Let's talk about the elephant that is no longer in the room. Last Sunday, Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey had pachyderms performing as it has for the past two centuries. This was a big night not just because of the size of the act, but because it was the last one. In 1805, Hachaliah Bailey bought an elephant thinking that she would plow his fields like a horse. But she ate too much to make her a worthwhile farm animal, so instead he decided to take her on the road as a spectacle. Two hundred and eleven years later, the descendants of that first circus elephant are headed to Florida to retire.
That's it. It's over. Pack up the tents and move on. Not that there are tents anymore. Now there are no more elephants. That's because it turns out that Hachaliah's beast may not have been one of burden because elephants are pretty clever. Those big heads have big brains and they feel every poke and prod of the barbed hooks that have been used on them for so many years. Considering their size, it's probably a good idea that they are a generally peaceful species with not grand design on our civilization. Like their mammalian counterparts in tanks in sea shows across the country, the time has come to consider what we are doing to our larger cousins. Conditioning them to flop around or stack themselves in awkward positions to delight the paying customers is a form of torture that we wouldn't turn on our pets. That would be cruel.
And it's not like this is news. Even Walt Disney got it way back in 1941. Teasing Mrs. Jumbo's kid because of his great big ears was pretty awful, but stealing him away from her and turning him into some kind of clown was enough to drive a new mother to the extreme. Then she was locked up and kept away from her boy even as he learned to fly on his own. The parenting metaphor was not lost on me or my son's mother.
This Sunday is Mother's Day. I can think of no more pleasant reminder of that day than the image of all those magnificent animals winding their way down to Florida and into a well-deserved cruelty-free rest. Elephants never forget, and that's how I want to remember elephants: wandering around doing what elephants do, not what we forced them to do for our amusement. It's about time.