The staff at Upaya Naturals are big animal lovers and believe that animals should be treated with just as much respect and dignity that we expect other humans to be treated with. Humans and animals have coexisted on the planet for ages, however; nowadays, animals are being taken advantage of, pushed towards extinction, tortured and manipulated. We believe that this cruelty should be stopped and this three part series will focus on three specific animals that have been chosen by our staff.  Our goal is to educate our readers as well as enlighten them and raise an interest in helping support animals.

Elephants, largest of all land animals, are among the most recognizable and beloved creatures on Earth. Their ancestors once roamed most of the planet, but wild populations are now confined to decreasing swaths of land in Africa and Asia. Hunted mercilessly for their prized ivory tusks, they are under threat in most of their range from poaching, habitat loss, and human encroachment and are listed as threatened by the IUCN.

When people think of elephants, often times they think of large animals who are used for entertainment. But what most people don’t know is that elephants are so much like humans! Humans and elephants co-evolved in Africa from earlier species. Humans have always lived alongside these amazing beings, and we share much in common with them. Both elephant and human young take a long time to mature. Both share complex social networks. Both communicate in a myriad of ways with fellow species members. Both mourn their dead. As with humans, elephant behaviour varies through time and space via patterns of behaviour taught from generation to generation. As with humans, behaviour also adapts as conditions change, and breaking the flow of information leads to what have been similarly characterized as social problems. Therefore, just like humans, elephant behaviour can be seen as cultural. Elephants and their kin, the mammoths, have been a successful taxonomic family, covering much of the earth, but their numbers declined as human populations increased, with co-existence in some areas, and extinction in others. We are the main driver pushing them towards extinction. We are wiping them out, generation by generation. Elephant numbers plummeted throughout the 20th century, and although there are success stories, the trend is downwards, as we kill them for their tusks, drive them out of their homes, and fight them for our crops. In order to make sure that elephants get a fair chance of making it to the 22nd century, understanding the interrelations between humans and elephants is critical. In order to provide the respect and quality of life our fellow beings deserve requires that we take the utmost pains in finding out under what conditions elephants are healthiest, and how humans can best facilitate the maintenance of these conditions. What works in one area may not work in another, but we have an ethical obligation to both humans and elephants to find ways of creating and maintaining spaces where both species can thrive, and where interactions are more beneficial than detrimental.

So back to that entertainment thought. For most, when they think of elephants, they think of the Circus. The Circus has been know as a joyful event to attend for adults and children of all ages. But most are not aware of the hours, days and years of suffering and abuse that circus elephants are forced to endure in order to “perform”. The Ringling Circus was a world renowned circus recognized all around the world for their level of entertainment and skill level. What that are currently known for is the disturbing amount of abuse and torture that they caused their circus elephants. Elephants are creatures of nature and just like you and I, we were not born to maneuver our bodies in ways others can’t imagine…Especially at their size. All of the elephants’ movements and ‘tricks’ seen at the circus are unnatural and are forced upon these beautiful creatures. The trainer’s key tool… The Bullhook. The bullhook is a training device used to train and control elephants. Both ends of the bullhook are used to inflict damage. The hook is used to apply varying degrees of pressure to sensitive spots on an elephant’s body, causing the elephant to move away from the source of discomfort. When the hooked end is held, the handle can be used as a club, inducing substantial pain when the elephant is struck in areas where little tissue separates skin and bone.

A baby elephant is trained at Ringling's breeding center.

 The above photo is considered “Basic Training” by Ringling.

For the Ringling Circus to force their elephants to perform, they have crew members that they refer to as ‘trainers’ start the torture from the moment a baby elephant is born. Once pulled form their mothers, baby elephants are restrained by four legs on a concrete floor in a barn for up to 23 hours a day to break their spirits and are never allowed to play outdoors. Chaining a curious and energetic baby elephant for such lengthy periods is psychologically devastating. The babies often incur painful lesions from straining against ropes tightly cinched around their legs. It may take up to six months before they finally give up and stop struggling. Baby elephants are captured rodeo-style, roped around all four legs, tethered neck-to-neck to an “anchor” elephant, and dragged from their mothers. From this point forward in their lives, every movement, every instinct, and every natural behavior is subjected to suppression and discipline at the whim of the trainer. Initial training involves introducing baby elephants to the bullhook while taking them on short walks in the barn. They are surrounded by six or seven people and tethered neck-to-neck with an “anchor” elephant. Ringling never reveals the violence and trauma involved in pulling baby elephants from the nurturing care of their mothers, instead claiming, “The calves let us know when they are ready to move to the next social level, usually between 18 and 22 months old, when they no longer rely on their mothers for their nutrition and start showing signs of independence.” “Then basic training is over and it’s time for full-fledged training. Full-fledged training sessions last 1 1/2 to 2 hours each, twice per day, until they get it right.”  says Sam Haddock- former Ringling trainer. Sam also says “During these training sessions, the baby is screaming and struggling the whole time. The bullhook is designed for one purpose and one purpose only: to inflict pain and punishment. I should know. I used to make them. I built them to where you can’t break them, no matter how hard you hit the elephant.” Sam left the Ringling circus because he says he couldn’t handle inflicting the pain on such magnificent creatures.

All of this unsettling information is hidden from the general public and will continue to be unless we can make a stand. So long as we continue to visit the circus, we are allowing these trainers to continue the torture. We have learned here that elephants are just like us in more ways that we could have ever imagined and we owe it to them to give them safe and happy lives. Not all homes for elephants are bad or cruel, for instance the elephant sanctuary in Tennessee which gives elephants an enormous sanctuary for safe and enjoyable living with safe health care and nurturing environments. Los Angeles has banned the use of bull hooks in the entire state which has now prevented any circus from coming back into their town. If they can make a stand, we can to! So what can we do from here? Well, in the future, instead of visiting a circus where we now know the animals are tortured to perform the way that they do, why not check out a human circus like cirque du soleil. This amazing circus is performed by only humans who willing train at their own pace to entertain the world and is truly amazing. There are so many ways that we can give back to elephants in the form of donations, educating others, protesting and holding strong to our beliefs!

I am a Upaya Naturals staff member and my favorite animals are elephants. My New Year’s Resolution is to spread the word about what is happening to elephants around the world and educate as many people as I can. If Tarra and Bella can coexist so happily in the video below, I think we can too.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qAN5nf04L2s

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