I don't really know how to start something like this. I tried to write a joke -- something about my friend being an elephant, and 'no I don't mean she's a big lady' kinda thing... Then I went the emotional route of 'Imagine you were chained and electrocuted'... Then sarcastic -- ' I mean come on, they're just trying to make a buck. iPads are really expensive.' But the thing is, there's nothing remotely funny about this. Sarah's story doesn't need embellishment or a funny line to draw you in, just the facts:
Sarah is a 54-year-old wild-captured elephant with a chronic infection and symptoms of arthritis and she's being forced to travel and perform with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus. In August, Sarah collapsed to the ground while being loaded into one of Ringling's railroad boxcars. No one raced to help or make sure she was okay. Instead the handlers forced her back onto her feet and onto their train. She is sick, tired and in pain.
In the wild, like Sarah once was, elephants are roaming over vast areas following trails forged by their ancestors. They return to favorite watering holes, forage for their favorite foods and enjoy dust baths and swimming. They are among the most sociable of animals who thrive in the company of their extended families and friends. Elephants always know what's going on within their family, they nurture the sick, collectively help in raising the young and pass knowledge and traditions on from one generation to the next.
In circuses, elephants are denied all of this and punished if caught attempting any of it. An elephant who reaches out her trunk to another in friendship or for comfort is punished with a whack of a bullhook -- a heavy baton with a sharp point and hook on the end -- the ubiquitous device used by Ringling to keep elephants fearful and compliant. The only exercise they get is the walks from the railway to the arena and the strenuous tricks they are forced to perform. About one-third of elephant deaths at Ringling have been attributed to either osteoarthritis or a chronic foot problem. If we don't do something to help, Sarah could be next.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has already cited Ringling for failure to properly treat this ailing elephant, but as a recent exposé in Mother Jones documented, this federal agency routinely gives Feld Entertainment -- the corporation that owns the circus -- a free pass. Case after serious case is ignored, settled or allowed to fade away. Kenneth H. Vail, who served as the USDA's legal counsel on Ringling cases for decades admitted, "If I were an elephant, I wouldn't want to be with Feld Entertainment. It's a tough life."
Sarah's "tough life" is spent mostly jammed into a railroad boxcar with up to four other elephants. Traveling 16,000 miles, Sarah is shackled and forced to stand in a thick stew of her own waste as they make their over 40-city circus tour. No wonder this aging elephant is lame and stiff.
Recent reports indicate that Sarah's chronic infection and elevated white blood cell count are likely signs that she is suffering from a serious condition, including possibly tuberculosis.
It seems clear that Ringling Bros. Circus has no intention of giving Sarah relief, much less retirement. The USDA must seize Sarah before it's too late and move her to a reputable sanctuary where she can get the medical treatment her body so desperately needs and begin the emotional recovery she deserves.
Elephants are known for having a great, long memory. But what if all you could remember is a lifetime of pain?
Don't make this Sarah's destiny. Her story shouldn't end this way. And we shouldn't let our stories show that we sat back and did nothing for Sarah.
She arrived in Chicago yesterday, Sunday, November 20th. Ringling Bros. will be there through the holiday weekend with performances almost every day, sometimes multiples times in one day.
I am adding my voice to PETA's in calling on the USDA to use its authority to seize and retire Sarah before it's too late.
Let's put our voices together and tell a new story.