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September 18, 2006 3:22 PM   Subscribe

Elephant sanctuary. Where do the old, sick and needy elephants go after outliving their “usefulness” in the US? Hohenwald, Tennessee is home to 2700 acres given over to Asian and African elephants. There are some pretty heart wrenching stories in their newsletter (pdf). This is the same state that hung an elephant in 1916 (mefi post). (elephant cam at the sanctuary)
posted by edgeways (29 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
The hanging elephant link is a sad, sad story. I wish I hadn't seen that photo.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 3:57 PM on September 18, 2006


posted "Where do the old, sick and needy elephants go after outliving their “usefulness” in the US?"

I'm hoping The Hague, but expecting Crawford.
posted by orthogonality at 4:10 PM on September 18, 2006 [1 favorite]


I agree... the elephant-hanging is heartbreaking, although the idioms of turn-of-the-century Americans are so quaint:

"It made a right smart little racket when the elephant hit the ground," says eyewitness George Ingram, with admirable understatement.


That just made me smile.

This whole post reminds me of a professor I had in university who had spoken about pachyderm populations as part of a larger lesson on dinosaur extinction... the overall numbers, variety of species, worldwide "coverage" (whatever you call it), all of it mirrored the dinosaurs' populations precisely. He predicted that within 50, or at most 100 years there would be no more elephants.

(cry)
posted by synaesthetichaze at 4:15 PM on September 18, 2006


The story of Joanna Burke is unbelievably tragic, and something that sent a bit of a shockwave through progressive zoos around the world.
posted by one_bean at 4:15 PM on September 18, 2006


This is a good post. I wish I could favorite it more than once.

I question any elephant's "usefulness" in the US, but I also know their habitats are swiftly disappearing. I did a paper years ago for some college class and chose to write about the use of elephants in the entertainment industry (mostly circuses, although elephant rides were discussed as well) and it damn near broke my heart.

Ok, maybe you could get an elephant to work as a toothpaste tube crimper. That would be useful. A pancake flattener? A sandwich smoosher. But no bullhooks or abuse, you'd have to lure them into the trade with presents and promises of fame.
posted by routergirl at 4:39 PM on September 18, 2006


Sad elephant news from Africa: African Elephants Slaughtered in Herds Near Chad Wildlife Park
posted by homunculus at 4:42 PM on September 18, 2006


The hanging elephant link is a sad, sad story.

Of course, all that stuff about him killing a keeper is just post-facto rationalization.

The true story was that it was an African elephant, and he looked at one of the trapeze artists -- a white woman -- in a sassy way. Then he started waving that enormous trunk of his about in a salacious manner!

Now maybe you let that stuff pass without comment in the Godless north, but here in Tenesseee, we have ways of dealing with that kind of behaviour.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 4:46 PM on September 18, 2006 [1 favorite]


Another Elephant execution, 1903 by Thomas Edison. (disturbing)
posted by fire&wings at 4:49 PM on September 18, 2006


I question any elephant's "usefulness" in the US, but I also know their habitats are swiftly disappearing

Bring back the elephants!
posted by one_bean at 4:51 PM on September 18, 2006


Just like other mammals, ninjas elephants can be mean OR totally awesome.
posted by gnutron at 5:10 PM on September 18, 2006


Ok, maybe you could get an elephant to work as a toothpaste tube crimper. That would be useful. A pancake flattener? A sandwich smoosher.

Hmmm ... well, this weekend in Los Angeles an elephant was used as an 'artistic' canvas ...
posted by General Zubon at 5:36 PM on September 18, 2006


I think they go a bit overboard in their preserving the elephant's privacy. Essentially, you can not see the elephants, period. I'd think a few paid-access observation towers on the perimeter of the property would increase the interest in, and donations to, their efforts.

Also FYI, there's another sanctuary in Arkansas.
posted by centerpunch at 5:36 PM on September 18, 2006


.
posted by BeerFilter at 5:46 PM on September 18, 2006


There's a current novel called Water for Elephants that's been on the New York Times bestseller all summer. One of the main characters is an elephant named Rosie. I can't say much about Rosie's story without giving the "secret" away, but it's a very entertaining read (especially for elephant lovers). The author, Sara Gruen, supposedly gave a substantial portion of her earnings to the Hohenwald elephant sanctuary.

Also, there's a short profile on Carol Buckley, who co-founded the Hohenwald sanctuary, in the current issue of Bust magazine.
posted by mijuta at 5:51 PM on September 18, 2006


i'll have to pick it up, mijuta.

great link--elephants are so wonderful--smart too.
posted by amberglow at 6:06 PM on September 18, 2006


.

at least we don't treat them quite as inhumanely as we once did.
posted by owhydididoit at 6:30 PM on September 18, 2006


ya know that story about the hanging elephant made me want to wretch.
posted by MrLint at 8:24 PM on September 18, 2006


Poor elephants.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 8:28 PM on September 18, 2006


renching.
posted by longsleeves at 8:59 PM on September 18, 2006


As I understand it, the elephant population has doubled in the last 6 months. I guess things are looking up.....
posted by Lusy P Hur at 9:14 PM on September 18, 2006


Very, very sad. Great post.
posted by facetious at 9:17 PM on September 18, 2006


The story of Joanna Burke is unbelievably tragic...

