Monday, July 16, 2018

Baby Elephant Walk

by V (writer), Venice!, March 29, 2007


A friend of mine her Father, after too many hours straight in the tractor harvesting their Canola, swears that he sees a tiger. This of course would be possible if he was farming in Bangladesh, but this farm I speak of is located in outback Australia. A child could be excused for believing there to be a monster in the cupboard and a witch under the bed, but what happens when the fantastical comes to life?

I have long romanticized the idea of the circus (I even used to do trapeze school) and I’m not alone in dreaming of its magic. So I was nearly moved to tears last night when I heard the tale of the annual march of the elephants in Midtown, New York City. City kids squealing in delight and hyperventilating in disbelief at the sight of a caravan of elephants wandering along their street.

Each year, the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus, bring their ‘Greatest Show on Earth’ to Madison Square Gardens for a couple of weeks. Since first being able to afford transportation by train in the 1880s, the Barnum & Bailey Circus has continued to tour for 11 months of the year, all across America via rail. When the show arrives in New York, it unloads at the Long Island City rail yards and all the elephants are walked, in the dead of night, through the midtown tunnel and across 34th St, into the Gardens.

Personally, I’m not so up for a circus with animals, but I am pleased to find that this circus is making an effort. In 1995, the Barnum & Bailey Circus opened the Center for Elephant Conservation in Florida for the breeding, research, and retirement of its Asian Elephant herd (as they should). All dogs in the shows were rescued from animal shelters (as they should have been). The circus participates in breeding programs for endangered species used in the shows, including the Bengal tiger and elephant and their tiger population is retired to Big Cat Rescue.

It is with a tinge of sadness – and probably the fault of an excess in cheap, entertainment options that we have now – that I note that the circus magic that lit up generations before us, that era of the romance of the circus, seems to have drawn to a close. It’s expensive to upkeep and a tough gig to keep a circus on the road. But those elephants, wandering through the streets of New York City on Tuesday night, needn’t worry so much. Their jobs are probably safe at the biggest circus in the world. And they have retirement to look forward to in Florida.

I am relieved that we’ve evolved to not have women with beards on display for dollars and more and more circuses are refraining from using animals, but I have to admit that I would have loved to have stood on the sidewalk in the snow and watch an elephant pass me by on 34th St.

About the Writer

V is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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3 comments on Baby Elephant Walk

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By Tumerica on March 29, 2007 at 10:21 pm
Oh, the tradition is alive and well with the RBB&B circus. We took our little one to see the circus two years ago at the Staples Center, and were amazed to agree that it was the greatest show on earth, I kid you not. The main clown, Bello, is an acrobat, an animal trainer, a daredevil, and a clown of all clowns. The ringmaster stopped his performances on Broadway to take on the top hat. The three rings had as many animal acts as all-people acts, and without hesitation, I admit, the whole event was glorious. I've ridden on an elephant in Thailand (and a camel, which was even more fun), and have a photo of me petting a tiger, so have had my share of animal thrills--hasn't everyone fantasized about running off to join the circus (or at least of going to clown school). As long as circuses maintain meticulous standards in the care and upkeep of the animals--and RBB&B does--then I don't see why not. Probably the small tent circuses of yore have given the idea that any animal acts are bad. There are pros and cons on both sides. But we were impressed with the care and love that went into the animal acts and way the animals were treated. Always a thrill to see an elephant!
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By V on March 29, 2007 at 11:56 pm
That's so sad. A friend back home (who had exotics licenses), cared for six Rhesus monkeys who were ex-circus creatures. They had a lot of aggression issues - really unpredictable too - but she was committed to caring for them for the rest of their natural lives. I saw this documentary the other night about an elephant that was being retired from a zoo. I don't know about the ex-show animal retirement villages either.
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By Tumerica on March 30, 2007 at 03:54 pm
We just came back from a vacation in Yosemite. We heard the news about a five year old whose mom insisted he pet a wild deer (the deer are without predators there and have little fear of humans) so she could take a photo of it. The deer bludgeoned the kid to death. Animals in the wild or in subjugation have no reason to have any particular sense of value for humans--unless they learn it and then unless they believe it. So, for creatures stronger than us, a certain amount of respect for the randomness of their regard is a good thing. Then again, there's Koko (, who communicates fluently with the humans around her, and expresses complex emotions--even poetry. Respect.
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