Two weeks ago I was in the company of an Asian elephant in captivity. She looked healthy but the thing that struck home to me was the fact that she kept her eyes down and I could feel this sadness surrounding her. Elephants have extremely expressive faces..and on hers, I could see nothing..there was an emptiness about her. I left the enclosure with a heavy heart and dragging footsteps. Later that evening I drifted, deep in thought and full of weighty concerns. Soft whispers from the Zimbabwean bush kept creeping into my consciousness and teasing me before evaporating. I strolled out into our garden and stared up at the gloomy sky. These iconic creatures have and will always be exploited by man. For humans…it is and always will be about money. I swear loudly kicking out angrily with my right foot. Gary appeared around the corner, his eyebrows raised in question marks.
‘Sometimes there are just not enough rocks to kick.’ I smiled feebly feeling my words catching on the huge lump lodged firmly in my throat. Back at my computer I came across the story of ‘Maggie’ the Zimbabwean elephant…and I dedicate today’s blog to her and all other captive elephants.
A shutter slams down like a prison door closing out the briefest glimpse of life that shone out of the intelligent amber eyes. Fold upon fold of wrinkles appear to hang down as she sways gently..back and forth. The concrete, cold and abrasive beneath her feet where African elephant and Alaskan ground meet. Lifting a leg gently, she rumbles..relieved as the pain subsides and she stands stock still trying to stay in the moment forever. The spongy pads beneath her feet which are the perfect shock absorbers for her weight..have stood on this cold concrete floor since 1983. Her large noble head which is supported with extra muscles along the neck hangs down and her enormous Africa shaped ears lie flat against her textured shoulders. Her large trunk, a slow swinging pendulum from sadness to distress. This elephant has been crushed under the heels of supposed civilization. Chains of suffocation have a tight grip on her soul as from mid November through to end of February, she experiences 67 days of darkness and freezing cold temperatures.
Back in Zimbabwe… Maggie’s African relations march through the midday sun leaving their large footprints in the sand of this harsh and timeless land. Fanning large Africa shaped ears,their well muscled and gigantic trunks joyously lift to embrace the smell of thunder that hangs in the air. Towering purple clouds reign over the early afternoon..oppressive and still. This herd of giants has spent the good part of the day ambling, foraging, dusting and it now appears that they will partake in a downpour of cooling rain. The matriarch trumpets as the wind picks up stealing leaves from the trees as it menaces through the sun kissed bush and sand choked gullies. Temporal glands flow as the electrical charge in the air excites the adhesive group of females and they turn their backs to the arguing clouds, protective of their young and reassuring them with caresses from long versatile trunks. Lightening flashes jagged against the pregnant clouds and the wind snakes through the trees. On nature’s grandest stage, the heavens open and stinging needle like rain falls to the throaty applause of thunder.
Once the onslaught from nature subsides and the sun breaks free from the passing clouds, an aroma of freshness and wet earth fills the air. The calves, full of boundless energy frolick in the wet grass, their unblemished optimism for life offers a breathtaking glimpse into their world of love and compassion. The afterglow from the storm bathes the damp bush in a warm coppery light and the contented rumblings from the elephants leaves one in no doubt that these iconic animals are the essence of the African bush. Evening is soon ushered in by an explosion of burnt orange as the sun seeps slowly over the horizon.
Back in her box Maggie’s day fades like a passing shadow: a shadow that makes for lonely company thousands of miles away from where she belongs. Her Asian elephant companion Annabelle died in 1997 from foot rot.
Every day she endures a painful stretching of her heart. She is imprisoned in her concrete jungle and by the long cold dark winters. Unlike woolly mammoths, African elephants have sparse clumps or tufts of hair which can be found at the end of their tails and around their mouths. They are unsuited to cold climates.
Maggie’s story, however has a happy ending. On November 1st 2007 after months of dispute between those wanting Maggie to stay at The Alaska Zoo and those pushing to get her in a warmer climate, the 27-year-old African elephant is heading to the Performing Animal Welfare Society in San Andrea’s, Calif.
The Air Force agreed to transport Maggie as part of a training mission after officials with the animal advocacy group and the zoo found out the elephant was too big for a commercial airline. (short video of Maggie being transported and settling into her new home)
Today Maggie spends her days on 12 hectares with 9 other pachyderms at an animal-rescue society’s compound in California’s Sierra Mountains.
“There is no state of the art keeping an animal in captivity. State of the art is Botswana, you know, it’s not San Andreas and it’s not San Francisco. We wish that the elephant-in-captivity problem would go away, and we can stop this at some point.”
For now, though, Stewart says, PAWS has room for more elephants.
I am sucked into the magic that surrounds these sentient animals. When in the presence of an elephant, the air appears to be purer and you can feel a pulse throbbing beneath your feet. A vibration of vitality engulfs my very being and I turn into an awestruck and lovesick fan of theirs. There is a peacefulness and goodness so overwhelming, that when they turn and amble off, they steal another chunk of my pounding heart. These sentient beings are creatures of the bush: they capture the very essence of nature.
While we all drift in the streams of this beautiful world, there is an uneasy magic as we paddle against these turbulent realms of the unknown. Because I am passionate about elephants, and want nothing more than everyone else to feel the same way, I realise that I am and always have been a ‘dreamer’. However these attacks on our elephants, rhinos, lions and all other endangered species does concern all of us: it is our children’s children,s heritage at stake. Maggie’s story made a deep impression on me and I could feel her sadness and loneliness. It is stories like hers and the rampant poaching sweeping our African countries that make it impossible for me to carry on living in a place of vague contentment. I can not sit back and pretend all is well in our animal world.
“Something will have gone out of us as a people if we ever let the remaining wilderness be destroyed; if we permit the last virgin forests to be turned into comic books and plastic cigarette cases; if we drive the few remaining members of the wild species into zoos or to extinction; if we pollute the last clear air and dirty the last clean streams and push our paved roads through the last of the silence. .”