Babar-ians at the Gate

We write about elephants, you write us letters!

It's a truism of journalism that nothing gets a response like articles about race, animals or executing Nick Carter. Amen. See, I never receive letters—EVER. Well, except when I did a piece satirically suspicious of Arabs—more than 500 outraged missives; again, I'm very sorry—a piece about Nick Carter receiving the death penalty for drunk driving—I regret nothing—and a piece I did a couple of weeks ago about the treatment of circus elephants ("Dumbo and Dumber," Aug. 4). We've received nearly 100 letters about the latter, most of which think I'm the greatest thing ever. That seemed reason enough to run an extended sampling.


The article on the use and abuse of elephants by the Ringling Bros. circus was fantastic. As a clown who performed with Ringling years ago, I can state emphatically that the elephants are still trained and handled the way they were when I was on the show—with brute force in the form of beatings, whips, and verbal and physical intimidation. I still love the rest of the circus, but I urge fans that care about the animals to boycott the show until the animal acts are gone. When enough people do that, the suffering of "performing" animals will end.
Mr. Kelly Tansy, clown
Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus, Blue unit, 1979-1980

Wow. "Thank you" feels so inadequate to the outstanding story you printed on elephants. If everyone knew the truth about how circus elephants are trained and treated, we'd all go to Cirque du Soleil instead.
Alex Frederick
Brookings, OR

It's so refreshing to know that someone actually "gets it" from a common-sense point of view. Any animal activist can go on and on against this practice, but you don't have to be an activist to see it is wrong. Plain and simple. I hope this article opens the hearts and minds of those ready to receive some simple . . . well, common sense!
Lizza Reed
Ventura, CA

Thanks for another provocative piece that puts pressure on circuses to clean up their act. After reading your article, I'll be sure to patronize the Cirque du Soleil at my earliest convenience. As they suggest, wild animals belong in the wild. We should be spending money to preserve their habitat, not to watch them demeaned for human profit.
Eric Prescott
Via e-mail

Thank you for alerting us about the inherent cruelty that circus elephants have to endure in order to perform in the ring. Circuses aren't much fun for their biggest stars. According to the web page www.elephants.com, there are some 600 captive elephants in the United States. At the Tennessee Elephant Sanctuary, elephants are reintroduced to their natural habitat after years of captivity and abuse. Instead of enduring steel pens and chains, the pachyderms roam 2,700 acres of forest and pasture land in the rolling hills of central Tennessee. Due to the astronomical cost of keeping elephants, only 19 retired zoo and circus elephants are kept at the Sanctuary. They could keep up to 100. Your article could lead to greater financial support for the Sanctuary and the liberation of these wonderful animals to a place where they can enjoy their retirement.
Karl Losken
North Vancouver, BC

I am very active with Elephant Nature Park, a sanctuary in Thailand where I even have my own elephant, one I purchased out of a trekking camp. I do a lot of fieldwork in Asia and some in Africa and travel to see elephants in all types of situations: in captivity and in the wild in the various range states where they still exist. I also attend every educational opportunity and conference relating to elephants to see this majestic creature from all viewpoints. I think the writer of this article was trying to make a point that wasn't there. Ankas, the stick with the hook on it, are more than an implement of torture. It is a tool, as is a collar/leash or harness for a pet dog. These tools can be used constructively or destructively. It depends upon the hands in which they are held. The article doesn't mention touching the animal at all, much less beating it or jabbing it, yet that is surely the inference you want the reader to get—and most unfairly. The anka is used as an extension of the arm for many commands . . . Steve Lowery is obviously a PETA/IDA card-carrying member. I was myself at one time, and I truly believe no one needs to wear fur, we should eat less meat (if any at all), hens should be free-range, etc. But when they decided they could raise big bucks with elephant "issues," I bailed out quickly. Their lack of knowledge about this species is spectacular! It would be worth a great laugh were it not a fact that the people who really can (and do) take the best care of the individual animals and are working to keep both African and Asian elephants from becoming extinct are the targets of much misaligned grief. Think of the old and ailing elephants moved "to a sanctuary" who, because of their health issues, often age-related (hello . . . all animals do get such health problems) and even more because of elephant society and what makes a prey species feel safe (familiarly: same place, people, procedures), have died shortly after the move. In those cases, no one has acknowledged the stress from the move and its compounding effect on the animal's health, much less will to live. In short, a miserable piece of journalism, and I'm delighted I don't have your paper landing on my doorstep daily!
Linda Reifschneider
Via e-mail

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