Recent news that elephants are being slowly phased out of circuses is great news for a vast number of people. Elephants are known to be highly intelligent social animals. That they have been exploited for so many years is dreadful.
It is also true that for most of us above a certain age, our first ever exposure to a living pachyderm was at a circus.
No one wants to see these incredible creatures harmed, well, except for stupid and hideous people who believe that elephant ivory is worth killing for and that hunting wild animals makes them look sexier. Which it doesn’t.
But no one honourable would willfully harm any animal.
So the face of circuses is changing, and if some would have their way, so too would zoos.
It’s tricky, because zoos are also places to see animals otherwise impossible to access for most people.
The argument on both sides has merit.
The solution is not cut and dried, elephants are a case in point.
Did you know that an elephant was electrocuted on Coney Island back in 1903? This was done deliberately after the animal was declared dangerous. Topsy, a female Asian elephant, had killed a spectator after being tortured and mishandled by her trainer. The poor beast was poisoned, hung and electrocuted with 6,600 volts, and the entire sad affair was filmed by the Edison Film Company, of Thomas Edison fame.
It has been erroneously reported that the execution of this remarkable mammal was part of the ‘current wars’ of the time, but this is not true.
The video is on You Tube. It is disgusting to say the least. We have come a long way.
Or have we?
In Thailand there was a terrible story last week of 3 wild elephants dying after a farmer in the drought stricken north placed an electric fence around his dam to prevent elephants from drinking his already diminished supply of water.
The farmer was protecting his farm, the elephants were trying to survive.
In Thailand and neighboring countries, there is a fine balance between the needs of people, and the needs of these enormous beasts.
Ask any Thai from the country and they will tell you that once an elephant herd get into your pineapple plantation or banana fields, you can kiss the year’s harvest goodbye.
In Australia, rabbits can be a pest. In England it might be hedgehogs.
In Asia, the infestation of wildlife into your livelihood is THAT MUCH BIGGER to deal with.
So what about sanctuaries, or tourist attractions?
Are the elephants better off being kept away from people in their natural habitat?
Anti ‘elephants as theme-park material’ people will tell you that riding elephants is un-natural, and that the animals are beaten and tortured into submission using cattle prods and sticks, or nails into the skin and fire to control them as babies. Then as adults, the elephants behave submissively.
Not all animal handlers are cruel.
Not every mahout is evil.
Not all animals can be kept as pets.
Certainly is South East Asia, elephants still work in forests and other areas too difficult to access by truck.
What if all the ‘sanctuaries’ stopped allowing tourists to ride the animals? Would the parks still make enough money to survive and, ultimately, support the elephants in their care?
What happens to elephants when they get too old to work?
It’s not like they can be adopted by people looking for a quiet companion.
I love elephants.
Truly, truly love them, but I can’t see a way through this one.
It’s just not that simple.
The farmer was wrong, but he was also desperate. The drought in Thailand is bad, the worst in 14 years. Water, as anyone from a dry country will tell you, is precious.
It is, quite literally for everyone and everything in that story, a matter of life or death.
Zoos and ‘sanctuaries’, whether genuine or merely named as such, are a place for interaction and education.
And exploitation, no doubt.
Just like Tiger Temples, and circuses and even, sometimes, pet shops.
Human beings numbers are on the increase, and other animals are suffering because of it.