India Calls

It is time for me to return to Asia. My Elephant Care and Rehabilitation Center is calling.

Learning from my past, I have decided to stop for a least one second to stand in the glow of this monumental moment. This time around I plan to rejoice in each tiny success, revel in each new development and give thanks for the progress made each and every day. I look forward to the challenge of staying in the moment as much as I can, recognizing that each unique moment will slip by without acknowledgement if I don’t make the effort to cherish it.

So many people are with me on this journey. I feel you shoulder-to-shoulder traveling with me and, of course, those at my back, pushing me forward. This is truly a time of celebration. Thanks for joining me on this fabulous journey.

I recently sent the following appeal to EAI’s loyal supporters. The response has been overwhelming.

Our Elephant Care and Rehabilitation Center project in Bangalore, India, finally received the government endorsement we have been waiting for. I cannot tell you how excited I am that we are finally able to move forward on this project to provide a humane home for elephants in India. I know you share my enthusiasm.

The property for the center has been secured. It is fantastic — complete with two large ponds, woods and pasture area — and it borders a national forest that we have received government permission to use.

Can you believe it? Our elephants will be allowed to use the national forest as if it were their home! This really is a dream come true!

In the surprisingly short time since I founded EAI, it has already had a notable impact on the welfare of captive elephants living in Thailand, Nepal and India. Hundreds of elephants have received pedicures and mahouts have been introduced to a kinder, gentler way to manage their elephants.

And now we are preparing to create a care and rehabilitation center – the first of its kind – that promises to change how captive elephants live in Asia.

Helping one elephant at a time takes the efforts of many. I need your help now.

Before we can rescue even one elephant we must complete the infrastructure including perimeter fencing, construct chain-free corrals and build night shelters to provide protection from wild elephants and poachers. A sanitary water collection and containment system must be installed to ensure a continuous supply of clean water. And we need a small vet clinic to support each elephant’s recovery following his/her rescue.

Elephants like 12-year-old Menaka, who will be our first resident. Chained in a temple for most of her life, Menaka has experienced horrors we cannot even imagine. She spent day and night standing on concrete, forced to stand at attention in the hot sun for hours and bless temple worshipers. Whenever Menaka attempted to move, she was punished harshly with bullhooks. At night she was left alone and hungry, with heavy chains tied around her legs; her attempts to free herself caused painful wounds that went untreated.

Fortunately, once Menaka arrives at the center, her life will be forever changed and her past will become a distant memory.

I can’t wait to see the gleam in young Menaka’s eyes when she enters her chain-free corral and realizes her new-found freedom.

The cost of the infrastructure required to provide sanctuary for needy elephants like Menaka is estimated at $200,000.

I have complete confidence that we can reach this goal. But, I cannot accomplish this alone. I depend on you to help me make this dream a reality.

Your donation can help Menaka be the first of many elephants rescued to our care center. They will make history, living proof of a better, kinder way of caring for elephants living in captivity.
Please help us meet our goal. As with all of my projects,
every dollar you contribute goes directly to helping the elephants.

I know we have a big job ahead of us. But my experience of creating the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee has taught me that we can accomplish anything we set our mind to. Together we can create this care center, a solution for India’s suffering elephants and a model for the rest of Asia.

Thank you for your support and for being a part of the solution!

Carol Buckley

P.S. Please contact me if you have questions or suggestions.

P.P.S. Be sure to visit EAI’s website to learn more about our work and subscribe to my blog so I can update you on our progress when I return to India next month.

Visit www.elephantaidinternational.org and the elevisions blog for updates on Elephant Aid International and Carol’s travels.

When Jenny Met Shirley

Jenny and Shirley first met each other in 1976 at the Carson and Barnes Circus winter quarters in Oklahoma. Jenny was a youngster, newly imported from Asia. Shirley was recovering from a broken leg she sustained from an elephant attack many months prior.

Circuses are known to keep elephants chained side-by-side according to size, largest to smallest. Since Shirley was unstable, having only three good legs, she was chained at the far end of the picket line away from the big elephants and right next to Jenny.

Their time together was short-lived, only a couple of months. In early spring of 1977, Jenny was sent out on the road to perform with the circus and Shirley was sold to the Louisiana Purchase Gardens and Zoo in Monroe, LA.

