Vii issue 1 2009 Journal for Critical Animal Studies


The Quickly Vanishing Elephant



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The Quickly Vanishing Elephant


Whether being crushed by the oncoming stones of the opposing sides’ catapults, the bombs of the American planes in Vietnam, the isolation of the American zoo, the effects of PTSD, the bullets of the big-game hunter, the killings for ‘sustainable use’, or the endless beatings and chaining and neglect of the circus, it is not maudlin to say the captive elephant is unjustly enslaved. As stated above, both wars and circuses captured elephants from the wild, deprived them of needed socialization, imposed crushing isolation on them, inadequately met their needs, failed to realize their rights as individuals, failed to value them intrinsically, and damaged their intricate psyche. Does humanity finally show signs of understanding this, perhaps in the eleventh hour? Presently, the elephant is quickly heading toward extinction at an ever-increasing pace. Continued circus attendance is a primary reason the live export elephant trade still flourishes in Africa and Asia. Scully quotes the French naturalist Bernard-Germain de la Cepede, and what he says of whales seems fitting to elephants as well: “In vain do they flee before him [Man]; his art will transport him to the ends of the earth; they will find no sanctuary except in nothingness” (Scully161). This writer fears the elephant, revered by so many who remain inactive and refuse to help it, will continue vanishing under the influence of humanity until its inevitable extinction.

Starting with the warlords of antiquity and continuing through the contemporary animal circus, elephants have forcibly bent to humanity’s wishes. The debate continues on how best to save the elephant by elephant lovers and misguided persons on both sides. However, science suggests that if the hunting and exploitation of the elephant continues along with ever-increasing human encroachment on elephant habitat, the elephant‑ admired by so many‑ may possibly only be around only a short time longer. What Douglas-Hamilton said over thirty years ago remains apropos:

This co-ordinated group defense [the gathered protection of the herd] has been one of the elephant’s keys to survival, effective for hundreds of thousands of years against a multitude of predators, but it is now obsolete. Conditions have changed. Man with a gun is a predator that can easily wipe them out, and the keys to the elephant’s survival are now in the hands of man (259).




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