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Published: December 28th 2007
Elephants Need Room
I saw this sign in the elephant exhibit at the Oregon Zoo. Zoos clearly know that elephants need room in the wild. Some zoos in the U.S. are making the decision to close their elephant exhibits because they realize their precious elephants need more room than they can provide. It is true. This is why I do not understand why zoos such as the Oregon Zoo is working so hard on breeding their captive elephants. Rose-Tu is now reportedly pregnant, but does that mean that the zoo is going to add more space?!!! Breeding in zoos without expanding and enhancing their habitat is going in the wrong direction: The quality of the elephant's life experience needs to be taken into account, as we would want ours to be. A zoo is not a great place to live if you are an elephant, despite the limited "enrichment" activities they are provided. In a true sanctuary, it would offer adequate space, companionship, and freedom of choice in their daily activities (not just what we want them to do). I will wish this for every elephant living in captivity, as despite our best efforts, even the "best" zoo is still a zoo.
Please remember and be reasssured: You do not have to be or become an animal rights' fanatic to learn and care about animals living in captivity:
So saying that, before I leave on this "journey for the animals" I plan on visiting the Oregon Zoo in Portland (which I did on January 3rd, 2008- see photos for comments). In the process of my research on animals living in captivity, it is important for me to share what is going on at the many zoos and circuses around the world, including in the United States. If we choose to visit places like these that keep animals in captivity, I would encourage us to do so with open eyes. Truly look at the animals you are visiting. In the silence of your heart, try to feel and understand their experience. This is the beginning step to creating and supporting places that offer more humane opportunities for animals. Soon after returning from India and Thailand, I will be visiting some sanctuaries in the United States, including P.A.W.S. in California (the largest sanctuary in the U.S.). P.A.W.S. has a very good and thought provoking website (http://www.pawsweb.org/) that gives updates on a variety of animals
"Oh Cute... A tricycle for an elephant"
At first glance one may think this, however the sign that is in front of it is telling... it encourages us to imagine training an elephant to ride it. This is a another important topic to consider when we view elephants doing tricks and living their lives as performers in circuses (and in some zoos- some are still expected to do tricks for visitors, as was true at the Oregon Zoo. I witnessed an elephant trainer commanding the big bull elephant Tusko to do a series of tricks, including standing on his head- which he did). The training that elephants (especially young elephants that are energetic and full of life) have to go through would break most of our hearts if we were to know what they have had to go through. If you are truly interested in knowing, please do a little reading on a long standing tradition in Asia called the "crushing ritual"... which basically consists of placing the young elephant in a crate, and inflicting pain upon them until their spirit is broken, aka "crushed." Many believe that harsh training techniques are necessary to control an animal larger than ourselves. However, there has been plenty of success with elephants using positive reinforcement techniques, showing that many of these past training methods are outdated. The consequences of a life filled with fear of punishment, a life in chains or captivity, having to live a life of submission, and isolation from the elephant's original family and preferred social groups are emotionally and psychologically damaging to the elephants we come to visit. Each elephant and animal we see has a past life history that has brought them in front of us. Please pause for just a few moments to consider this.
they have rescued, and those that continue to live in zoos and circuses that will hopefully find their way to a sanctuary in their lifetime. P.A.W.S. also does well at describing the pitfalls of wild animals being kept in captivity.
Also please visit my website @ www.animaldreamers.org
In researching the impact that circus life has on animals (particularly wild animals such as elephants, bears, monkeys, and big cats), I ran across the following excellent website and article, log on to http://advocacy.britannica.com/blog/advocacy/2007/10/circuses-are-no-fun-for-animals-2/. The article does a good job at explaining how circuses and a life of captivity affects the animal's physical, emotional and psychological health. The information was provided by whistle blowers within circuses' own organizations, and other undercover work by animal welfare watch groups: These are like little family secrets that aren't suppose to be known to the outside public. One quote that sums it up well is as follows: "Animals perform not because they want to but because they're afraid not to." I hope that people will take a look at this article, think about the animals you have seen in circuses and zoos, and give it some thought. There are
This young bull elephant looked directly at me for just long enough, stopping his rhythmic motions... then raised his trunk as to wave. Otherwise, he never stopped his movements for at least three hours (of my visit), which seemed related to his restlessness, isolation, and lack of stimulation. Bull elephants often spend most of their time alone, or with other Bull Elephants. However, I was left with the strong impression that in captivity companionship would give comfort and ease these institutional behavioral patterns.
also several links into some other animal welfare and educational sites, including The Tennessee Sanctuary and PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) to name a few. Another very good website and active organization helping elephants and other animals in captivity is called In Defense of Animals @ http://www.idausa.org. They have a listing of the 10 worst zoos in the United States (Oregon Zoo surprisingly made their list in 2006, and they explain why).
Following my visit to the Oregon Zoo, I was left with a few questions: What can be done to impact change in zoos and promote sanctuaries, when visiting animals in circuses and zoos is so ingrained into our culture? How can funding shift from supporting the addition of new exhibits in zoos (that cannot adequately provide for the number of animals they have) be shifted to the development of at least one significant wildlife sanctuary in each state in the United States? Would people be interested in an Oregon Wildlife Sanctuary, instead of or in addition to the Oregon Zoo? Would the Oregon Zoo ever get on board to relocate their animals that need more space and the peace of a free life,
"Look the elephant is dancing for you!"
It was a very sweet comment that the mother made to her little girl, who was pleased with the thought of the elephant dancing just for her. However, this elephant and many animals in captivity will do a variety of things to ease their boredom or anxiety. This one was not dancing, however did seem to be self-soothing himself with his constant movements.
and help fund the development of an Oregon Wildlife Sanctuary? Are people ready to enhance the ways they view and relate to animals? A friend wrote a good comment to me: "We learn by what we have available. Zoos were created in a different time. Our understanding of animals has changed. Perhaps zoos were the beginning."
It would take a significant shift in the awareness of how we understand what animals need, and care enough about their welfare to support the development of something new. It was interesting for me going to the zoo alone, as I could easily be a voyeur into other visitors, watching them and hearing their comments about their zoo experience. Then, it was to witness my own reactions to the comments I was hearing, and what I was experiencing when visiting the animals. Possibly, we are all ready for something different, but it will take all of us to create something better. Education is the first step, then... who knows what we can all do together. The journey continues, but has just begun in so many ways.
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