Twenty-three years passed. The next time they saw each other was when Jenny stepped inside her barn at The Elephant Sanctuary on July 6, 1999.

Jenny and Shirley’s reunion

Recently, a friend emailed me a question: “During the filming of the “Urban Elephant” documentary, what was going on in your mind (and heart) when Shirley and Jenny were trying to get close to each other?”

I realize many of you may be curious as well, so I decide to share with all of you.

The “Urban Elephant” film crew had been at the Sanctuary all day and had just left for dinner when Jenny approached the barn. She and Shirley had not yet met.

When Jenny first stepped inside the barn she was calm, but when she saw Shirley she became agitated. She reached through the stall toward Shirley, intensely focused on her. Shirley showed little interest but finally responded to Jenny’s attention by stepping close enough to be touched.

Jenny’s agitation grew. She extended her trunk all the way through the bars, reaching out, touching, talking to Shirley. Shirley stood parallel to the corral allowing Jenny to touch all over her, but continued to show very little interest. Jenny began to work herself up into frenzy, very uncharacteristic behavior for her.

Scott and I were sitting inside the barn only a few feet away, watching. I was filming.

Jenny was animated and anxious; she wanted to get closer to Shirley. Shirley remained calm. But when Jenny placed her truck up to Shirley’s mouth, Shirley froze. Her posture changed, she became a little rigid and then turned to look at Jenny. She reached over to touch Jenny’s mouth and what followed was undefinably powerful and life changing for all present.

Looking straight into Jenny’s eyes, Shirley erupted into a huge baritone roar. Caught completely off guard, I thought a bomb and an earthquake had simultaneously hit the barn. Her bellows ignited Jenny’s bellows, which together literally shook the barn.

With her head held high and mouth gaping open, Shirley roared and gently touched all over Jenny’s smiling face. Jenny’s body immediately relaxed as she continued to grope and pull at Shirley through the bars and bellow. The volume of their shared roars was deafening.

The energy in the barn was so intense I had to step outside the door to catch my breath. Seriously, I could not breathe. I did not yet fully understand what was happening. I had only seen such a display of emotion once before when a baby elephant at a breeding facility was separated from his mother for the first time. The two nearly killed themselves trying to climb over the corral to get back together. Their roars were one and the same with Jenny and Shirley’s.

This memory flashed though my mind and within seconds I understood. Jenny and Shirley had known each other before and during that time had forged an intensely close relationship. This was a reunion.

The powerfully joyful vocalizations continued for some time, with Jenny and Shirley groping each other all over. I cannot convey how thick the love was in the air. I was too caught up in the emotional exchange to register just how long this went on but it could have lasted close to 30 minutes.

By the time the volume of their reunion subsided, Shirley was emitting short, sweet sighs and Jenny had melted into the steel bars that separated them, their trunks draped across each other faces.

I knew I had just witnessed a miracle, the first of many that I would be privileged to witness in the years to come.

Bunny

Bunny — what a sensitive and loving lady. It was a joy to bring her to the Sanctuary. Her immersion into the habitat and bonds with the other elephants exceeded even our wildest dreams. She made an immediate and complete transition into Sanctuary life. In fact, she was the first elephant to sleep under the stars and was responsible for her sisters beginning to sleep outdoors overnight as well.

I spent five years working for Bunny’s release from the Mesker Park Zoo in Evansville, IN. The zoo had been her home for four decades. From the time my effort began, I placed a weekly phone call to the zoo to discuss Bunny and her possible relocation. Ron Young, the zoo director, and Ted Grannan, the assistant director, were gracious but firm: Bunny would never leave the zoo.

They continued to accept my calls and humor my periodic visits, but their response to my interest in discussing Bunny’s relocation was a consistent no. I realized that these were kind and caring people. My goal was to familiarize them with the Sanctuary so they could understand what we had to offer to their beloved Bunny.

On one of my many visits to the zoo, Bunny was having “play time” with her next-door neighbor Daisy, a hippo. They had lived in adjacent enclosures for four decades. On special occasions Daisy was allowed into Bunny’s yard for a visit. It was quite cute to watch, but sad to realize how these two had to rely on another very different species for companionship. Bunny gently herded Daisy around the yard, as much as one can herd a hippo, with Daisy paying little attention.

