Early this morning, before the light arrived, I rose quite early in my little house by the river. As usual, after fixing my coffee, I entered the virtual events of a Google news day. Where am I in the world? Much was the same as the days and weeks before, except…except I learned of the death of Chai, an Asian elephant whose spirit once belonged to the forests of her natural home; then it was captured and sent away, across the sea to a foreign land.
I first met her in 2001, in Seattle, when I began working on the elephant documentary Panom. At the time, Chai was incarcerated at Woodland Park Zoo and had just given birth. I learned this had been accomplished by shipping her to be impregnated at Dickerson Zoo in Nebraska; I had also learned that while there, she had exhibited what some humans deem unruly behavior; she was forced on her side, shackled, then beaten with boards by trainers for several hours. Was this really their procedural policy for discipline? Fortunately, someone witnessed it and was willing to report it; the Dickerson Zoo was required to pay a penalty for animal cruelty. Was it stiff enough? No.
Chai was returned to Seattle and, soon after, gave birth to Baby Hansa, infant rock-star of revenue for Woodland Park Zoo; sadly Hansa died only a few years later and the zoo went on a quest to once again impregnate Chai.
I could go on and on about the tragic, inhumane treatment these elephants have suffered at our sad need to entertain ourselves at the expense of other living creatures. So much has been expressed by others in many good ways.
Herein I mostly want to share my sadness for Chai’s sudden death, added to Watoto’s death in 2014, and Hansa’s death in 2007; the burden of loss is yet another quake felt throughout the diminishing kingdom of elephants, precipitated by human gluttony, stupidity, and callousness. That she and Bamboo were not released and allowed to live out their lives within the sanctity of a place as close to their natural home as possible, that they were instead secreted off to yet another zoo speaks volumes about the political subterfuge of zoos and the cowardly acts of those who made this decision, perpetuating the misery and ultimate death of these beautiful animals.
I also wish to express my deepest admiration and gratitude to Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants along with all those who gave support in the long, tireless battle to bring something good into the lives of these impoverished elephants. Even when the zoo sought to assuage the swelling tide of public pressure by simply eliminating the cause, transferring the elephant’s captivity elsewhere, Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants continued their struggle to bring justice. The crusade must go on because while the natural home of the elephant is rapidly disappearing, forest upon forest of human mindlessness and greed continue to grow, ever more rapacious, ever more perilous.
Please share this. If you care, not only about the dignity of all creatures that inhabit this earth, but of our own as well, please make your voice heard. There are many ways and places to do so. Every small act of goodness carries the weight of ten thousand elephants.
Images are from Panom, and the Stone of Light, a Buddhist parable by Galen Garwood