I have a difficult time with the whole animal rights movement. Seems to me it is a reflection and symptom of deeper societal ills. You see, I’ve been an elephant trainer. I’ve traveled and performed with circus elephants. And when I see protesters and meet people that “believe” in animal rights, I have a difficult time buying into their imagination. They imagine the worst, without knowing the current reality. Elephant trainers are the most courageous, hard-working people I know. They face their own mortality and demise everyday. They know their close contact with elephants could kill them in an instant. Yet they get up everyday and shovel shit. They have been thrust into this position unwittingly. When they started there wasn’t the media magnifying glass, 30-sec edited videos, sound bites and uneducated* public judging their every move. They simply spent all day, everyday, in the service of these amazing beasts and learned to care for them as best they could. Like any learning experience in life, there are always successes and failures. As science has caught up with animal learning and husbandry, methods have changed. As society has grown and cemented over nature, green spaces for elephants and humans have disappeared. What we are left with is a jolting discrepancy between how we imagine elephants should live and what their current reality, caused by our short-sighted imaginations, really is. In smaller towns and rodeo grounds elephants don’t seem so out of place. They’re just exotic livestock doing their thing. Eating, pooping, and exercising in the form of circus tricks. With the companionship and connection of a caring animal person, they thrive in this situation. They have each other for company and a reason to live. We all need this.
I watch as small children are ecstatic the first time they see an elephant. They point and get stiff and twitchy with joy and wonder. They smile back at their parents making sure they see what they see. They see the wonder and beauty that is an elephant. They believe the elephants are as happy to be there as the kids are to see them. They see the purest, unbiased truth.
Sadly, the current “belief” by the animal rights movement would insist that the elephants are miserable. Their children are told that it is bad for humans and elephants to co-exist and work side-by-side. That feeding, caring and shoveling shit for the elephants is not an honorable job. These children respond by holding their noses and screeching that “Ew, elephants stink!” They are children brainwashed by adult’s mistaken beliefs and go on to invest their time in cleaner, sanitized versions of life, such as television, video games and jobs indoors.
I have the hardest time with people that own animals themselves as pets; dogs, cats, horses, etc. but think that “exotic” animals should be maintained at a distance in so-called sanctuaries. So-called because whose sanctuary is it really? They are still captive. Only the rich benefactors and contributors can now view them. They are still on display and don’t have a job to do. They still don’t have natural families and the ability to wander at will. What were once the earths beings are now the fund raising poster children of holier-than-thou non-profit administrators. I realize they mean well. I’m just not so sure it’s really in the elephant’s best interest. Ideally, in my own imagination, it would be wonderful to see elephants everywhere. Able to co-exist in cities because we had left corridors of greenery for them to hang out in, with their handlers of course. I’m not saying they can be left to wander on their own in the midst of humanity as we know it nowadays, just that it would be great to be able to see elephants out for walks as we drove to work. One time we were hired to take an amazing elephant to a football game for a half-time promotion. I remember watching as people rushed past to their seats, not even noticing this huge beast calmly waiting his cue. I was saddened to think of what they were missing. Maybe they were saddened to think we were missing the game. Somehow I don’t think so.
Rather than adversaries, wouldn’t it be in the best interest of elephants to all work together and pool resources for their benefit?
I suppose I have a very unique and unusual perspective and would hope that I can infect others with visions of humans and animals large and small, living and working together, sharing their lives and their smells with each other, so that the small beings among us, children that is, can be exposed to the wonder of what nature has wrought, and know that the earth is a place to be happily shared by us all.
*By uneducated I’m not referring to formal schooling. Rather animal smarts. Farmers, ranchers and others that have been raised around and work with animals live in tune with animal intelligence. Highly-educated, institutionalized, intellectual, book-learning, city-raised people are sorely lacking this.