The founder of Elephant Appreciation Day (September 22) is Wayne Hepburn of Sarasota, FL, who suggests they have the qualities at left, and recommends you start the day with an elephant-shaped breakfast.
According to this endearing article in Mental Floss that includes “Awwww-inspiring” videos, elephants are exceptionally smart creatures with the largest brain of any land animal. They use tools, understand human body language, can identify languages and even mimic human voices. They show empathy and mourn their dead. And that reputation they have for a long memory? It’s well deserved.
But we’re only beginning to understand and honor their strengths. In the wild, many of these magnificent creatures are still killed for their ivory tusks, and in captivity many have been cruelly treated – the term used is “broken” – in order to get them to perform. It’s only recently that they have been removed from circuses, and in some parts of the world they continue to entertain tourists by painting the same picture over and over, day after day. Videos of elephants painting flowers and even self-portraits are amazing, but every stroke is controlled by a mahout tugging on the elephant’s ear. Left to their own devices, the elephants’ canvases are exuberantly abstract.
And yet not all captive elephants are cruelly treated. Some mahouts have literally grown up with their elephants and are closely bonded to them. They genuinely love their elephants, and as much as elephants are capable of love, the feelings seem mutual.
That’s the dilemma with wild animals. If we capture them and put them in zoos, they often live longer because they are no longer another animal’s prey, they are well fed, and a veterinarian watches over their health. Furthermore, millions of people who would never encounter them in the wild gain an appreciation for their magnificence, and will perhaps support animal conservation causes. On the other hand, according to PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), “Elephants require vast spaces to roam, socialize, and express their natural behavior. In the wild, they live in matriarchal herds and are active for 18 hours per day, foraging for fresh vegetation, playing, bathing in rivers, and travelling as far as 30 miles a day.” Captivity by definition is confining.
Is there a good solution? A compromise? What’s your opinion?
And do we always solve things by taking them seriously? I first gained empathy for elephants as a teenager when elephant jokes were all the rage. Some, like the following, made a bit of sense:
Q: Why are elephants so clever?
A: They have lots of grey matter.
Q: Why are elephants poor dancers?
A: They have two left feet.
Q: Why did the elephants leave the circus?
A: They got tired of working for peanuts.
Others were completely nonsensical, and will only cause you to laugh if you have an appreciation for the absurd. For example, my all-time favorite elephant joke was this two-parter:
Q: How did elephants get flat feet?
A: From jumping out of trees.
Q: Why do some elephants have ridges in their feet?
A: From jumping out of trees onto railroad tracks.
Kathy Laurenhue urges you to use the above information to lead a discussion with seniors, students, or family and friends. She is the author of Creating Delight – Connecting Gratitude, Humor, and Play. Check out her website at www.CreatingDelight.com.