My persistence began to pay off, but in a roundabout way. Ron soon began passing my phone calls off to Ted, who remained pleasant and engaging. He would listen patiently to my latest update and end the conversation with the zoo’s mantra, “Bunny will never leave the Mesker Park Zoo.”  My no-pressure-but-let-me-tell-you-this approach was sincere — and effective. We shared a common interest in Bunny’s welfare, which soon brought us closer together. My message began to get through and I saw that Ted was beginning to question the wisdom of their position.

Until this time, I was told that Bunny could not be moved for a myriad of reasons, including that it would break her heart to leave the zoo. With stories about our other retirees as evidence to contradict that concern, Ron finally admitted that the idea simply could not be considered because the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) would not allow it.

After years of open communication and education I was able to demonstrate that Bunny not only deserved to move to the Sanctuary but her very health depended on it. Her enclosure offered limited natural substrate and her pool had been empty for years. As result of years spent on the hard surfaces of her exhibit, Bunny had developed a chronic foot disease that could soon develop into osteomyilis. This captivity-induced disease is responsible for the deaths of nearly all adult captive Asian elephants living in zoos. Bunny was on her way to being yet another statistic but I knew that Sanctuary life could spare her such a fate.

Bunny was surrounded by a loving staff, attentive veterinarian and adoring public. They began to grasp the gravity of Bunny’s condition and, ultimately, the people responsible for Bunny’s care, including Ron and Ted, became the champions for her release.

On September 29, 1999 Bunny arrived at the Sanctuary. Her retirement was celebrated by two communities united by one deeply loved elephant.

Helping a Fellow Elephant Welfare Advocate

Dr. Deepani Jayantha, a dear friend and dedicated elephant welfare colleague working in Sri Lanka, is hoping to attend the Conservation Conflict Resolution course being offered in DC next month. The course is not cheap ($1,500) and neither is the airfare ($2,000), but it promises to benefit her elephant welfare projects in Sri Lanka.

While in Sri Lanka last year I toured Dr. Jayantha’s projects. I am confident that the knowledge she gains from attending this course will enhance any project she manages.

I am hoping that someone has air miles to contribute for Dr. Jayantha’s flight from Colombo, SL to DC, USA.  Underwriting would work as well.  Here is a way for us to make a difference for the human/elephant conflict in a personal way.

Proposed elephant rides in Kentucky

Tuesday I spoke at a Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) public hearing in opposition to the proposed amendment to state regulation 301KAR2:082. If this amendment passes, elephant rides will be allowed in the state of Kentucky for the first time since 2005.

KDFWR representatives appeared receptive to the information I provided regarding elephant behavior, harsh trainer treatment and the risks the city accepts when allowing an inherently dangerous exotic animal to share common space with the public. If they grasp the immense risk elephant rides pose, they will surely oppose the amendment. 

 What prompted the ban nearly seven years ago was an elephant attack at the Louisville zoo that left a man seriously injured. The elephant, Kenya, was privately owned and contracted by the zoo for elephant rides.

The day of the attack Kenya was in an off-exhibit area with her trainer. It was standard practice for Kenya to wander around the enclosed area unchained. But while the trainer was distracted in another area of the enclosure, Kenya opened a gate and wandered out into the zoo.

It was the end of the day and very few zoo visitors were present. A man saw Kenya and walked up to her. Reports indicate that he tried to control her, but she lashed out at him, inflicting serious injury.

The incident resulted in lawsuits against the zoo, the city and Kenya’s owner. The man recovered and Kenya was not harmed.

Following the attack, in recognition of the dangers posed by some species of wild and exotic animals, KDFWR banned public contact with a long list of inherently dangerous animals, including elephants.

One supporter of the ban is the Primate Rescue Center, co-founded by April Truitt.  Many of the species that her organization rescues and protects are included in the ban.

Currently KDFWR is being lobbied by the Kosair Shriners to amend the regulation and allow elephant rides. The Kosair Shriners continue to offer elephant rides at their annual circus fundraiser in defiance of the regulation. Their position at the meeting was that elephants are not dangerous, at least not the ones they hire.

Lobbying to stop elephant rides does not guarantee better welfare for elephants but it does provide an opportunity to educate people about the inappropriateness of the activity.

Send your comments to:

 Ms Rose Mack

Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources

fwpubliccomments@ky.gov

(502) 564-5136 (Fax)