Compassion for Elephants

Today, our perception of the appropriate treatment of animals is changing. 

Posted in , Mar 19, 2015

Close-up of an elephant's eye. Thinkstock.

Talk about pawprints on my heart…elephants’ paw, er, footprints leave an enormous impression.

One summer I waited along the sidewalk for the elephants to march from the train yard to the arena where the circus was to be held. The huge gray beasts seemed out of place against the high rises and modern city architecture, a far cry from the African jungles.

Still, I’d delighted at the sight of them, each trunk curled around the tail of the elephant before them. Crowds lined the street to watch the pachyderm parade.

As an animal lover, I was thrilled to see up close and personal a creature I’d never have the chance to encounter on my own. Not once did I give a thought to the conditions that those circus elephants may have endured.

Circuses have long been accused of abusive treatment of elephants, including training methods using bull hooks and chains. Arguments are made on both sides regarding how much of these claims are true.

At the very minimum, elephants are enormous animals with a large natural habitat, and reducing it to the size of a train boxcar and a cage is wrong. Traveling for extended periods and performing in front of crowds is stressful.

In the past, these circumstances probably wouldn’t have been challenged. Today, our perception of the appropriate treatment of animals is changing.

Although the law still considers animals as “property,” most people have come to recognize that animals have feelings and emotions. Elephants are sensitive and intelligent social animals. They live in family groups, care for each other’s offspring and mourn the dead. It is difficult to imagine such creatures as anyone’s property.

Recently, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey announced that they’ll begin phasing out elephant acts in their circuses. The elephants will go to live in an animal reservation in Florida. The transition will be complete by 2018.

The animal reservation may not be as good as freedom in the African jungle, but it’s a good step. I’m grateful to think of the chains coming off, and the circus elephants to be able to live out their lives in less stressful, more natural surroundings.

God put animals in our care. We must treat them with compassion and respect. It’s the right thing to do.

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