Part one: A close encounter with an elephant. An example of human nature versus nature.
A few weeks ago my husband said he had a surprise for me.
I’d just finished reading “The Elephant Whisperer ” by Lawrence Anthony (I highly recommend you read it too) and was again expressing my profound respect, admiration and love of those wonderful beings.
He said, “I’m going to take you to the Toledo Zoo, they have elephants there on a five acre site.”
I had mixed feelings, because I don’t approve of capturing wild animals and putting them in pens, cages and limited space. However, after reading the book, I said, “I’d love to be up close to and touch an elephant before die.” So he’d investigated and came up with the closest to home elephants. It wasn’t going to be equal to a safari where I would see one of my most adored species in their natural habitat, but it was the best he could do.
On the drive there, though not so comfortable on Michigan’s notoriasly bumpy roads, I was eagerly looking forward to meeting some elephants.
Upon arriving at the elephant enclosure I was horrified.
It was barren, smaller than I expected, I couldn’t see anywhere near five acres, and on this extremely hot day it had very little shade for the elephants to find relief from the sun’s scorching rays on their delicate skin. They ate from buckets hoisted high on top of poles and some straw like food strewn on the ground. Hardly any water could be seen; the elephants appeared lethargic, even morose. These inherently nomadic creatures were extremely confined in what looked like a dry desert landscape.
We watched a couple of mature elephants eating from the buckets while I wondered if they were actually enjoying the food. In the wild elephants eat moist green grasses and leaves from trees; full of tasty nutrition for them. After eating for a while one of them moved to the back wall of the compound, urinated and defecated. This brought loud exclamations and laughter from onlookers. Children and adults shouted, “Wow” and “Look at all that,” I thought, ‘How could you be surprised by the volume of waste deposited on the ground considering the size of the animals? And why are you not as shocked by the unnatural environment in which they are enclosed?’
We then went through a tunnel to a room where two elephants could be seen from another viewpoint. A cement lined moat with a fence above it separated us from the animals. Behind it we could see a mother and baby elephant trying desperately to get into an enclosure that was barred to them by huge heavy doors. It was a pitiful sight. They kept searching for a way to open the doors, their trunks constantly groping up and down where the sliding doors overlapped; they were obviously trying to find a latch or handle they could use to open the doors. We could see through the glass into the room they were trying to access; it had high ceilings and a roof that shaded it from the sun, it was only dimly lit. The dirt floor was raked smooth. It looked cool and inviting, even to me.
The baby elephant, a little boy, kept leaning against the doors trying to push them open with his weight, as if saying, “Here Mummy, I’ll get it open for us.”
It was to no avail. Yet he didn’t give up.
Having read a great deal about elephants I knew their body language spoke clearly of their distress. Their constant swaying back and forth, their posture… the look of stress was all about them, their auras emanated depression. Occasionally the mother would come to the barrier that divided their space from ours, which was guarded by an electrified fence, to look into the room where we stood. I felt she was pleading for our assistance. She’d walk up and down the barrier occasionally, and seemed to be saying ‘Can you not see we want to go in there, we need get out of this heat and out of the sun?’ And then, with an obvious sense of futility to communicate her needs, she’d go back to her attempts to get into the room.
There was a lot of noise; children, screaming, some behaving raucously and laughing, parents chatting, the sound echoing loudly in the room adding to the discomfort in the heat in the small space from which we viewed the captives.
One time when she came close to the barrier behind which I was standing, looking in my direction. I began to speak to her softly; doing everything I knew how to communicate telepathically with her, hoping she could hear me above the din.
I told her how I felt for her plight, that if I could I would release her, at least enable her to get into that barred room. I sent her my love, told her over and over again that I loved her and cared deeply for her. Then to my surprise she came and stood directly in front of me, looking right at me, I thought.
I looked into her eyes, named her Lady, and made every conscious effort to connect, sending her messages of my love and caring. I told her that she, according to a sign on the wall would be allowed into that room at 4PM. It was now around 3:30. I asked her if she could please hang in there until then.
I felt I’d made a connection because we remained in eye contact for awhile; I have no idea of how long. At one point she lifted her trunk up so it wrinkled her whole face. I didn’t know what that expression meant, I wished I did. Then to my amazement she moved over to the edge of where the fence and wall to the room almost met and put her trunk into the space between them, reaching towards me.
I felt a huge emotional wave of mournful empathy engulf me. I couldn’t reach far enough to touch her; I felt her frustration. My heart ached and yet at the same time I experienced a sense of joy because I felt that I had somehow connected with her and she was telling me that. She finally slowly walked away, apparently realizing, as I did that we could not have physical contact and that I could not help her. She walked sadly back to her struggles to get into the locked room.
I couldn’t tolerate watching her and her little boy continue to suffer.The heat was getting to me, too. I was wet with perspiration from head to toe, and feeling her stress increased my discomfort and dismay. I was finding it hard to breathe in the stifling air and felt like crying. I felt helpless and angry.
In the car on the way home, I asked my husband if I had imagined the connection, if it were wishful thinking that she and I had communicated somehow. He said, “No, I could see and feel it. I took some movies of it. I’m not sure if I got it all with the pushing and shoving going on.” What he did manage to get is posted on my Youtube channel, address and still picture shown below.I wrote to the zoo keepers and expressed my outrage, my disgust of their terrible treatment and lack of caring and concern for those gentle giants.
I had no reply.
I’ve been a member of many animal protection organizations and will continue to contribute. There sis nothing else I can do. I will go back to the Toledo zoo again, and once more communicate my love and caring to Lady and her little son. I hope they are alive and well. I would not be disappointed though if they were no longer there, but had been released back home into their natural environment. It’s what I wished and prayed for them.
How can we stand by and witness such cruel treatment and say and do nothing. Well, all too many people do. All those visitors to the zoo that day, watching and enjoying seeing the animals in captivity seemed oblivious to the unnatural stressful lives they lead. I realize most people would not otherwise see wild creatures up close and in the flesh; but is that really necessary for them to appreciate nature and respect it, and to want to preserve it?
I doubt, even with his brilliant photography talents and skills that Don could capture the essence of my experience with Lady.
I still occasionally send her a message of love. I can only hope she receives it.
Please do all you can to relieve animals of their suffering, to free those in captivity, and help those wild and domesticated animals who endure torture. Let your voice be heard demand that we all protect those who cannot protect themselves; and give generously to the organizations who work on our behalf to preserve nature and help save all its creations from human exploitation and mistreatment.
TTFN from Elaine