Yesterday was the last time Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey showcased elephants in their circus performances. Oh, Happy Day! For more than 200 yrs. these majestic animals have been forced to live in small enclosures, treated poorly, and made to do tricks that were harmful to their massive size simply to entertain paying customers. They have been restrained and beaten with little to no regard for their sensitive nature.
I have loved elephants ever since I first saw them up close and personal at the Pittsburgh zoo. I think I was five years old then, yet I could sense the sadness in their eyes. Even though many of the visitors threw peanuts at them, none of the elephants were quick to fetch and eat. Instead they slowly moved towards the offering, lowered their trunks, and half-heartedly scooped up a snack doing what was expected of them without complaint. After that initial encounter, each and every time I was at the zoo, which had to be more than 100 instances over 66 yrs.I made my way to the elephant house hoping to catch a glimpse of my favorite exhibit. I'd stand at the bars and secretly promise that if I could, I would unlock the cage, whisk them back to their natural environment, and set them free. I always had a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes knowing that it was a promise I could never keep.
While growing up, I took my children to the circus many times. When the elephants entered the ring, I'd be sure to tell them how magnificent these creatures were, I noted that despite their wrinkly appearance, they were highly intelligent and were capable of deep emotion. I needed my kids to develop a keen respect for elephants who were being held against their will, yet remained amicable towards their keepers and their audiences. I often wondered what I'd do under similar circumstances.
According to the news, Ringling Bros. will begin moving the elephants to their 200 acre conservation center in Florida. This attempt to reintroduce these animals to a natural habitat is noteworthy, but far from ideal. At least they will now have the freedom to roam about unimpeded by bars and tethers. It will take years for them to become comfortable with no restrictions, but since they are so smart, eventually they will adapt. My dream for all who have been kept in captivity of so many years is that one day they will be taken to either California or Tennessee, two states that have certified elephant sanctuaries comprised of over 2,000 acres. It is only then that these wonderful animals will finally be home where their lives can return to normalcy. Here they can laze in the water, romp through the high grasses, and enjoy the sunshine on their backs. They can give birth to their young, and honor their dead in a way that is more moving than even human practice.
I myself had nothing to do with their release, but somehow feel that my secret promise has come to fruition.
My heart is light,, my spirit, soaring! Oh, Happy Day!