Any wild animal kept in captivity has the capacity to stop being docile at any given moment. For a human to expect an animal, especially one large enough to crush a motor vehicle, to be completely submissive is simply foolish. When wild animals attack, humans become outraged at the animal; as if the animal was doing anything other than being exactly what it is. In America, it is not uncommon for captive elephants to attack humans. A pachyderm can weigh between 7,000 and 13,000 pounds and human beings often use cruel means to train and control them. Elephants are exploited by various circuses, fairs and some zoos. In captivity, under the care of a trainer, it is expected that the animals will act like other domesticated animals; however when an elephant acts within its nature, the animal is blamed for being wild.
Zoos are known for educating the public and fostering an appreciation for wild animals that some people would otherwise never have the chance to see. Many zoo directors hope that by introducing humans to animals, more people will be moved to help protect animals. By housing and mating endangered animals, zoos try to rekindle dying breeds. The elephant is an endangered species due to poaching and loss of habitat. Elephants are found in almost every zoo in the world and although they are regarded as tame after some time in captivity, this does not always prove true.
Friday morning a zookeeper in Springfield, Missouri was killed by an elephant when the animal stampeded the 62 year-old man. According to reports, the elephant had been displaying “behavioral issues” for quite some time. For zoo officials to cite behavioral problems as a diagnosis for any wild animal is a curious response, when an elephant— no matter how tame— begins to show signs of its natural instincts. The zookeeper, who was identified as John Bradford, had been working at the Dickerson Park Zoo for over 30 years, sources said. Officials at the zoo have promised that the elephant will not be punished in any way over this incident. One can hope that this will be true. In most cases wild animals, elephants included, have been killed by law enforcement officers when they have acted like wild animals and attacked.
Zoos try to save the lives of animals and to preserve species; but many animal rights activists find it unsettling to see some people playing God by capturing, confining and breeding those endangered animals. Some activists claim that no matter how humane the environment is in captivity, it is never as appropriate as was the animals’ natural environment. Studies have shown that elephants kept in captivity do not flourish or live as long as those that are left in the wild; many elephants become stressed due to boredom and confinement. Zoos usually treat the animals with more dignity and try to keep them as comfortable as possible, given the resources available. Not all people who showcase wild animals can claim the same.
Circuses, fairs and carnivals have exploited wild animals for the sake of making money, for decades. Animals have been trained and taught to follow commands; elephants, lions, tigers and bears have become commodities in a variety of arenas. Unlike zoos, circuses, fairs and carnivals do not have an interest in the animal’s well-being. In fact, many circuses have been reported to use violence and abuse as a form of training technique. Elephant trainers use an instrument called a bullhook to punish the animal when it is not following directions. The bullhook is a sharp weapon-like apparatus with an iron hook on the end, when punched into the thick skin of the elephant, it causes the animal to belt-out an agonizing scream. This approach has been and is used by many circuses and fairs; it is called “breaking.” To break the animal, the trainer must make sure that he is seen by the elephant as dominant. When the elephants do not act according to the demands of its domineering trainer, the bullhook is used.
Perhaps worse than the painful, negative reinforcement used in the training of these amazing pachyderms is the way they are kept. In the wild, elephants, on average, walk 50 miles per day. Many captive elephants are kept in quarters big enough only for their bodies. When they are not performing, many elephants are chained for 20 hours each day, in spaces no bigger than an automobile. When they are let out of this confinement, they sometimes act wild. When elephants are beaten with bullhooks, sometimes they get violent. When an elephant, or any wild animal in captivity, acts like a wild animal, the animal is blamed, attacked and often killed.
Written by: Amy Magness Whatley