E is for Elephants

This is my latest post for the Blogging from A-Z Challenge. I’ve been through about 6 different ideas for E today and none of them got me to actually put my fingers to the keyboard so I outsourced my choice and asked my kids. TLG (10)’s suggestion of Elephant won out over TB (13)’s suggestion of Echidna, mostly because I had never heard of an Echidna before today. I did have an amusing few minutes trying to convince TB that I thought he had made up Echidna as an elaborate practical joke though, so there’s that.

I rode an elephant once when I was a kid but if you think this is going to be a huge turning-point-in-my-life story, you’d be wrong. I can remember that the line was long and the elephant was big and that it was uncomfortable to sit on the elephant’s back, but I don’t remember being in awe or finding it weird or anything. You’d think that a young kid who lived on an island in Canada would be at least a little impressed to find herself on an elephant’s back, but apparently not. I’m not known as someone who takes things in stride but the full story is that I take a fair number of bizarre things in stride and then I will be brought up solid by some small thing that a thousand other people will let slide right by them. So perhaps it is not that I *don’t* take things in stride, perhaps it is that I take different things in stride than the people who have given me crap about it.

Speaking of crap, I went to an indoor circus when I was small (oddly enough, this circus took place at the Arts and Culture Centre) and the acts were terrible. According to my parents, the only thing that us kids got excited about was when an elephant pooped on the stage and a guy had to bring out a bucket to clean it up. Kids always appreciate a good poop joke, even if it means someone has to get a bucket.


I have a fair amount of elephant jewelry, I think it started when my brother-in-law brought me a bracelet from his travels ages and ages ago, and that bracelet somehow sent out a signal to the universe that I love elephants. I do like elephants, as a matter of fact, and I have even bought myself some elephant jewelry in the last few years, but I don’t remember having a particular affection for them before that first bracelet.

I feel a bit guilty when I look at them now, though, after seeing them in a zoo last year.

I’m on the fence about zoos, they are interesting and the animals are beautiful, and they certainly give you an appreciate for the majesty of nature, but there’s something really creepy about them, too. It feels wrong to have these animals in fake habitats, exhibiting (fairly) fake behaviour so we can stand around and gawk at them. It feels like the order of things has gotten mixed up. We should be afraid, or at least in awe, of most of these animals instead of pointing them out to our kids. They’re beautiful but somehow wrong, as if the very thing that makes them magnificent is the exact thing we are trying to breed out of them.

I felt it most strongly when I looked at the elephants. They were on the far side of the enclosure, all standing together. They looked exactly like a bunch of teenagers who had been having a good time until someone’s Mom showed up. I swear, if they could have chewed gum or lit a cigarette to show that they didn’t give a damn about what we thought, they would have.*

There was something especially gross about having the elephants in a zoo. They were too big for us to have them at our command, in a space we had made for them. It seemed like they should want to smash everything and escape. I was in awe, completely disconcerted, and somehow proud of them for staying on the other side of the enclosure all the hell away from us humans.

You could ask, of course, what the heck I was doing in a zoo if I don’t quite agree with their existence. The answer is, of course, that I don’t actually know. My kids were interested in seeing the animals, and I was curious as well, and since my not going wasn’t going to make a bit of difference to the animals nor to the zoo, I decided not to make a stand on that issue right then. Perhaps it was a kind of ‘choose your battles’ situation, or maybe it was just laziness and a desire to go with the flow for once, but I went to the zoo. I found it beautiful and weird and delightful and unpleasant. I may never go again.

I like elephants but I definitely prefer to think of them thundering around in the wild than hanging out in the corner of a zoo enclosure. I also enjoy having them hanging out on my earrings, bracelets, or necklaces, there’s less conflict. I don’t have to worry about their feelings, their captivity, or their poop** when they are silver and sparkly.

Of course, there’s an argument to be made that enjoying them on jewelry is only liking them for how they look, but heavens, I can only unpack ***so many layers about elephants.
* I am having this little twinge of memory that I’ve read somewhere that elephants don’t lie down when they are in captivity and this grouping is not a casual thing, it is a protective thing. So, I’m giving you my anthropomorphic impression here, not a considered biological opinion. Apply as needed.

**Did you ever try any of that elephant poop paper? Isn’t that the most bizarre thing? Where do people get their business ideas at all?
*** Unpack. Like a suitcase. Or like a trunk! Ha!

10 thoughts on “E is for Elephants

  1. I almost did this for my post today :). I used to collect elephant figurines and stuffed animals. Always my favorite. Large, majestic, gorgeous animals.

  2. mombie says:

    They are really amazing, aren’t they? I really love elephant jewelry – it’s like their power reverberates from it.

  3. Yes, I think I agree with you about how creepy zoos are. I still want to write the story of Zeke the Zebra in the Zany Zoo, where the people stand still and the animals wander from habitat to habitat. 😉

  4. Like you, I have difficult feelings around zoos. I visited one recently after many years avoidance because it was a great opportunity for photographing meercats. I was OK with them, as their enclosure seemed to be pretty open, although it must have been sufficiently restrictive to keep them from a-wandering.
    I adore hand-made paper and so have tried elephant-poo paper. Cannot comment on the mindset that would think it up as a suitable idea. Same problem with ‘No Woman, No Cry’ by the artist Chris Ofili who both uses elephant poo in the collage and balances the finished work on a couple of lumps! He probably gave some arty farty bollocks quote about it which I just stepped over …

  5. I think there are good and bad when it comes to zoos. I have seen where the animals have no room and that makes me sad, but we actually live near the Roger Williams Park Zoo in RI and they seem to have plenty of room. Zoos can be instrumental in preventing some species from extinction.

    I love elephants and picked up a really adorable handbag with an elephant on the front. One of my favorite bags!

  6. mombie says:

    You’re right, of course, Judi. And the zoo I was at (Jacksonville, Florida) seemed like it was taking good care of the animals – the conflict was all mine.

    I like the idea of your elephant handbag. Have fun with it!

  7. mombie says:

    I’m glad you got a chance to photograph the meerkats – definitely can’t do that easily outside of a zoo!

    I don’t have a problem with the paper itself, but like you said, the mindset that created it is a bit beyond me.

    That artwork sounds like it would be a bit much. I am creative but I don’t quite qualify as artsy fartsy.

  8. mombie says:

    That sounds like a story I would like to read, Chris. I love flipped scenarios like that!

    I like to tell Jane Yolen’s version of The Three Billy Goats Gruff – it’s from the perspective of the bridge!

  9. mombie says:

    They are very impressive, aren’t they? Even their social lives are enormously (ha!) interesting.

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