19th February 2010
Dear Sanctuary Directors,
To the Board of Directors of the Elephant Sanctuary, TN
I have become aware of the possible imminent departure of Carol Buckley from the Elephant Sanctuary. I have only today found this out and am writing to you in the hope that I am not too late. Please forgive the brevity of this letter and that it is not typed up on headed paper from my institution, but it is late on Friday night 19th February and I believe I must act very quickly.
Following twelve years scientific research at Oxford University I became Head of the Animal Department at Woburn Safari Park, which held three Asian elephants, and early in my career worked with elephants at London Zoo. For the last ten years I have been Head of Wildlife at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the world’s largest animal protection organisation. During my time with the RSPCA I have headed a long-running effort to eliminate the terrible issues associated with elephants in zoos and circuses. I have had considerable success, with a reduction in the number of UK zoos holding elephants from 18 in 2002 to 12 today, and a reduction in the elephant population from 90 to 70.
I work very closely with my colleagues in the US on captive elephant issues. Amongst those colleagues I do not hesitate to single out Carol as the one who has had most influence on my work. I first visited her at the Sanctuary in 2002, and was struck by all she has achieved, by her knowledge and by her compassion for elephants. What Carol does with elephants without the use of force, bullhooks, electric hotshots, chains or negative reinforcement of any sort is nothing short of remarkable.
You may not be aware of the massive regard the elephant protection movement has for Carol. She is a beacon of hope to us, because she proves elephants, even the damaged and dangerous, can be loved and cared for and returned to happiness. Accordingly there are many, many zoos which fear her. She does with elephants what none of them has ever achieved or could hope to achieve.
Carol has an integrity no-one else in our movement can match because of her first hand experience and success; she has nothing left to prove. I remember a colleague of mine, a UK zoo curator, talking to me and Carol in Boston in 2005. This man had been exposed to the lies and confusion of the elephant keeping world, yet having spoken to Carol – who in many ways was his “enemy” – he said “I hear so much and do not know what to believe – but for some reason I believe you”. This says much about Carol’s credibility.
Carol is an outstanding spokesperson for the Sanctuary. The Sanctuary, its staff and elephants come first, but her impact and influence extends far beyond the Sanctuary’s borders. She is articulate and naturally charming. She is extremely politically astute and wise.
Carol has made the Sanctuary into a living, breathing model of what elephant management can and should be – and I speak as someone opposed to elephants in captivity. There is only one place I personally would want a captive elephant to live, and that is with Carol at the Sanctuary. Carol has underpinned the Sanctuary’s work with a deep, ethically sound philosophy which gives it its strength. Science is revealing more and more of the complex emotional lives elephants lead, and they are easily traumatised. Please do not underestimate the knowledge needed to understand the minds of these abused and traumatised animals nor the skill involved in aiding their recovery, and in instructing other caregivers to do the same safely. The elephants and the Sanctuary need Carol’s skill, heart and wisdom. I have met elephant carers all over the world, and been one myself, but I have never met anyone like Carol.
I cannot emphasise enough what it would cost the Sanctuary, captive elephants and the elephant protection movement if we lose Carol; it does not bear thinking about.
With my best wishes,
Dr. Robert Atkinson, BSc (London), MSc, PhD (Oxford)
Head of Wildlife Department,
Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals,
Tel +44 (0)300 123 0205