On a major TV news network to the south, there was footage of an elephant polo match in progress from the Far East. The "balanced" news team (meaning male and female) exchanged what they took to be humorous remarks oin the slowness of the match.
"But aren't the young elephants cute?
I guess that the short break from the latest car bombing or other disaster in the making was meant to amuse their audience.
One of the young elephants appeared to be in distress, as if searching for a parent. There was much laughter and shouts of encouragement from the sidelines, adding to the creature's dismay. I'm sure the elephants would be rewarded with their favourite foods after the match, and allowed to mingle and calm down.
Imagine the energy burned up by such a huge creature when forced to run? Though nature has given them the ability to run, and to defend the herd when threatened, a slow pace between feeding grounds and watering hole is their preferred mode of travel.
As children, we were spellbound when going to our first circus -- especially the large three-ring ones held inside a real tent. The prancing horses, the chimps on bikes, the lions and tigers snarling to whip lashes, and the elephants circling the main ring, then standing with forefeet planted on the flanks of the one in front; these were some of the memories we carried over the year, hoping to repeat the experience again next year.
It is much later in life, and only if we take the time to learn, that those childhood memories become tarnished with the reality of what the animals have to endure to entertain us. In order to "tame" an animal into obeying commands and gestures, the free spirit which is inherent to them must either be broken or subdued by force. Those animals which were meant to hunt for their food are fed already dead meat at regular intervals, thus turning them into sad parodies of clockwatchers.
Many of us older persons, who were schooled at an early age to learn our ABCs and timetables by rote, know that repetition is a boring way to be educated. It may have worked in the long run, but it did not allow room for creative thought or discussion. Imagine, then, what it must do to a captured animal. They are not left alone until the lessons are learned and they must be performed exactly the same way each time at the crack of a whip. Instead of little gold stars on their papers, they may be given extra food as prizes.
I remember seeing travelogues years ago that showed elephant handlers brandishing small pike poles, with a pointed tip and a curved barb off to the side, used to hook onto the creature's hide and pull them. The eye of the elephant never left the handler when he was in view.
It is no wonder that elephants sometimes go on a rampage trying to destroy anything associated with humans. They are called "rogue elephants gone mad", but to my thinking, it's more likely a case of elephants who just "got good and mad" at their treatment by humans. There is also the fact that humans, especially in the Far East, are destroying the elephants' natural habitat.
In Russia and eastern Europe, the dancing bears still survive as entertainment. They are captured as cubs and soon trained to sit up and beg. When they grow larger, a heavy metal ring is inserted through their nose septum and a chain attached to ensure they stay docile. Most people would probably get up and dance, too, if someone were about to tear their noses off if they didn't.
The relationships between humans and other animal species has always been a mixed one, ranging from the treatment of household pets as being almost human, to the fear/respect shown larger creatures or small, poisonous ones.
Maybe it has to do with the fact that so many people, though still meat-eaters, no longer have to hunt, kill, or butcher to stay alive. The neatly packaged pieces of meat purchased at a supermarket do not even hint at the processes involved in raising beef cattle, pigs or chickens. The "civilized" denizens clustered into urban centres would most likely cringe at the very idea of having to slaughter an animal for that medium-rare steak they enjoy so much.
And now that I've written myself into a corner, I should probably admit that my youngest daughter might have the right idea in giving up the use of animal meat as food altogether. As to my own diet, though I've cut way down on meat, the craving is always present, and any attempt to excuse myself with the adage, "You can't teach an old dog new tricks," would backfire, too, wouldn't it?
|This article was first published in the January 9 issue of The Eastern Door, a weekly newspaper serving the Kahnawake Mohawk Territory in Quebec. It is reprinted here with kind permission.|