Saturday, November 28, 2009

Episode 8 Circus Elephant Freed

Episode 8 Circus Elephant Freed

Welcome to the eighth episode of Coexisting With Nonhuman Animals.

On my first podcast, Jay Wont darts podcast, I covered the story of Jumbo, a circus elephant in New Zealand. I absolutely hate the name "Jumbo", I prefer to call her "Mrs Elephant", the idea of naming an elephant "jumbo", after the famous circus elephant, really bothers me. I met Mrs Elephant, and she is definitely more than just a stereotypical item of a circus's property. For one thing, shes now free from the circus!

Heres a little bit of backstory, of Mrs Elephants history up until now. She is 36 years old, and was apparently bought decades ago in Honolulu with a shipment of logs. Her main trainer for 30 years has been Tony Ratcliffe. I met him in person as I tried taking photos of Mrs Elephant, he wouldnt let me on the circus grounds because I answered yes to his shout of "You animal rights?". I managed to fire off a quick photo, with him partially in the corner shouting at me. I dont know Tony Ratcliffe personally, but he didnt seem like someone I'd agree with. I try and be nice to everyone I meet, so I wont make judgements about him, but he has had a colourful history. Before I went to look at the circus, I had read an article from the Sunday Star Times, a Sunday newspaper, and Ratcliffe doesnt get portrayed very well. Its full of all kinds of jokes AT him, that hes old, forgetful, dopey, misguided and overweight. I find it hard to believe it was published, and just imagine doing an interview with some news reporter, presumably with them smiling to your face, to find the published article was written with a poison pen. I've included a link to the article online in my sources, you can see those on my blog, coexisting with nonhuman or in the lyrics part of this episode. Here is the opening to that article.

"THE OBSERVATION that pets often resemble their owners is perhaps an unkind way to begin a story about an elephant keeper. But for Tony Ratcliffe and his beloved African elephant Jumbo, inseparable for 30 years, the comparison seems unavoidable. Watching 62-year-old Ratcliffe (dressed in stubbies and a straining polo shirt) take his precious charge through her paces around a council domain, one can't help but be slightly awed by the display of bulk, the trumpeting bellow, the leathery, sun-ravaged hide. Jumbo is an impressive specimen as well."

That article mentions Ratcliffe yelling at Mrs Elephant when she had trouble getting back into her circus trailer. ""GET YOUR LEG UP! JUM-BOOO!"" before she eventually got in.

I dont think I'd agree with Tony Ratcliffe on much, but I dont know him personally, and this article is not about him, its about the elephant he looked after for 3 decades.

The circus that Mrs Elephant was in when broke. The assets were sold off, and Ratcliffe and Mrs Elephant were hired/bought by Loritz Circus. Each year, there was just 3 or 4 months away from performing, the rest of the time, the circus travelled New Zealand.

If you search on Youtube for " Jumbo Elephant New Zealand " you should be able to find a lot of videos people have taken of the poor elephant. I wont replay them here, but they are almost all negative, with people commenting about how sad or sick Mrs Elephant looks. In at least one video, she is shown swaying, when sad elephants in captivity rock from side to side, its looks a little like they are slowly dancing or trying to shake dirt off themselves. Apparently they do this when they are absolutely going out of their mind, its a sign they are very lonely and very bored, its never been observed in the wild.

SAFE, Save Animals From Exploitation, a New Zealand animal group have protested against animals in New Zealand circuses for years. The "Free Jumbo" campaign can be found on the SAFE website, I'll link to that in my sources. Its a good source to see what SAFE have said over time about Mrs Elephant. Essentially all the focus from SAFE goes on the elephant, but the groups banners say they are opposed to all animals in circuses.

The circus had constant trouble in recent years. All kinds of attacks have occurred on circus property, with billboards and other signage had been vandalised. Paint had been poured in vehicle fuel tanks, and splashed on circus vehicles. Anonymous animal rights activists had tried to break in and literally set the elephant free, they succeeded in letting smaller animals out, but not the elephant.

