Coco Hall has been an animal activist since 1991 when she spent six weeks on the Sea Shepard crew. She has been focused on elephants for seven years, working to release the seven elephants at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, supporting elephant sanctuaries such as PAWS in San Andreas CA, and as a Board Member of Joyce Poole’s ElephantVoices. She has been a political artist for twenty years, covering environmental and animal rights themes with her multi-media sculptures. She coauthored and drew her first graphic novel, Ignoring Binky, published in 2001 by Checkmate Press under the nome de plume Beverly Red.
Elephant Girl is a graphic novel based on the life of Calle the elephant, who was euthanized by the San Francisco Zoo in 2004. Intertwined with her story is that of a young girl who lives a parallel life. Both kidnapped in India as children, smuggled to the United States, they find themselves prey of an unimaginably foreign world. The tale rises upon the girl’s determination to break both their chains and return to India.
The Eyes of Thailand blog posted Parts 1 and 2 on November 9 and 16, respectively. Part 3 of 3 appears below…
Elephant Girl AFTERWORD (cont.)
By Coco Hall
The 1980s witnessed the price of ivory reach $100 per pound. Rural farmers and herders could make more selling the tusks of one elephant than by 12 years of hard labor. And that is not to mention the numerous wars supported by the ivory spoils of fallen elephants. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in 1990 slowed the decimation of elephants, but since all countries have not supported the ivory ban, the killing continues.
Except for most Asian females, elephants’ incisor teeth are tusks, which grow throughout their lives. Poachers target the elephant with the largest tusks, i.e. the mature leaders. Without the guidance and accumulated knowledge of such elders, both female and male herds become leaderless juveniles.
The fabric of both human and elephant societies depends on parents teaching their offspring how to behave, modeling proper behavior, and handing down knowledge necessary for survival. Studies of animals and human genocide survivors show that early trauma can have permanent psycho-physiological effects on brain and behavior including a susceptibility to PTSD and a tendency to violence in adulthood. Elephant groups or individuals become “rogue”, destroying farms, settlements, and even killing people.
“Elephant Breakdown”, G.A. Bradshaw, Allan N. Schore, Janine L. Brown, Joyce H. Poole, Cynthia J. Moss, Nature. Vol. 433, 2/24/05
These escalating conflicts with humans in both Asia and Africa are one of the main adversities we face in saving the species.
Most of the 500 captive elephants currently in North America live in zoos, circuses, wildlife parks (which are essentially zoos), and breeding farms. As few as thirty (30) live in true sanctuaries where they are not publicly exhibited or coerced in any way. Unlike zoos, even with well meaning and kind keepers, sanctuaries provide the space and autonomy elephants need to enjoy a healthy life. For an elephant, with its vast natural habitat and complex social network, life in a circus is no different than imprisonment. Daily physical and verbal abuse is the norm. Trainers in circuses routinely beat elephants with a bullhook, a metal instrument similar to a fireplace poker. Ringling Brothers circus forces their elephants to perform daily for 48 to 50 weeks a year. When not performing, they are kept chained as many as 22 hours a day, standing in their own excrement on wet floors, similar to those which cut short Calle’s life. They go without bathing, mud wallowing, socializing, and every other normal elephant activity so that we may sit in the bleachers cheering their forced participation, completing the same unnatural tricks which are the whole of their repeated days.
Ringling Brothers’ elephant-breeding farm in Florida claims it raises its performers, yet the industry resource on elephant births, deaths, and captures, shows that the majority of Ringling’s elephants were captured in the wild. In either case, babies are separated from their mothers causing physical, emotional, and psychological harm. Circuses claim that their performing elephants will motivate the protection of this endangered species, yet in 2000 alone, poachers killed 60 wild female elephants so that their babies could be captured and sold to the entertainment industry. Between the early 1960s and late 1980s, 368 baby African elephants were imported to the USA for zoos. One hundred and fifty-eight of those elephants are already dead.
Of those who have survived many are solitary—a life of torture to an elephant. For them, their wild ranging Asian or African landscapes are gone, replaced by what the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA) permits for elephant enclosures: as little as 40 by 45 feet—about the size of a three-car garage.
Elephants and other captive animals are not the only prisoners and slaves on earth. There are 27 million human slaves in the world today, more than all the people stolen from Africa in the time of the transatlantic slave trace. In the 21st century, slaves cost so little they are utterly disposable. In Thailand, poor, rural parents commonly sell a little girl into prostitution or servitude for the price of a TV. Sound like a third world phenomenon? It is not. Slave prostitutes have been found in NYC, Seattle, LA, and even Berkeley.
Other slaves abound in sweatshops and third world agriculture. In India, the children of bonded farmers are born into “bondage”, inheriting their father’s insurmountable debt. It is on this tragic but common ground that the characters of Elephant Girl meet. Our protagonists were stolen from their homes, their families, their lives. Unfortunately our own telling cannot alter Calle’s history, but we hold out hope for those who remain enslaved.
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