What Can An Elephant Teach Children?
The News-Times; Wednesday, March 21, 2012
By Eileen FitzGerald
An elephant comes to Danbury this weekend as part of the Piccadilly Circus.
What could a child in the Danbury area learn about an elephant by having it parade around the arena doing tricks at the beck and call of a trainer?
One thing a child will learn for sure is that the adults around them believe it's OK to remove animals from their natural habitats to entertain humans even if it degrades and humiliates the animals.
Elephants are the largest of all land mammals, have the largest brains in the animal kingdom and live up to 70 years. They live in tight social units led by a matriarch, and they cry and play. They have greeting ceremonies and they grieve.
Cirque du Soleil and the Pickle Family Circus prove it's not necessary to have animals at the circus, because they create a magical experience without them.
Piccadilly Circus will have other animals besides the elephant, including a white tiger and racing camels. And it's not the only circus that still has "animal acts." But since Piccadilly is in town, the spotlight is on it.
I love elephants and take up their banner on behalf of all animals in circuses.
I used to work at race tracks and loved being with the thoroughbreds. Even though I saw how much they loved to run, I don't support that industry anymore either.
If you must go to the circus this weekend, peer into the elephant's eye. Do you see a glimmer of joy? You're likely to see a sad, defeated look.
There are about 400 elephants in captivity in the U.S., with less than 30 protected in two sanctuaries. The rest are in circuses, zoos, or used in television or film productions. A few are privately owned.
The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tenn., is designed specifically for old, sick or needy elephants retired from zoos and circuses. It is licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.
It currently has 14 Asian and African elephants on more than 2,700 acres in three separate and protected natural-habitat environments.
Many of the elephants bear the physical and mental scars of living in zoos and performing in circuses, including post-traumatic stress disorder, tuberculosis, and bad joints and feet from standing on hard surfaces.
Most adult elephants were brought from Africa or Asia after being taken from their mothers at a very young age, which is psychologically traumatic for them, said Rob Atkinson, CEO of the sanctuary.
Their circus lives are counter to their natural lives. "They should be living in large family groups, communicating with each other," he said.
Elephants remember the voices of more than 200 other elephants, have a concept of death and are altruistic, he said. "They are highly intelligent and recognize themselves in the mirror. In the circus, they are made to look silly, and it's stressful. The message is all wrong."
The sanctuary's website is www.elephants.com, and this year it's begun work on a veterinary care center.
Don't patronize circuses that use animals, and if you want to donate to a charity, how about the sanctuary so it can expand its herd of rescued elephants?
That's a lesson for the kids.