SAFE protested the circus all throughout New Zealand. The city of Dunedin banned the elephant from being shown on its property, citing exotic animal welfare concerns, and the circus had to find another storage place for her. Well, they found a place, the poor elephants trailer was kept at a local city pub, a place where people get drunk.

I joined Invercargill SAFE in a protest against circus Animals. I had searched online, trying to find other people in Invercargill who would join me in protesting against the circus, and came across SAFE and the Free Jumbo campaign. I joined the Invercargill branch of SAFE two saturdays, after my work, and helped hold up banners and signs about animals in circuses. I met some good friends at SAFE, and we all had a great time protesting the circus. Two members from Invercargill SAFE have unicycles, and they rode those around the busy street, handing out pamphlets critical of animals in circuses. The funny thing is, people who were going to the circus were taking the information, assuming the people on unicycles were circus clowns, NOT animal welfare or animal rights protesters.

Afterwards, I asked George and Sharon Kersten , the then leaders of Invercargill SAFE to speak about their thoughts.

So, George and Sharon didnt feel like we had accomplished much. We had some funny people who yelled abuse at us as they drove past, but generally, most people honked their car horns in support of our protest. I had a few of my friends drive past and honk. One of the funniest of our detractors was an elderly man who started yelling at George, he said something about "get a real job", which is weird, the elderly man was probably retired, it was a saturday afternoon, and I had actually just finished my work for that day. I've noticed "get a real job" is a common gripe with protestors, as if anyone who speaks up in public must live off government handouts, refusing to work for a living. I have no idea where that idea came from, its not exactly the mother of all insults.

Recently, we found out that Mrs Elephant was being freed from the Circus! She has been given to the SPCA for care, and then she will stay at Franklin Zoo in South Auckland. I'm really happy to hear Mrs Elephant is away from the zoo, where she was forced to live in a tiny trailer, hauled around the country for people to gawk at her, "wow, an elephant in my city! this is the best day of my life!".

Money is being raised to take care of her expenses.

I'll play a clip from Campbell Live about Mrs Elephant.

At this point in the footage, we see keepers throwing brown banana near her. The bananas are whole, with their peel on, and you can see they still have brand stickers. That can hardly be good to eat! Mrs Elephant is also swaying the whole time. She doesnt look happy.

I was very happy with that news overall, although Im not sure what will actually happen to Mrs Elephant, if she will make it overseas or not. I plan on donating some money towards her upkeep, even if it doesnt look very good based on the campbell live footage, of volunteers lobbing bananas near her as she swayed sadly. As the clip said, shes been held here "involuntarily", she wouldnt want to be here, and she deserves so much better.

I asked my good friends George and Sharon how they felt now that Mrs Elephant has been given away by the Circus. Heres what Sharon had to say.

Im very glad Sharon could share her thoughts with us all.

If Mrs Elephant does go to an American Elephant Sanctuary, I believe its in Tennessee. You can find the Sanctuary's website at The website says the cost of care for each elephant is over $125,000 us dollars a year! And that they want to look after 100!

I dont know if Mrs Elephant will make it all that way, its going to cost over 100,000 dollars to send her there, and I dont know if thats even First Class, where you get those seats that recline fully into a bed!

Whatever happens to her, I hope she has a much better life than she has for all these decades. I really am glad she is away from the circus, and I hope she can one day live with other African elephants. It must be horrible living alone for so long, in a trailer going from city to city. I really do feel for poor Mrs Elephant, shes very beautiful, she doesnt look like a "jumbo" in any way, I love her very much.

Thank you for listening to Coexisting With Nonhuman Animals.

You can find the script for this episode, as well as downloads for every episode of Coexisting With Nonhuman Animals at coexisting with nonhuman animals .

If you want to contact me, even just to say you listened, send an email to, j a y w o n t d a r t @, I'd appreciate it.

Thank you for listening.

Thank you to George and Sharon Kersten for their support!

mean article about Tony Ratcliffe

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