Ivory invokes an image of colonial Africa, where ruthless "big-game" hunters stalked and mowed down elephants for their tusks. A recent decision by California lawmakers to prohibit the sale of body parts of any animal currently protected by endangered-species laws is an important reminder that the massacre of elephants for their tusks continues—and a good opportunity for us to look at how these animals are treated a little closer to home.
Rightfully banned in 1989 by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species and condemned by anyone with a conscience, ivory is now mostly relegated to dusty china cabinets and old piano keys. But because there will always be humans who will do anything for money, including killing animals and collecting their body parts, elephants will continue to die.
PETA's telephone lines and in-boxes were flooded when Spain's King Juan Carlos recently killed an elephant while on an African hunting safari and Donald Trump's sons gleefully posed with the dead bodies of animals they had massacred while in Zimbabwe, including an elephant whose tail had been cut off after he was killed. Internet provider GoDaddy's CEO Bob Parsons was defiant and proud of a video that he released showing himself posing with an elephant he had blasted to death.
But being killed isn't the only way that elephants are harmed by humans. Consider the Laguna Niguel from the notorious Have Trunk Will Travel company for her wedding—and San Diego Fair organizers who are still hiring this outfit to provide rides, even though the Orange County Fair, the Los Angeles County Fair and the Santa Ana Zoo have all given these rides the boot in the interests of animal welfare.
Baby elephants are torn screaming and crying from their frantic mothers in order to be trained to perform tricks for Ringling Bros. circus. They are tied by all four legs and surrounded by people wielding bullhooks (heavy batons with a sharp steel hook on the end) and electric prods. These violent training sessions, which last for three to four hours a day, continue for up to a year until the youngsters' spirits are broken and they submit.
And consider elephants such as Lucy, who lives by herself at the Edmonton Valley Zoo in Canada. Sick and lonely, she spends most of her time in a small barn. Although a California sanctuary would welcome Lucy, the zoo refuses to give its "cash cow" the retirement that she deserves.
We rightfully condemn the killing of elephants for their tusks. But we must also take a long hard look at how we condone the cruel treatment of elephants right here at home. Hauling them around from venue to venue for rides, making them perform in circuses and housing them in cramped enclosures at the zoo are all just wrong.