We are all Elephants

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Elephants on the Edge

I’m having a hard time getting through Elephants on the Edge: What Animals Teach Us about Humanity, by G.A. Bradshaw. In fact, I keep digesting a little in small chunks, then putting it down for a few days. What has happened to the elephants of our world is quite simply terrible: habitat fragmentation, wars, hunting, genocide of entire family groups; babies seeing their mothers and families, everyone they’ve ever known and trusted, murdered before their eyes. This is causing posttraumatic stress disorder PTSD in elephants in a similar manner to humans who have suffered through the same types of tragedies. Young elephants are then taken into captivity and treated shamefully in zoos and circuses.

I want you to read this book so that you know what is happening. It is probably too late for captive or wild elephants to survive in our world, but we should know what has been done, so that we will not repeat it. Here are just a few reasons to not support zoos and circuses who keep elephants:

The Animal Welfare Act (AWA, 1970) and the Endangered Species Act (ESA, 1973) are the two main pieces of federal legislation governing elephant welfare and the safety of humans working with elephants in the United States. From an elephant’s point of view, the laws offer little protection. Tellingly, the AWA is administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and administered through its Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). There are not specific guidelines tailored to care of elephants, with the exception of tuberculosis testing, treatment, and autopsies.

The number of inspectors assigned to monitoring and enforcing the AWA is miserably inadequate. … Records concerning elephant health and transfers are not readily open to the public…

A variety of tools, including food and water deprivation and other methods of causing distress, pain, and injury, are used to force an elephant to live in captivity and submit to total control by the trainer. This process is called breaking. …

Typically, the breaking process begins by forceful removal of infants from their family units, followed by bodily immobilization, beating, and starvation and other deprivation until the elephant accepts the trainer as his or her “master.” A broken elephant is one who has ceased active resistance against restraint and confinement. Negative reinforcement techniques are a part of regular training: bullhook beatings for poor performance, displays of resistance, and/or unapproved socialization with other elephants. The severity of negative conditioning through the breaking process allows the trainer later to use relatively little force in performances. …

An elephant veterinarian for more than thirty years, Schmidt [Michael Schmidt, an elephant veterinarian of the Oregon Zoo in Portland] maintains that “the modern zoo is as dangerous for elephants as it always has been.” The use of the term dangerous is interesting. Of late much has been made about the necessity of captive breeding of elephants because their conditions in the wild are so threatening. Indeed they are; however, statistics comparing free-ranging elephants with those in captivity demonstrate that confinement is not only dangerous but lethal. One of the National Zoo’s leading researchers on elephant reproduction, Janine Brown, predicts that the severity of problems with zoo elephants—more than 30 percent infertility; high infant mortality, including infanticide; neurotic and stereotypic behavior that includes calf rejection, self-mutilations, and intraspecific aggression leading to deaths; serious foot and weight problems—will result in “the extinction of all elephant species in North American zoos within only a few decades.”

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