Getting rid of elephants

I started this post yesterday with the unnecessarily provocative title of "Why Activists Win, Part III" (to supplement the needlessly provocative Part I and Part II) but I never finished it, because frankly I wanted the issue to go away.

It hasn't. Well, the elephants are going away (because the Philadelphia Zoo is getting rid of them) but not the issue. Anyway, I'm such a loon that I can't let go, and I have to finish this post.

For the life of me, I just can't stop thinking about elephants.

Ever tried?

Initially (when I read about it yesterday), the Philadelphia Zoo's action made me feel like an I-told-you-so scold, because I genuinely believed that the Philadelphia Zoo had caved to the demands of animal rights activists who'd been picketing the zoo, barred from the zoo, etc. I tried to put it out of my mind, and I thought, what the hell; there are more important issues facing the nation today than elephants.

And I tried -- hard -- not to think about elephants, but the Philadelphia elephant activists came here earlier to gloat. (Yes, I confess, last week I saw them gathering signatures at a street fair, and took a picture of one -- not to debate elephants, but to highlight a nit-picky point about what I considered less than full disclosure on a T-shirt.)

But still, I didn't want to deal with the issue. I had to go out, and I was gone all afternoon. I figured, the elephant issue will go away. Just as the elephants will go away.

But as anyone who has ever tried not to think about elephants knows, elephants have a way of not going away. Things kept reminding me of elephants. There's something about them not easily forgotten. Seriously, I developed an acute case of stubbornly recurrent, unwanted thoughts about elephants.

My thinking became so distorted that when I tried to catch up on my blog reading (an impossible task in itself) the elephant issue literally sprang into the text. Even a post by James Lileks made me think improper (well, at least incorrect) thoughts about the Philadelphia Zoo's struggle with animal rights activists. Here's what I thought Lileks said even though he didn't say it:

It comes down to this: Animal Rights is being defined in the popular mind by three forces: the radicals who use violence and threats of violence, the PR-savvy activists who protest, and the officials who cave. The aggregate effect does not produce good will. Every time something gets cancelled out of fear of the Few, it works to alienate the Many, be they people annoyed by the cancellation, or those annoyed by the initial provocation.
(Via the entirely blameless Glenn Reynolds, who didn't cite the mangled text which resulted from my trying not to think about elephants.)

Fortunately, it turns out that I was totally wrong, and it was all elephant paranoia.

Because the Philadelphia Zoo got rid of elephants not because the animal rights activists told them to, but because they wanted to:

"The decision on elephants really is bittersweet," [Vikram Dewan, the new chief executive officer] said.

He said it was not influenced by animal activists, who in the last year have mounted a persistent campaign to get the zoo to send the elephants to the sanctuary, including holding regular demonstrations outside the zoo and at transit and retail hubs.

"We will continue to monitor all four elephants - Kallie, Bette and Petal in Baltimore and Dulary in Tennessee - and hope that all of them eventually make it to a place that provides them the space and climate they need," Friends of Philly Zoo Elephants spokeswoman Marianne Bessey [aka "Rowan Morrison"] said in a statement yesterday.

Janet Greenberg, a longtime zoo-goer from Broomall, was moved to tears. She has a picture of her daughter Rhonda with Petal, taken more than 40 years ago, when both elephant and girl were about 2 years old.

"I just feel like I'm losing a friend," she said in a telephone interview. "It breaks my heart." (Emphasis added.)

Eh, come on lady! This is no time for tears!

They're going to a better world! (Dulary is going to an elephant sanctuary where the public isn't allowed to go, which is where the activists think all elephants should go. But fortunately, that has nothing to do with the zoo's decision.)

Everyone should try not to think about elephants!

And remember, the animal rights activists had nothing to do with it.

Damn! I was all ready to finish this post, but then I remembered a troubling question raised by some nameless zoo-going member of the public:

I just don't understand how you can have a zoo without elephants
This question seems to have been posed only to the zoo, and not the activists who have been pressuring them.

Which is fortunate for whoever asked it, because the general public is in need of constant reassurance about these things. And they will be reassured. The zoo will go on! (You just have to learn to forget about the fact that it once had elephants.)

However, from an activist standpoint, the question posed indicates a lack of understanding common among many ordinary people who think that the issue at hand (in this case elephants) is the whole issue.

The Philadelphia Zoo would like the elephants to be the whole issue, and they would like to think that the issue is now behind them, that the activists had nothing to do with it, and that the activists will not make more demands.

I keep saying it's a good thing that the Philadelphia Zoo did not cave to the activists, and we should all keep saying that.

Because from an activist standpoint, the issue is not whether you can have a zoo without elephants. It's whether you can have a zoo at all.

No seriously. The so-called "FRIENDS OF PHILLY ZOO ELEPHANTS" is spearheaded by In Defense of Animals. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Zoo and Aquarium Association, the plainly stated goal of IDA is to close all zoos.

Which is why we should all be glad that the activists had nothing to do with getting rid of the elephants.


(I'm hoping that now I can go back to actually not thinking about elephants, because trying not to think about elephants was preventing me from trying not to think about Republicans.)

posted by Eric on 10.07.06 at 09:39 AM


I have a suggestion as to what should be done with Philadelphia's elephants. At one time, the Ottoman Empire used to execute people by placing a condemned man's head on a block and having an elephant step on it. Now, here in California, there are several lawsuits underway by lawyers for condemned men who claim that lethal injection is not quick enough, and that the first injection may not actually render a man unconscious. Why not send one of Philadelphia's elepahnst to San Quentin? If an elephant steps on man's head, death is instantaneous, and the executioner works for peanuts.

Chocolatier   ·  October 7, 2006 10:44 AM

Did you get to this morning's lengthy NYT's article An Elephant Crackup?

misty   ·  October 8, 2006 11:21 AM

The Zoo Said that they are moving the elephants becasue they were unable to raise enough money. I never heard anything about ANY FUND RAISERS

k`   ·  October 8, 2006 11:27 AM

You need to remember that for 'animal rights' organizations like PETA, getting elephants out of zoos is a means towards a bigger goal - shutting down all zoos everywhere. Elephants are the most popular animals in both zoos and circuses. 'Cut off the head, and the body will die.' If they get rid of the poplar animals in zoos, one by one, zoos will close. This strategy may succeed.

Vocabulary word for the day "Animalcatraz", a PETA word for "zoo".

Chocolatier   ·  October 8, 2006 2:01 PM

I like elly fonts. I think elly fonts are cool. I say everything should be written and published in elly fonts. Elly fonts are playful and make you smile. You can't type anything mean in an elly font...


Alan Kellogg   ·  October 9, 2006 8:29 PM


Wrong yet again. Friends of Philly Zoo Elephants is not "spearheaded" by In Defense of Animals. I should know since I run the group.

But facts have never been too important to you, huh Eric.

Rowan Morrison   ·  October 12, 2006 1:27 AM

Well, I must have been confused by IDA's press release with your name and phone number on it:

Frankly it's not clear whether that's an IDA press release, or yours.

I'm not saying that IDA directs your every thought and action, but I think it's a legitimate question to ask whether you agree with their position that zoos should be closed.

You're not obligated to answer, of course.

Eric Scheie   ·  October 12, 2006 9:57 AM

So, you took the fact that I had my name as a contact name on a press release for an event involving In Defense of Animals (IDA) and Friends of Philly Zoo Elephants (FPZE) to mean that Friends of Philly Zoo Elephants is "spearheaded" by IDA? Good lord!

IF you want to know my views on zoos, listen to this interview where Andy Baker and I exchange views.

Rowan Morrison   ·  October 14, 2006 5:19 PM

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