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Elephants Are Still Dying—and Not Just for Their Tusks

But being killed isn't the only way that elephants are harmed by humans. Consider the Laguna Niguel bride who rented an elephant from the notorious Have Trunk Will Travel company for her wedding.

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.

Jennifer O'Connor is a staff writer with the PETA Foundation, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org/.

Shirley Cox July 09, 2012 at 08:54 PM
I am so tired of hearing PETA and their followers opinions! These are not facts that are written these are extremists views only. That is the problem with the media today, every one voices their opinion as though it is fact. Wake up people and do not let this loud few brainwash you!
AliceWisdom July 10, 2012 at 12:03 AM
Blatant propaganda, and lies. First of all, HTWT was not kicked out of the LA County Fair. They can return to the fair anytime they want, and both the fair and the elephant company look forward to working together in the future. So yet again PETA is lieing, but that's nothing new. Let's take the basis of this very article. This article is based on the idea that PETA itself is against killing animals yet they are lobbying and spending millions of dollars around the country to try to stop the implementation of "No Kill" protocols in shelters. PETA's own shelters killed a record-breaking 95.9% in 2011 alone, and the statistics for the previous years are equally appalling. Let's stop the lies and not pretend like PETA actually cares for the welfare of animals. Their "better dead than fed" attitude is not the way to take care of, and protect elephants from extinction.
Chelsy Craig-Austin July 10, 2012 at 03:45 AM
Thank you to those who have chosen to ignore the so called "activists" who do more harm than good to the animal community by making real animal people look crazy and extremist. Please take your ignorant comments elsewhere and present them to someone who can't refute them with facts. I am an animal rescuer, I am in school to become a vet, I am a proud vegetarian, and I am respected in my community as a true animal advocate and educator. I was well researched in my decision to have Tai in my wedding ceremony and I have first hand experience with Have Trunk Will Travel, who cares for their elephants incredibly well and are instrumental in essential elephant breeding programs. The INITIAL training practices that they use on the elephants, though frowned upon, are absolutely no different than using whips,spurrs, and bits on horses and choke or bark collars on dogs. If you are going to criticize this practice, then you'd better start criticizing all of the "socially acceptable" training practices used on other animals. The Bride :)
Cindy July 10, 2012 at 05:19 PM
Ms. O'Connor is right -- no one should use an elephant for entertainment, or any, reason. Have Trunk Will Travel is notorious for mistreating elephants, including cruel beatings. Shame on you if you think using animals in weddings, circuses, or for "rides" is ok. These animals live miserable, unnatural lives being dragged from place to place in cramped, dark trains. Shame on that bride.
Mabel Thouron July 10, 2012 at 05:20 PM
I don't know, if I truly loved elephants, I would suport their existence in their natural settings--where they form family bonds, mourn their dead, and walk for miles a day--and never attend the circus, see a caged one at the zoo, ride one at a fair, or parade one through my wedding. What kind of a life is that--being chained for hours on end, beaten with heavy bull hooks (the babies are taken from their moms at young ages to be broken and trained to perform for humans), and shuttled around--for these majestic creatures? Read about and support the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, a place where rescued, former performing elephants can go to heal, if you really want to help them: http://www.elephants.com/
Jefferson Thomas July 10, 2012 at 05:48 PM
So you're entitled to your opinion, but PETA isn't? This is the opinion section, after all. But everything Ms. O'Connor says here is documented on PETA's website, PETA.org -- all it takes is a click of the mouse to see for yourself. Beyond which, it's simply common sense that wild animals want to live their natural lives in the wild, not performing stupid tricks or giving rides to loud, selfish people.
Cindy July 10, 2012 at 05:59 PM
Great article. I dont care where it came from, it's important information. Seems to me that peta has it right.
Lucy P July 10, 2012 at 06:16 PM
Thank you for this eye-opening piece, Ms. O'Connor. Those who love elephants and want what is in their best interests do not support their captivity and enslavement by attending circuses, visiting zoos, or otherwise exploiting these sensitive, intelligent animals.
Bobbie M. July 10, 2012 at 06:56 PM
I don't know what those commenters are talking about--this article IS full of facts. Have Trunk Will Travel has been caught on tape jabbing and striking elephants (even babies) with bullhooks and stun guns (see the video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=50wBdPhBQGo). That's why they're being kicked out of fairs.
Heather Moore July 10, 2012 at 09:08 PM
The facts speak for themselves--but it's basic common sense that animals bbelong in their natural habitats, not kept in captivity for people's amusement!
Philip Tripp July 11, 2012 at 11:19 AM
Elephants “cooperate” only because they have been conditioned from infancy to obey commands and behave like robots or face the painful consequences. They submit because they know if they don’t they will be hit with a bullhook—a baton with a sharp metal hook on the end. Trainers hit elephants with these cruel devices over and over to break their spirits and force them to interact with people. Have Trunk Will Travel is primarily an Asian-elephant breeding facility that exploits elephants for entertainment in order to continue funding its business-enhancing captive breeding program. HTWT has defended using bullhooks and has endorsed the use of painful electrical shock devices called “hot shots” to discipline and control elephants. A yound elephant named JP died in 2010 due to a herpes virus. Herpes is a frequently fatal illness that poses one of the greatest threats to captive Asian elephants. JP is not the first young elephant who has succumbed to suspected herpes in the care of HTWT. Anyone who supports this cruelty should hang their heads in shame.
Philip Tripp July 11, 2012 at 12:12 PM
How ironic that your own claims are absolutely wrong: http://articles.latimes.com/2011/dec/18/local/la-me-elephants-20111218 And the rest of your rant has absolutely nothing to do with beating elephants with bullhooks and forcing them to perform tricks.
Julia July 11, 2012 at 09:02 PM
You are okay with whipping animals as well? Sounds like you are a bridezilla who just HAD to have something over the top at your wedding so that people besides you will remeber it for more than a day. I am not down with everything PETA does, but pretty please don't go thinking that you are a "true animal advocate" if you are okay with the way baby elephants are broken
Linda Crews July 12, 2012 at 04:40 AM
I can't believe that anyone would think that it is ok for anyone to steal a child animal or not from it's mother beat it,shock it,break it's spirit all for entertainment. It makes me sick to read that people really think this doesn't happen to these amazing animals it does happen! We need to stop the abuse NOW!!!
Cathy D Bales July 13, 2012 at 01:54 AM
There was no way you did any amount of reliable research if you had Tai in your wedding and think HTWT really cares for their elephants. It is not just the INITIAL training that is violent, it ALL is - the videos of it are all over the Internet. You also talk about their breeding programs, but breeding for what? Just to fill their pockets, it's certainly not for conservation. By definition, if they were concerned about conserving elephants, they would return at least some of the babies they breed to the wild. I am not a member of PETA but I believe they do have it right about HTWT, circuses, and any person who thinks that it is okay to use such an intelligent and emotional creature as an elephant for our amusement. It is not right, no matter how much you try and justify it to yourself.
Louise Doherty July 13, 2012 at 08:43 AM
May I ask, how are you respected in your community for being "a true animal advocate and educator"? The fact that you think it's fine for animals to be out of their natural habitat and used as entertainment for humans enjoyment, implies to me that you are unaware of what is best for the animals welfare. I'm not going to pretend to know a great deal about wild animals, but surely the clue is in the word 'wild'. And anyone with an ounce of common sense in their heads would understand that taking them out of their natural surroundings and forcing them to do un-natural things is completely and utterly wrong! # #

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