.

Solomon, her black keeper was glad that the owners decided they couldn't afford
to keep Shirley any longer and were letting Carol and Scott take her to their

On the appointed day Shirley was hesitant in going into the large van. After 20
years, she had had enough of vans, trains, and road travel. Even Solomon could
not lead Shirley with her leg chains into the van. Finally, they had to use a winch
to get her in. I think had she had some inkling that they were taking her to
"Shangri-la," she would have "flown" into the van.

It was a long 14-hour trip traveled in the cool of night. When they finally got
there, Solomon hosed her for the last time and said --that he didn't know who
was the first to put leg chains on Shirley, but he would be the LAST to take
them off!

They all watched as Shirley after 20 years was to meet her first elephant --Tarra
who had come into the barn first. None of them knew what to expect. Both
elephants came together and extended their trunks to each other through the
bar divider. What a wonder for Shirley, but yet an even greater one was awaiting

Later that night- loud trumpeting sounds were heard coming from the barn
because Shirley saw Jenny -the last elephant she knew and remembered.
After twenty years of separation, each remembered and recognized the other,
and now they would never be separated again as they walked out together
into the lush farm land like two peas in a pod.