of an Asian elephant
Those who have known me since I was a kid may recall my father, Wilbur’s, admiration for elephants and that he collected artful elephant models. Whether hand made or store-bought, this gave us all an easy target gift for him throughout the years. I grew up hearing about how he loved elephants for their loyalty and peacefulness. I wish he were around now to ask him more about why he was so taken with them. Mostly, I think it was a gut feeling he had since he was a baby. I cherish the two soap-carved elephants he made as a child as well as the classic, sepia-toned photograph of him as a two year old with a Buster Brown haircut, wearing a smocked dress and scuffed booties while holding a toy elephant in his lap.
My dad’s influence and my nostalgia for him may have had something to do with the thrill and soulfulness that overcame me on the day Ali, Dave and I visited PAWS, a beautiful 2300 acre sanctuary for elephants, tigers and eventually bears who have been rescued or retired from zoos and circuses. (Performing Animal Welfare Society - http://www.pawsweb.org/). For me it was
also the splendor and pure emotion that filled me as I stood in the presence of nine magnificent elephants that were able to express their elephantness in ways I’d not experienced before.
Most of the elephants are relaxed and playful, with each other and also with Ed Steward who, with his wife, Pat Derby, founded the sanctuary in 1984. Here, at PAWS, the elephants have much larger areas of varied terrain to roam than at zoos and certainly circuses. (“Not big enough”, says Ed, “but adequate”.) They are treated respectfully and humanely, never chained, bullied or required to perform in any way. Many have been healing from grave psychological/emotional wounds and some sustain physical ailments from being kept for years in unhealthy conditions. Ed explains that every single elephant in captivity who has been taken from the wild, (the great majority of them), have undergone a horrific and brutal process of breaking. He has witnessed it and you could see the sadness in his face as he, without going into much detail, spoke about it,
Talking with Ed was a treat! Although there were well over 100 people gathered before the elephants to learn about them during this
open-house day, only a very few of us chose to listen to Ed and ask questions. We felt we were having our own private conversation. He has a great sense of humor, and a genuine, non-canned, un-full-of-himself way of sharing his knowledge about elephants and his story of how and why PAWS came to be. All the while, Annie, explored him with her agile and sensitive trunk, wrapping it around him playfully and frisking him to search curiously for his walkie talkie. He soothed her by scratching her tongue, then plucked some grass and nonchalantly apologized when he realized he’d gotten side tracked before handing the grass to her outstretched trunk. One of the elephants sported a tuft of grass on her back. "She always wears an accessory.” we were told. Later she’d changed outfits and was wearing some tree limbs on her back instead. As Dave says, “If you can’t accessorize, why get out of bed in the morning.”
Dave, Ali and I were mesmerized that day, in awe of these beautiful, charming, sensitive, highly social, intelligent, very expressive and communicative creatures. Hopefully, someday there will no longer be need for such a facility, when humans put a
Ali donated a painting she made of Tinkerbell at the San Francisco Zoo, before the Asian elephant lived out the end of her life at PAWS.
In thanks for Ali's generous donation PAWS gave her tickets to their open house/fundraiser. Dave and I were happy to join her.
halt to incarcerating elephants and other such wild animals for zoos and circuses. But until then, at least these individuals can live out the rest of their long lives in peace and relative freedom.
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