Bewitched by an Elephant

Many years ago, when I had just started the Animal Rights Club at Crossroads, one of my students announced that she wanted the club to protest a tug of war contest being held nearby between an elephant and a car. It was being staged as a publicity stunt to advertise the circus and the car. Ringling Brothers would supply the elephant.

That next Saturday, early on a hot June morning, we met in the parking lot with food, water, and large signs. An hour later a truck arrived, slowly pulling several long boxcars, and parked in the lot. Six men jumped out, each holding a long metal rod with a sharp steel crescent point at the top. The doors of the box cars opened and inside each one stood two elephants, chained by their feet to the floor. I froze. Brandishing the metal rods like a weapon, men began to take the elephants out one by one. All the elephant had to do was see the bull hooks, and she cowered. It was horrible. I knew how that elephant felt.

Suddenly I looked to my right. An elephant in the box car next to me was staring at me, piercing my eyes. In an instant I was just her gaze. There was no Melya. I snapped back. She turned away. She was being pulled off the truck.

I walked back to my students. They began to scream as they saw one of the elephants lift her leg as the keeper put a heavy chain around her ankle, the other end of which was being tied to the car. My students and several of the crowd began screaming for the men to stop. Several of my students began to cry. The media has just arrived. They turned their cameras on us. On a group of cherubic 11 year olds sobbing almost hysterically, begging the men to stop.

In the interest of fair journalism, the media asked Ringling Brothers what they thought of the students’ demands. They had no answer. They had no choice. The men took the chain off the elephant’s ankle and another off the car. The media took close-ups of the looks of relief on the faces of the cherubs.

I will never know who that elephant was. But she changed my life forever.

-Melya Kaplan
Founder and Executive Director, VFTA

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