Guest blog post by Diana Essert who worked at Washington Park Zoo, now called the Oregon Zoo, in Portland, OR
Elephants have a huge vocabulary of sounds. When they’re happy or contented, they make a noise like a very low rumbling purr. You can see the area of their head between their eyes actually vibrating if you’re standing close enough. And, of course, when there’s a reunion of old, long-time-no-see friends, they trumpet and whoosh air in their trunks as well as purring.
Their skulls are very porous, which enables them to create loud and soft sounds including the long-distance calls which travel through the ground as well as through the air.
They also make roaring/screaming sounds like nothing you’ve ever heard or imagined if they’re really distressed or angry. I only heard that once at the zoo…when a calf was separated from its mother and aunties to be quarantined in preparation for being sent to another zoo. That was a scary and amazing event, at least to my inexperienced self.
All it took was opening a hydraulic door between two rooms wide enough for the calf to charge through, which it loved to do ahead of the adults. Then the door was closed and the resulting commotion sounded like the end of the world which, for the mother and aunties, it was. Rosy stood on her hind legs and beat on the door with her front feet and head. Soon enough, everyone settled down though and just sort of grumbled among themselves the rest of the day. All those particular females had had other calves taken away, so they seemed resigned that it had happened again.
I’ve done a lot of soul-searching in the past few years, thinking about captive animals in general and the ones I worked with in particular. I think there are too many egos and uneducated people involved in a lot of zookeeping situations. Our elephants weren’t injured or abused, when I was there, but there were also too many (3 bulls, 8 cows and 2 calves) for only three keepers to do justice to individual attention, enrichment and physical care (attention to feet in particular).
Elephants in captivity are probably happy at least some of the time or at least resigned to their state of being as best they can be, depending on the environment of their exhibits, enrichment programs and the attitudes of their keepers. There are zoos that are absolute hell for animals, not just the larger animals, but all of them. And there are excellent zoos, too. Elephants are far happier in sanctuaries where they can roam and have natural substrates…grasses, dirt. There are two in the U.S. ~ PAWS near here in Galt, CA and the Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, TN. Both have thousands of acres.
These elephants in France may have overall health problems like advanced arthritis or infected feet where, if they’re in pain or having trouble walking, getting up and down, etc. may make euthanasia a kindness. Because of their size and intelligence, it’s difficult to get enough medication into an elephant if a medical problem is acute.
There’s a lot of politics and face-saving that goes on behind the scenes, so the media/Bridget Bardot may not, probably don’t, know the whole story. She seems to have a sanctuary of some sort, but who knows whether it’s decent or appropriate.
The story in the news:
French President Francois Hollande has personally stepped in to prevent two elephants from being put down in the eastern city of Lyon.
“Should President François Hollande intervene to rescue two sick elephants in a Lyon zoo?
The fate of Baby and Nepal, Asian elephants exiled from a circus for bad behaviour, has hung in the balance for almost three years. They are suspected of carrying the human form of tuberculosis. In theory, by government edict, they are to be given lethal injections by Friday of this week.
A petition on the internet calling on President Hollande to save the elephants has gathered over 70,000 signatures.”
One of our elephants, my favorite one, had very bad arthritis and foot problems. The vet tried everything he could to give her pain meds and antibiotics, both injections and huge bolluses of aspirin. But 8,000 pounds of elephant needing large amounts of meds twice a day was practically impossible to do. We ground them up and mixed in with her grain, diluted them in water with chocolate or butterscotch syrup from the concessions, hid them in apples, cantaloupes etc. She caught on pretty fast to every trick and then it was on to some different new idea. Eventually, when it was obviously painful for her to get around, she was euthanized (fortunately after I no longer worked there). I think her skeleton is on display in the Elephant Museum at the zoo.
Right now, at the San Antonio Zoo, there’s an elephant ironically named Lucky and her exhibit-mate, Queenie, who’re in a tiny, barren exhibit with not even an adequate water feature for animals their size. The Director of the zoo is the former animal curator at Oregon Zoo. I’m amazed and appalled that he would allow them to stay there in those conditions, especially when they’ve been guaranteed a space at the Hohenwald sanctuary.
There are three elephants in Toronto scheduled to come to PAWS sometime later this year. But a lot of people there are up in arms about it, including their keepers at the zoo, even though the winters are very hard on all three of them. I think it’s the city council who’ve made that decision because of budget cuts as well as pressure from animal welfare groups.
I think, in general, all the animals on earth would be much better off if there were no people to poach, pollute and persecute them. The best of all possible worlds for animals would be one without humans…just my opinion!!
Here’s a sweet little video. I love the calf at the end who senses something suspicious, flaps its ears and stops to stare at the camera. For more sweetness, check out the pictures and stories at an elephant orphanage in Africa ~ http://www.sheldrickwildlifetrust.org/
P.S. Elephants don’t believe in God. They do, however, believe in themselves and in Mother Nature, from whence everything began.