18th-century poet Alexander Pope notes: “The proper study of mankind is man, but when one regards the elephant, one wonders.”
Writes Rich Lowry this week in the New York Post: “One wonders particularly after reading an extraordinary essay, “Do Elephants Have Souls?” published in The New Atlantis (Winter/Spring 2013).
In her award-winning essay (the Sidney Award is given to the best magazine essays of the year), Caitrin Nicol makes a powerful case for the moral status of elephants, a case that is especially poignant when the creatures are faced with the prospect of utter destruction. Only 500,000 or a little more still roam the Earth, and poachers slaughter tens of thousands a year.
Our blog here being devoted to human relationships, I will include only a short (and touching) selection from Nicol’s lengthy and excellent essay. The elephants, “animals so physically unlike ourselves but mentally, morally and socially so similar,” model the ultimate in sharing, comforting and connecting.
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“Carol Buckley, co-founder of the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, a retirement ranch for maltreated veterans of circuses and zoos, describes the arrival of a newcomer to the facility.
The fifty-one-year-old Shirley was first introduced to an especially warm resident of long standing named Tarra: “Everyone watched in joy and amazement as Tarra and Shirley intertwined trunks and made ‘purring’ noises at each other. Shirley very deliberately showed Tarra each injury she had sustained at the circus, and Tarra then gently moved her trunk over each injured part.”
Later in the evening, an elephant named Jenny entered the barn — one who, as it turned out, had as a calf briefly been in the same circus as Shirley, twenty-two years before:
There was an immediate urgency in Jenny’s behavior. She wanted to get close to Shirley who was divided by two stalls. Once Shirley was allowed into the adjacent stall the interaction between her and Jenny became quite intense. Jenny wanted to get into the stall with Shirley desperately. She became agitated, banging on the gate and trying to climb through and over.
After several minutes of touching and exploring each other, Shirley started to ROAR and I mean ROAR — Jenny joined in immediately. The interaction was dramatic, to say the least, with both elephants trying to climb in with each other and frantically touching each other through the bars. I have never experienced anything even close to this depth of emotion.
We opened the gate and let them in together…. they are as one bonded physically together. One moves, and the other shows in unison. It is a miracle and joy to behold. All day … they moved side by side and when Jenny lay down, Shirley straddled her in the most obvious protective manner and shaded her body from the sun and harm.
They were inseparable until Jenny died a few years later.