Dreams of an Elephant: Open Letter to the Community.
I am Beulah the elephant.
You might have seen me at a local fair or event, or heard about my attendance.
Since my entire life was spent catering to your needs as humans, please take a few minutes to hear me.
It’s important for you to know that I was not in your community willingly. I was born in 1967 in Burma, Asia, where I lived for four happy years in the steamy jungle with my mother and extended family, as elephants naturally do.
We traveled together, ate together, played together, and even grieved together when there was a loss. We were so close, and I loved our life and my family!
One day there was a loud noise, and several men barged into our jungle home. We tried to run, but they were too fast for us with their vehicles and guns.
They killed my mother, tied me with ropes and chains, put me in the back of a truck, and eventually on a ship to send me across the ocean, far away from everything I knew and loved.
Young elephants normally stay with their mothers for about 16 years, almost the same as human babies.
Can you imagine how terrified I was? I was still just a baby at four years old. What had I done to these men? Why were they treating me like this?
They called me Beulah. From this moment on, I would live as a slave and would never see my family or walk free in the world again.
They would hit me with something really sharp to get me to do what they wanted. This caused me a lot of pain and I lived in fear.
My body, mind and spirit died a bit more each day. How my legs yearned to roam free again!
In the wild, we used to walk dozens of miles a day together, foraging for food, playing in the water, just enjoying being a family.
At first, I had hopes that somehow, if I did what they asked, my jailers would set me free so I could see my beloved family again. How my heart ached for my aunts, brothers and sisters and the sweet life we had.
As the decades passed, and one excruciating year turned into the next, my despair grew. With no relief in sight, my hope slowly drained away.
My heart was so heavy.
Can you imagine how you would feel if you, or your small son or daughter, were kidnapped and sent to a different continent to spend the rest of your life imprisoned? My heartache was no different than yours would be.
Sometimes, in my dreams, I would be with my family again, in my native land, free, happy, snuggling with my mom, romping through the jungle. I could almost feel my mom’s trunk caressing me, and hear the distinct rumblings and trumpeting of her voice as she told me how much she loved me and how she and my aunts would always do their best to protect me.
Only in those dreamtime moments was I free.
My captors tell you they loved me, but real love is thinking of the other and what would be best for them. Yes, they did have some affection for me, but our relationship was based primarily on domination and greed. I was exploited for profit.
They’ll tell you I had a good life and yet they were fined by the USDA over 50 times for not caring properly for me. The fines and your USDA did absolutely nothing to lessen my anguish.
When they tell you that I died doing what I loved, I can’t begin to tell you how inaccurate that statement is.
Some elephants in my situation eventually snap and harm their captors out of desperation. My temperament was different, but my lack of violence was in no way a reflection of my consent.
My acceptance of food to stay alive was in no way a testament to my happiness. My diet is meant to consist of grasses, small plants, bushes, fruit, twigs, tree bark, and roots. Here I was often fed junk food like Kool Aid, marshmallows, cotton candy, donuts, and leftovers from the vendors at the fair. This contributed to my malaise and disease.
“Presenting animals to help people understand what they are fulfills an educational mission at the Eastern States… A beautiful, healthy elephant passed away in the normal course of its life… She had a very dignified transfer back to her home. She had a wonderful life and died of natural causes.”
To this I say, there was nothing in the last 48 years of my life that was natural, normal or wonderful. I was not healthy, in body, mind or spirit. Was tying my dead body up with ropes and hauling me into a truck dignified? You err again when you say my body was returned home.
My real home is in Asia. My body was returned to my captors.
Your answer belies your self-centered speciesism and poverty of compassion.
In my real home, elephant deaths are a complex and beautiful affair. We honor our loved ones, just as humans do. I was robbed of this rite of passage just as I was robbed of everything else that is natural.
Some humans tried to help, and for them I am incredibly grateful. I felt your concern and your love.
Unfortunately, I lived a life devoid of freedom, and died a prisoner in a strange land.
I dropped dead at the Big E State Fair in West Springfield, MA on September 15, 2019, being forced to stand on my aching feet all day, even at my advanced age.
Does this not insult your sense of decency? Does two minutes of mindless pleasure for you justify my entire lifetime of suffering? Does considering a sentient being who has complex emotions and a heart and brain bigger than you property not seem wrong to you?
My spirit is now free, but my life was a tragedy due to the myopia and narcissism of humans.
Sadly, there are many living elephants who are still in this position. Although humanity failed me, I do hold out hope that my death will not be in vain.
People can evolve and grow, admit their mistakes and vow to do better. Let’s get started. Please take the following steps to ensure that my captive brothers and sisters are helped:
- Educate yourself. If you’re not convinced already that wild animals like elephants should not be exploited for human entertainment, it doesn’t take too long to research to learn the truth. Here is a great article by National Geographic entitled No Ethical Way to Keep Elephants in Captivity.
- Boycott with your dollars. It’s not enough to choose not to ride an elephant or even to have your picture taken with her (although you must not do these things). If you care, you will also boycott the entire event, and let the organizers know why you are boycotting. Money talks. Don’t condone the abuse with your dollars and your presence. This includes zoos. See the National Geographic article above.
- Educate others. Please educate those you know, especially children, about the plight of these captive animals. They don’t exist for our entertainment any more than we exist for theirs.
- Speak up for the voiceless. Time is running out to save all that is wild. If you do care, elephants (and other wild animals) need you to get involved. Sign petitions. Join your local animal advocacy groups on social media. Help picket to raise awareness if an elephant or another captive wild animal is being exploited in your town.
- Support the organizations on the front lines. The Non-Human Rights Project has been fighting to get Beulah and others into an elephant sanctuary for years. An elephant like Beulah cannot be returned to the wild, so the best we can offer them is a well-run sanctuary dedicated primarily to their care, such as Elephant Sanctuary.
“The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for white, or women created for men.” ~ Alice Walker
Erin Sharaf is a recovering academic who believes that narrow boxes are for shoes and not for people, and that each of us is much more powerful than we’ve been led to believe. She has been featured on NPR and in Mindful magazine. Her great joy is getting to share transformative practices with others through coaching, workshops and retreats. She is a plant-powered creatrix, an eco-warrior, a truth-teller, and a channeler of the Divine. You can often find her on her yoga mat, tango dancing, or deep in the natural world communing with the tree spirits. Erin invites you to join her mindful, magical community at Mindfulness + Magic, where you can download free meditations to help you enhance your deep connection to yourself and the natural world. You can contact her via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.