Monday, January 20, 2014

The Elephant Within

A wild elephant accidentally breaks the leg of a passing camel driver, then scoots him under a tree and stands guard for a day until the man is discovered by a search party.

Upon being captured, a bull elephant audibly weeps, tears streaming from his eyes. Around him other captive elephants lie prostrate, silently crying.

Placed in a sanctuary for elephants retired from zoos and circuses, two elephants who’d once worked in the same circus are reunited. It’s been 22 years. Put in adjacent stalls, they explore each other with their trunks and then try to climb in together. They both begin to roar loudly. Allowed in the same pen, they become inseparable from that day forward.

What of keeping these enormous animals captive for our entertainment? The best facilities cannot support the herd environment elephants are adapted to, and some animals live without a single pachyderm companion. Living in pens, the animals are bored, even when they are not in physical discomfort—and they often are. The structure of elephants’ feet, made to absorb seismic waves, makes them “especially susceptible to distress . . . severe elephant foot problems are depressingly common in zoos and other captive situations, where the animals must stand on concrete.” Some American zoos, deciding that the elephant cannot ethically be kept captive, have sent their star attractions to sanctuaries.

The elephant is due these kindnesses, even if, Nicol concedes, its inner life remains opaque to us. She quotes the naturalist Henry Beston, who, in The Outermost House (1928), wrote, 

“We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. . . . In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time.”

- More Here

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