Thursday, November 10, 2016

Anne Tibbitts writes

In Memory of a Shot Dead Circus Elephant

The only wild you knew was a frightened crowd
come to gawk at captives and prisoners. Some man
got rich off you, drinking toasts in his trailer
to the pachyderms of tents and cages, holding gold
in his hands letting the clinky coins jingle him a 
tune of success. If he was really lucky a nice looking
girl would help him out of long black shiny boots,
and into bed, while you munched hay and junk
not from jungles. Whoever said it was an elephant's
job to like peanuts, anyway?

The final round before you left life's ring
was not a round of applause. Hunkered down heavy
next to a small blue car your eyes glazed over
and opened to see for the first real time: freedom.
For once, you called the shots, yes, you called the shots
and they came through the air and triggers set you free,
eighty seven rounds till down for good on Kakaako.

When you lay crumpled against that car
all shot full of bullets after your rampage
toward some sort of freedom, your eyes still
open, but small, people have speculated
about what might have been going on in your mind:

you were dreaming of green
and big fields.
And the sweetness of your mother's trunk
swinging to and fro
while you sucked milk,
oblivious to cages and pain.


  1. Tyke was a 20-year-old 8,000-pound (3,600 kg) single-tusked African elephant owned by John Cuneo, Jr.'s Hawthorn Corporation. In 1994, during a Circus International performance at the Neal Blaisdell Center in Kakaʻako, a commercial and retail district of Honolulu, Hawaiʻi, she trampled her groomer, Dallas Beckwith, and killed her trainer, Allen Campbell, while he tried to shield Beckworth. Then she bolted from the arena and attacked publicist Steve Hirano when he tried to keep her in the parking lot. For more than 30 minutes she ran through the central business district before finally being felled by 86 bullets shot by the local police. Campbell's autopsy revealed that he had cocaine and alcohol in his system at the time of his death, and officials at the Denver Zoo confirmed that there had been complaints of animal abuse filed against him in the late 1980s when he operated an elephant and camel ride concession in the city. Tyke had been involved in two other incidents in 1993: She had attacked a tiger trainer and then escaped through the front doors of the Jaffa Shrine Center in Altoona, Pennsylvania; and at the North Dakota State Fair in Minot, North Dakota, had trampled a handler and run uncontrolled for 25 minutes. But earlier, while performing with the Tarzan Zerbini Circus, she was publicly beaten by her handler to the point where she was screaming and bending down on three legs to avoid being hit.

  2. Numerous lawsuits filed against Hawaii, Honolulu, Circus International, Cuneo, and Hawthorn were settled out of court, and the details of the monetary decision were kept sealed from publication. Animal Rights Hawaii renamed its "Order of the Innocent Award" The William Fenton Sink Award for Defense of Animals in honor of the Honolulu lawyer who had sued Cuneo on behalf of numerous plaintiffs, including young children, who suffered psychological injuries after witnessing Tyke's killing. Experimental hardcore punk/powerviolence band Man Is the Bastard included "Tyke" on its 1995 album, "Thoughtless...." The incident inspired legislation on local levels in Hawaii and elsewhere, and Sam Farr of California introduced legislation in the US House of Representatives in 1999 and 2012. It also spurred Carol Buckley to take action. While a student at Moorpark College in 1974, a community college in California that includes an Exotic Animal Training and Management program, she volunteered to feed and care for a baby elephant that a local tire dealer had bought to market his wares, and a year later she borrowed $25,000, bought the elephant, renamed her Tarra, and taught her to roller skate. Over the next 15 years they made a livelihood in circuses and zoos in the United States and Canada. But then Tarra began swinging her trunk at people when Buckley's back was turned. Buckley ended Tarra's roller skating act and tried to find her a new home, including African Lion Safari and Bowmanville Zoo in Ontario, the Racine Zoo in Wisconsin, and the Nashville Zoo in Tennessee, but in each case Tarra would soon be standing near the enclosing fence, swaying back and forth. After Tyke's death, Buckley bought 112 acres in Hohenwald, Tennessee, and founded the Elephant Sanctuary, the first natural habitat refuge for sick, old, and needy elephants; in 1997 she sold her home and used her life savings to build a second barn in order to accept more elephants. Today, the 2,700 acre (1,100 ha) Elephant Sanctuary (Hohenwald) houses 24 African and Asian elephants in three separate sections with four new barns. She also developed a non-dominant management system and a holistic healthcare program for the animals. In addition, in 2003, she coordinated the rescue of Delhi from Cuneo's Hawthorn Corp. after it was determined that one of his keepers had soaked Delhi's front legs in full-strength formaldehyde which severely burned her feet and legs and that Hawthorn failed to provide veterinary care; this was the first elephant ever confiscated by the US Department of Agriculture. Buckley lobbied to have all of Cuneo's elephants sent to the Sanctuary; in 2006 she organized the rescue of eight female elephants confiscated from Cumeo by the USDA, then designed individualized treatment programs to help each of them recover from the physical, psychological, and emotional effects of nearly four decades of circus life. And the Tyke incident lives on in popular culture; for instance, the Christian thrash metal band Tourniquet included "86 Bullets" on its 2012 album "Antiseptic Bloodbath."

  3. A note from Anne:
    Thanks for all that amazing research of the elephant incident and about the elephant rescuer and wow the two songs!!! I had no idea!
    I wrote that poem when I lived in the big island of Hawaii right after the story aired in the news
    It's one of those poems that I say "got born whole"

    I wanted to post a comment on the actual site after I read ur two extensive comments but I don't remember my google password so it wouldn't let me

    Feel free to add this comment on my behalf
    Or not
    But I just want to again tell u how I love the way u provide such in depth insight and educational info about the stuff you publish

    You are the consummate English professor!!! Lovely!!!

  4. I agree 100%. The combination of the poem followed by the explanation has left my emotions reeling


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