There are multiple tragedies here, but what steps should be taken to avoid the possibility of any future accidents or deaths? From the Tennessean news article, Tearful handler: 'In 45 seconds, it was over':
...Winkie's right eyelid had swelled, a result of what is believed to be an insect bite, perhaps by fire ants. Blais, co-founder of the Sanctuary, had already examined the eye, which he said was tender to the touch. Afterward, Blais sat on the rear of the water trailer while Burke handed the water hose to the elephant.

"Winkie was calm," Blais said.

However, when Burke, who has been a handler for about eight years, moved to Winkie's right-hand side to look at the swollen eye, Blais said, the animal spun its massive head around, knocking her backward. Then the 7,600-pound animal moved forward and crushed the woman to death.

Acting by instinct, Blais spoke to Winkie, trying to distract and calm the animal. In the process, the elephant lashed out at him, too, breaking Blais' left ankle and bruising him in several places.
...
"We will never allow another handler to have physical contact out there with an elephant that has a history" of aggression, said Carol Buckley, executive director of the facility for aging elephants on 2,200 acres in Lewis County.

In the future, Buckley said, only she and Blais will place themselves in such proximity to Winkie and any other elephant that has a history of aggressive behavior.
Winkie's biography:
During her time at the zoo, Winkie was managed free-contact-dominance, which is a standard form of elephant management. Winkie's response to being dominated was to lash out at new keepers being trained to dominate her. She hurt several would-be elephant keepers and visitors in her 30-year stay at the zoo, earning a reputation as a dangerous elephant.
In Memory of Joanna Burke:
Joanna shared the Sanctuary's philosophy that Winkie will not be punished for her actions but managed in a way that keeps another innocent caregiver out of harms' way.

Joanna made it perfectly clear in word and deed that no harm should come to any elephant no matter their action.
Human beings, however few and infrequently, will still remain in contact with Winkie.

The best long-term answer is to ban the sale of live elephants. But until that time arrives, how should we treat animals with a history (however undeserved) of injuring or killing human beings? Should we overlook their behavior even if the victims do not want any action taken?

More on elephant accidents and deaths at the Elephant Encyclopedia.
posted by cenoxo at 9:23 PM on September 18, 2006


I just recently found out about the sanctuary in Tennessee after visiting the San Diego Zoo and later learning about all sorts of elephant related controversies over the past few years. Poor old pachys.
posted by shoepal at 9:29 PM on September 18, 2006


Cool post. That sanctuary is really sweet. It reminds me of the sanctuaries for orphaned apes. Baby bonobos grow up clinging to their parents, and when their mothers are killed, the babies apparently let themselves die. In these sanctuaries, humans act as surrogate parents. "When we receive a new bonobo, the most difficult thing is to bring back its instinct to live."
posted by salvia at 9:45 PM on September 18, 2006


Cenoxo, that's why I find the whole thing so sad. The entire story has basically no point. The elephant was treated inhumanely, and a woman gave her life to try to help it. It's all totally pointless. And beyond that, given the world we live in, it's easy to argue that it's not just pointless, it's meaningless.

Unlike with humans, it's easy to look at these elephants and say that their upbringing clearly made them deranged. People mourn (or joke about) an electrocuted or hung elephant, but it seems obvious to me that many human criminals in our society are just as deserving of rehabilitation as these elephants. That people are able to give their lives to this cause is hard to accept, but it illuminates the best parts of our nature: we can forgive our wrong-doers. It's compassion on an abstract and, to me, admirable level. If only we could give criminals the same benefit of the doubt.
posted by one_bean at 9:57 PM on September 18, 2006


Do these elephants paint? I saw some at a Thai sanctuary that could paint.
posted by black bile at 10:50 PM on September 18, 2006


I remember reading an essay about why elephants occasionally freak out and run amok -- the theory boils down to stress over isolation and clautrophobia. Elephants in the wild range over thousands of acres in herds, and when you isolate them and keep them in enclosures barely big enough to turn around in, occasionally one of them snaps and rampages.
posted by pax digita at 7:46 AM on September 19, 2006


Do these elephants paint? I saw some at a Thai sanctuary that could paint.

The Asian Elephant Art & Conservation Project
posted by homunculus at 11:31 AM on September 19, 2006


This thread about that hanging,contains my first, mangled, post.
posted by hortense at 5:13 PM on October 8, 2006


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