Elephant Talk: The World's Foremost Authority on the Subject Weighs In


At last, Joyce Poole has responded. Who, you're wondering, is Joyce Poole? "She is to elephants what Jane Goodall is to chimpanzees and Dian Fossey was to gorillas, their savior." Also: She is the author of 1996's Coming of Age With Elephants: A Memoir and 1997's Elephants for the World Life Library. The woman profiled in 2003 by National Geographic is also, at the moment, director of ElephantVoices in Norway.

Earlier this week, I asked Poole if she could take a moment to watch the videos council member Angela Hunt shot of the three elephants currently at the African Safari Zoo in Mexico, where the Dallas Zoo is going to send Jenny the elephant. Not only did she watch them -- and, apparently, she also saw the videos with the soundtrack -- but she sent back a profoundly moving missive, along with her thoughts about what the Dallas Zoo needs to do with Jenny. It is after the jump. Before then, this note: Several Friends have pointed out that tomorrow night, 20/20 will feature a lengthy segment on elephants ("They're Like Us," Elephant Researchers Say), much of which was shot at The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, which is where Hunt and many others wish zoo officials would send Jenny. A sneak peak at the episode, with a slide show from Tennessee, is available now on ABC's Web site. Now, though, Poole's note. --Robert Wilonsky

Dear Robert,

The music is hauntingly beautiful and, put to the swaying of confined elephants, brought tears to my eyes. Why do we humans feel such a need to confine and control other animals? Is our pleasure in seeing them worth the cruelty that we inflict on them? Elephants are intelligent, socially complex individuals who have the same basic needs that we have: Freedom and autonomy, companionship and affection, just to name a few.

The first elephant in the video looks very unhealthy; she is too thin. All of the elephants in the video are swaying -- a behavior only seen in confined elephants. Like so many captive elephants they are bored and frustrated with nowhere to go and no one to see, no new smells to investigate and nothing to strive for. The result is standing in one place and rocking, slowly losing their mind. Well, wouldn't we do the same given similar circumstances?

I often try to put myself in the elephants' shoes, so to speak. Ever had to stand for hours and hours alone waiting for that bus that never comes? Feet and back aching? I, too, start to step from one foot to the other. I, too, rock back and forth; I sway. But I don't wait for a bus for days, for weeks, for months, for years. I have the freedom to choose to go.

We need to wake up to the reality of what we are doing to other creatures and stop hiding behind a lot of constructed arguments for keeping elephants in this way.

Jenny should go to a sanctuary.

Regards, Joyce Poole