Saturday, October 26, 2013

Elephants 'R' Us

We've probably all been to a zoo or circus and laid eyes on an elephant. Do spectators know where that giant creature originated, and how it feels to be a lumbering spectacle pelted by peanuts? Or how it was trained to stand on its hind legs, sit upright, lie down, or join a train of elephants strung together by their trunks like a daisey chain?

A complimentary phrase, "You have the memory of an elephant" clues us in to a sad fact. Most elephants were captured in the wild, separated from mother and tribe, and crated off to a foreign world where they were chained and punished into submission. Even if one is born in captivity, elephants are bought and sold, traded like Monopoly cards. And they remember that tearing of the emotional thread. 

The Che Guevaras of the elephant world occasionally rise up and throw off their trainers, using their trunks and feet instead of guns, but with much the same effect. Babies won't do that but the mature elephant, wising up, can suddenly rebel. To us it is a random act of violence. To the elephant, it is deliberate retaliation based on an embedded memory of captivity and bondage.

Our entertainment at its essence is animal slavery, akin to human slavery when our African brethren were snatched from their villages amidst the savannas and forests. Like slaves, elephants survive through submission and performing the tasks of the master. Like slaves, elephants' families were and are separated and sold off, with no regard to the emotional content of those beings.

Amazingly, pockets of humankind now recognize that elephants are one of us. In various countries around the world, they are no longer permitted in zoos and circuses. Allowed to survive in the wild or in sancturaries, perhaps the elephant liberation movement is gaining traction.

I can't castigate myself for delighting at the Ringling Brother's Circus acts at age three, but now I would never patronize a venue where elephants are paraded for show, just as I would never try to locate a slave auction at some underground location in Los Angeles just to delight in the spectacle. 

In the Buddhist tradition, it is said that all beings have been your mother at one time or another. While it is hard to wrap one's head around that, we can at least cognize that elephants, and in fact all creatures, have hearts and souls, just like us.


  1. I really wonder whether we all do have hearts and souls given the atrocities of which we are capable and in which we even rejoice. Richard. Ps: including the slaughter of elephants, rhinos and the humans outside our little "elite"clan.

  2. Thanks for your response. A teacher once said, "Just because we all have human bodies, it doesn't mean that we are all human beings." I think that says it all! And even among animals, some show more tolerance than others. I guess the luck of the genes and environment make the difference.


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