Thursday, June 2, 2011

Joplin Tragedy, Elephant Exploited by Circus Promoter

On May 22, a tornado tore through Joplin, Missouri, damaging or destroying much of the town. Many people were killed or injured. Our hearts go out to all who have been affected by this tragedy. Anyone who has not been through such a disaster cannot fully imagine how it feels to have your world turned upside down in moments. All help is welcomed.

Enter Zack Garden, promoter of the Piccadilly Circus, and an elephant named Okha. They had been scheduled to perform in the local arena that was instead needed as a makeshift hospital. An offer was made by the circus to use their elephants to help clear debris. City officials declined the offer.

Instead of their arena show, performers and crew of the circus entertained small groups and handed out treats. That's a great idea. But handlers also put a harness on Okha and took her into the wreckage. The media was all around, and they just can't resist an unusual story that looks heartwarming.

Any sensible person will wear sturdy shoes and heavy work gloves while working in a debris field. You need to protect your skin from the twisted metal, shattered glass, shredded wood and broken concrete. But an elephant doesn't have gloves or shoes. Although they are known for having thick skin, it is actually as sensitive as ours. Walking on hard man-made surfaces and through the wreckage puts them at risk for cuts and scrapes. Sharp items can become embedded between their toes or in the soft pads of their feet. This causes pain, infection and lasting damage if it is not treated promptly and properly.

Watching video of this event, I see that members of the public are close to the elephant. Generally the public is kept a safe distance from elephants when they are being moved in or out of an arena. This is for protection, in case the elephant breaks away from the handler. Here the elephant is in an unfamiliar environment, being asked to pull the painfully heavy weight of a vehicle. If she would break away, people would likely trip and fall into the debris while trying to get out of her way. She is also bobbing her head, a sign of distress.

According to the promoter, the elephant worked for only two hours before they stopping. That was long enough to generate publicity for the circus. A quick search brought up 35 articles, both national and local coverage. Lots of photos and video of an elephant dragging a few things out of the rubble. It hardly matters whether or not you support keeping elephants in captivity or using them for hard work. What was really accomplished in those two hours, helping a town to clear debris or promoting the circus?

Note: Here are some ways to help the people of Joplin, MO.


  1. Who is blogging this? :-) Thanks. Sorry would not let me log in except as Anon.

  2. What was really accomplished in those two hour? Putting the elephant in danger. The USDA should fine Picadilly - but they won't, they are notorious for not doing their job. I do hope IDA or PETA file a complaint - it's a legitimate one too.

  3. You probably won't post this, because I must say that you don't know what you're talking about. I have known Okha (and her owners) since 1982. She has belonged to the same people (father & son) since she was a little baby, and she has NEVER been mistreated or forced to do anything that she doesn't want to do. She lives better than most people, and everything that she does, she does out of LOVE for her owner, NOT fear of being punished. Her only unhappiness in her nearly 40 years of life is due to the death of her owner's father in 1997 - she loved him with all her heart and still grieves over losing him, however she grew up with his son (her current owner), and she loves him as well. They are together 24/7, and she willingly does what he asks her to do out of love, NOT fear. It is true that not all animals are as fortunate as Okha, but she is one elephant that you don't need to worry about - she has a life that she truly enjoys, and if she could talk she would tell you the same!

  4. I am with Ms Katrina on this one. An elephant is not going to do something that it doesn't want to. If this were a dog rescuing people from the debris would you be so worried about their feet? Seems like a minor thing when compared to the lives of humans. Elephants weigh tons and they do not break a sweat when it comes to pulling large heavy things. Cars, tree trunks, not going to phase an elephant, which I think is pretty obvious in the video. A little debris is not going to hurt the elephants well padded feet either. I'm sure that they had their eyes out for anything hazardous to the animal anyway. After all it is their lively hood. If they let that elephant get hurt they will be out of a job.

    As for the effectiveness, even if the work that elephant contributed amounts to nothing in the grand scheme of things. It was still a huge morale booster to everyone in Joplin, if only momentarily. An elephant is a majestic amazing sight and I've seen and heard first hand what kind of smiles and laughter a beautiful rare creature like an elephant can bring to someone who may feel lost in misfortune. An elephant helped clean up our town! How cool is that?? Sounds like a good story to tell your grand kids.

  5. Elephants are an amazing sight and would be better being viewed in the wild through binoculars..not pulling peoples rubbage out of the way. Theres nothing majestic about that. If people want to see something amazing in their town then see how many people you can pull together to help. As for a dog could tip toe and manouver out of the way of things due to its agile nature..unlike the elephant with its giant feet. The end point is that elephants shouldnt be with us. They should be in the wild or in an sanctuary.

  6. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  7. Unless Ms. Katrina is an elephant, then I don't know how she can speak for one. Saying the elephant "loves" anyone is fairly absurd. People who project human emotions on animals usually don't care much about the animals at all.

  8. You'll notice that I've had to remove a comment. We welcome a variety of opinions, but insults and name calling will not be tolerated.

    Ms Katrina, your comment is welcome, but I think you missed the point. All of the publicity mentioned Zack Garden and his Piccadilly Circus.

    The Garden family have been in the news before regarding some less than reputable promotions. In this case, the city of Joplin turned down the offer to have elephants participating in the clean up efforts. Yet the Gardens and Okha's owner, Brian Franzen, chose to bring her in front of the cameras and into the debris without authorization. If publicity wasn't part of their thinking, they would've left her with the other elephants and helped out without drawing the media's attention to themselves.

    I don't know how fond Mr. Franzen is of his animals, but he can't meet their basic needs while hauling them around the country in trucks. His tigers only leave their small travel cages to go into the ring for rehearsal and performances. The elephants are turned out of the truck onto pavement in an area barely larger than the truck. They live like this for months on end because they are the tools he uses to make his living.

  9. First, elephants and other animals don't belong in circus'. Only double-jointed, Pretzel-twisting acrobats, sword swallowing show-offs, Caged motorcycle riders, trapeze artists, etc. Belong in the circus. It is a disgrace & one of the most selfish/thoughtless acts a human can bestow upon a majestic animal is to use a disciplinary tool to force the animal into a subservient behavior or trick. It is unnatural and certainly unwarranted for ANY REASON!

    Second, that beautiful elephant should not have been walking through the rubble for any reason. The elephant had no protection from dangerous items throughout that mess. Photo-ops should be left to the egotistical politicians & Hollywood A-Listers, not a poor mighty elephant who's being used to drum up free advertisement. RIDICULOUS!

    Third: the elephant was in unfamiliar territory w/ groups of strangers hanging around. The stress level for her was probably high already due to riding out the storm, then to be surrounded by strangers in an unsafe environment could've easily triggered even the most genteel-natured elephant to panic. Had she panicked and started causing trouble or hurting people, guess what people??? She gets physically reprimanded for being a "bad girl" and God forbid Had she decided to go on a rampage and hurt/kill someone due to her unnecessary stress levels, this elephant very well could've paid the ultimate price for a human's thoughtless act; she might have been beaten or shot & killed because she was protecting herself after her handlers allowed her safety to be compromised.


  10. Totally agree, she should never have been in Joplin or anywhere else with a circus. Elephants don't belong in circuses or anywhere to be used as entertainment and never to be walking amongst all that debri, their feet are so sensitive and could have been damaged which takes a long time to heal. As far as the circus using her in this situation, it was just a publicity stunt that could have gone horribly wrong. Also the harness looks like a makeshift contraption not suitable for her to be pulling all that weight with.


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