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1 June 2005

On Ned's first birthday, August 1968, my friend Char and I found ourselves down at the train station in Oakland watching the Ringling Brothers-Barnum and Bailey circus unload its animals and prepare for the parade to the coliseum grounds, where the circus would be setting up for a week of performances.

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It was all fun and exciting, watching the elephants being unloaded and then later exciting and terrifying, as we found ourselves trapped between the tent housing the big cats to our backs and the parading elephants just a couple of feet in front of us, with five young children in tow, especially when one of the elephant handlers called out a warning -- "Watch out for that one--she kicks."

We didn't go to the circus that year--the kids were too young to appreciate it, but later when they got older we did attend a few circuses.  It was always fun especially watching the elephants, those huge lumbering beasts festooned with feathers and sequins, balancing on impossibly tiny platforms, rising up with their front feet on the back of the elephant in front of them.

Elephants never failed to delight the crowd.

Elephants have always been my favorites when going to visit a zoo.   On our recent trip to Chicago, I spent a lot of time at the elephant enclosure taking photos of the three elephants (only two of which are in this photo).

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My close up lens allowed me to get very close photos--close enough to see the eyes and the long eyelashes.

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That was less than a year ago.  Those elephants are all dead now. 

All of the Lincoln Park Zoo elephants died within a matter of months.  The first of Chicago's three elephants died in October of tuberculosis, a common ailment of elephants in zoos.  The second elephant was put to sleep when she was found lying on the floor of her enclosure, unresponsive.  They say she died of old age, though she was only 55 and the average lifespan of an elephant in the wild is 60-80 years.  It was then decided to send the third elephant to a zoo in Utah, where she could be with other elephants.  However the third elephant, Wankie never made it.  She was "improperly prepared"  to be sent, and she lay down in her crate in route and never got up.   She, too, had to be euthenized.

I don't remember when I began reading Moon Rattled on a regular basis, but thanks to her entries I have become much more aware of the cruel treatment of elephants in circuses.   If you think that is an exaggeration, watch some of the videos on this page.  If you want to cry, watch this.  I look at our dogs and I wonder if I could deliberately zap them with an electrical current to make them do what I want them.  Could I sink a sharp metal hook into their backside to move them from place to place?  As an animal lover, can I stomach this kind of continual treatment of another species just for the enjoyment of watching an elephant with feathers on its head march around a ring for a few minutes?

I've also learned about the problems with elephants in zoos, many of whom die of diseases like tuberculosis or conditions caused by foot problems which are the result of having to stand on concrete all the time.  I remember when my friend worked at the Los Angeles zoo and wrote about an elephant who was so "mean" that she had to be chained at all times and eventually, after months, was put down because she was a danger to her handlers. 

What makes an elephant mean?  Perhaps being chained all the time?   That would certainly make me a bit testy.

This page lists the ten worst zoos in the country.  To my surprise, the San Diego Wildlife Park was #2 on the list.  I had been thinking that at least here, the animals had more room to move about, natural dirt instead of concrete, and more friends, since elephants are very social animals.  What I didn't realize is that it ships its old elephants out to make way for younger ones.  The old elephants were shipped to Chicago and were the ones which died there recently.

Following the death of one of its elephants, the San Francisco Zoo decided to send its remaining elephants to a sanctuary in the Sierra foothills.  I watched interviews with indignant zoo visitors who couldn't understand why they couldn't bring their little darlings to see the elephant every year or so.

I have been guilty of being one of those people who look forward to seeing elephants in zoos.  I hope that everyone reading this entry does as I have done, and learn about the reality about captive elephants, the suffering they endure, the cruelty to which they are subjected.  I hope everyone helps to get the word out that as much as we enjoy seeing these big animals, our enjoyment comes at the cost of great suffering to the elephants, and that's just not right.

Check the news page on the web site of the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee and see what people are trying to do to help these animals.  Especially look at the stories of the animals who have been retired to the sanctuary.  Check their faces and realize that elephants do smile.  You can definitely tell the difference between an elephant who has been at the sanctuary for awhile and that which is in a zoo--the sanctuary elephants smile.  They look relaxed and happy. 

I'd love to be able to see live elephants whenever I want, but I no longer want to know that I am contributing to the needless torture of these magnificent creatures. 

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Another of the Chicago elephants, now dead.

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