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Beverley Golden Headshot

Let the Girls Be Elephants

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Elephants are the most majestic of all creatures, to me. Although I don't remember exactly when, I know my love of them began as a little girl. It's been almost 35 years since a friend returning from Hawaii brought me a gift, an elephant made of sea shells, reawakening this love, making it a conscious part of my life again.

That one gift started a collection of elephants that lives with me in my house. I've lost count, but there are well over 400 by now. They have arrived from all over the world; Italy to Thailand, India to Africa and all points in-between. I believe the elephant is one of my animal totems, a lifelong animal totem in fact. The elephant has great lessons for me to learn, and I have watched them and studied them at length, a student eager to learn from a wise old teacher. I've spent hours on end at every zoo I've ever visited. From London, England when it still had elephants, to San Diego and Phoenix. These zoos offered me the opportunity to create many lasting memories by quietly observing their elephants.

Elephants have a quiet gentleness, even with their lumbering physiques. They have great wisdom and a graceful beauty which I see even as they slowly maneuver their massive frames across their terrains. Although they appear sad, I feel great happiness in their presence. I understand their love of family and how they protect and nurture their young. Outwardly they may appear heavy, but I always sense they possess an inner lightness of being.

When I heard about the dilemma at the Toronto Zoo, the dilemma surrounding the future of the three remaining elephants, I sat up and took notice. Elephants are native to either India or Africa. There is much debate about the ideal climate and roaming space needed for elephants to thrive. The Toronto Zoo offers neither. Typically elephants require space, much more than the 40 square metre pen, Thika, Toka and Iringa live in in the winter and the outside summer paddock, at the Toronto Zoo.

After reading recent news, that the Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee had offered to take them, I was excited and could see a bright future for them, living out their remaining years, roaming free among their own kind.

It was the heart warming story of Tarra and Bella, constant companions at the sanctuary, that first brought my attention to its existence. The amazing part of the friendship is that although Tarra, born in Burma, is an Asian elephant, Bella is a stray dog who wandered onto the sanctuary and started following Tarra around.

They developed an inseparable friendship, a bond that defies our human understanding, perhaps reminds me that sometimes we find members of our soul family in the mostly unlikely of places, even the most unlikely of bodies. They are best friends and love and protect each other. Tarra knows Bella is not an elephant. Bella knows Tarra is not a dog. This doesn't matter to them. It is pure joy to watch them. A great lesson for us all.

The Elephant Sanctuary has 2,700 acres of land populated with 15 elephants that have been rescued from circuses and zoos, and brought to live out their days in a safe, more natural haven.

The sanctuary has limited opportunities for visiting, but does have live elecams which allow non-invasive visiting via their online site and gives us all the opportunity to watch live streaming of the elephants. Quite an amazing opportunity for us to be given this experience.

Elephants may live to be 70-years-old and can still give birth until the age of 50. Our Toronto elephants are between 30- and 41-years old, just middle age for an elephant. The Toronto Zoo has had four elephants die within the last five years, so the future survival of these three remaining girls, seems very crucial.

The decision to let the elephants go, is primarily a monetary one, the zoo reports. To redesign and upgrade the elephants space would require 16.5 million dollars. Although elephants are a big attraction to zoo lovers, it looks like our girls will be heading to a new home within the next two years. When I heard that the Granby Zoo in Quebec wants to take them, I couldn't help but wonder how much better this would be for them.

I applauded when I read that TV game show host and animal rights activist Bob Barker had come to Toronto pledging his own money to move Thika, Toka and Iringa to the Tennessee Sanctuary. It will cost between $30,000-$50,000 to move each elephant. He has already spent 1.5 million of his own money to move elephants from northern zoos to places where the ground doesn't freeze, which is an ongoing concern for the health of the elephant's feet. Barker offered $100,000 to move the Edmonton Zoo's only elephant, Lucy, to the sanctuary, but they have declined his offer.

So, for the health and well being of our Toronto elephants, I wish them a move that offers them an opportunity to just be elephants. A home and environment that lets them thrive and cry, play, laugh and roam. An opportunity to express elephant joy, which is frankly what I always feel from them. Yes, joy and wonder every time I see them. I'll be sad to see our Toronto Zoo shut down it's elephant exhibit after 37 years, but I'll be happy once I hear the elephants are safe and comfortable in their new home. I'm still voting for the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee. Let the girls be elephants again. Love to hear your feedback!