Queenie

I love elephants. I think they are undoubtedly the coolest animals. They are so large and graceful and beautiful that it breaks my heart to think that these noble, intelligent beasts can be mistreated. I was quite dismayed by an article in the Herald Sun on Saturday about the last circus elephant in Australia, 55 year old Saigon, and how she is living with the Perry Bros. Circus, travelling around Australia with them but unable to perform due to her age but unable to fully retire due also to her age and that there is nowhere in Australia for old circus elephants to retire to. It made me think not just about Saigon but also about another two of Melbourne’s famous elephants, Queenie, who was such a popular attraction at Melbourne Zoo in the first half of the 20th Century, and Dokoon’s baby, who was born at Melbourne Zoo just over a week ago. I wonder if life has been that much different for Queenie as it has been for Saigon and how much different it will be for the little elephant.

Queenie

Queenie was the Melbourne Zoo’s main attraction for forty years from the beginning of the last century. She was captured in India and brought to Australia and from 1905 until 1944 she would give up to 500 rides a day around the zoo to the children who visited her. In 1944 she was put down after she crushed her trainer Wilfred Lawson to death. According to some witnesses Queenie may have retaliated to the mistreatment that she had sustained from Lawson over the years. “My dad believed it was deliberate, because Mr Lawson was pretty rough with her.” says Joyce Hamilton, whose father Adolphus Stanley, had looked after Queenie for a month at the time while her regular keeper, Lawson was on holidays. Mrs. Hamilton told The Age that Lawson hit the elephant with a piece of wood behind the ears when she did not move fast enough and that she believed that Queenie cracked when Lawson returned as her keeper after a month of her father’s care.

Queenie’s story has been wonderfully retold by Corinne Fenton in her brilliant picture book Queenie: One Elephant’s Story.

Saigon

Saigon

As was reported in the Herald Sun, Saigon is a 55 year old elephant with Perry Bros. Circus. She is Australia’s last circus elephant after the death of her Mynyak last month. At 55 she is too old to perform with the circus anymore but she travels with the circus because there is nowhere for her to retire to. Perry Bros. spokesperson Lorraine Maynard said that if a zoo took Saigon she would not be able to establish herself with the existing herds and would be killed. While I don’t believe this for a second I do wonder why Melbourne Zoo went to the trouble of importing three much younger female elephants a few years ago and did not volunteer to take in Saigon or Mynyak so they could retire in peace. (It would not have anything to do with the fact that Saigon is too old to breed would it?!)

On the other hand Saigon was born in captivity and has been with Perry Bros. for 50 years. The circus is the only family she has ever known and it would not be right to take her away from the people whom she lives with and loves. It does not seem that she is being abused or forced to do anything against her will, and she is not malnourished.

Dokoon’s Baby

Just on a couple of weeks ago Melbourne Zoo welcomed a new resident when Dokoon the elephant gave birth to a baby girl. Unlike Queenie and Saigon Dokoon’s bundle of joy won’t have to endure a lifetime of work, or will she? We have seen that the Melbourne Zoo elephants perform mini shows every day as well as other unnatural things like painting. Sure their shows are not the big extravaganzas that Saigon used to perform and the elephants no longer have to carry snot nosed brats around the zoo on their backs, but they do not do these things in the wild either. In the wild elephants spend all their time roaming the jungles and rainforests looking for food, not trying to become the next Picasso. Melbourne Zoo’s elephant enclosure is very small, especially when compared to the vast areas of the elephant’s natural habitat. I often wonder if the elephant enclosure is big enough for five (now six) elephants.

As for animal cruelty, mum Dokoon has allegedly experienced that first hand in her time at Melbourne Zoo. According to various news agencies, a couple of years ago there were allegations that a trainer, Pat Flora, had stabbed Dokoon a dozen times because he feared being injured as she was backing into him. Flora was present conforting Dokoon as she gave birth, as was Dr. Helen McCracken who was also painted in a very unflattering light in the above article from The Age  that I linked to, thanks to some of the remarks that she made. For those of you who are too lazy to click on The Age link that I have provided former zoo strategic planner David Hancocks said “There are essentially two ways to treat an elephant — by dominating and controlling it, which creates stress and potential danger, or by only positive reinforcement and the creation of an environment of mutual trust… Pat Flora is definitely a staunch advocate of the former method.” I wonder how different this really is the way that Mr. Lawson allegedly had treated Queenie all those years ago?!

Of course this is the dilemma that I face. I want to visit the little one when she goes on display in the next couple of weeks but I am opposed to the idea of zoos altogether. They do play an important role in helping to breed endangered animals (although Asian elephants are not endangered, despite what Melbourne Zoo tells us), but I don’t want the only place these animals can be viewed to be in a zoo. I also think that elephants especially should have enough room to roam around in and I don’t think that their cramped quarters at Melbourne Zoo is near enough.

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Comments
  1. […] A Tale Of Three Elephants « Cartoons and Comic Books […]

  2. Kristine Johnson says:

    It really angers me that there are so many do gooders out there that know nothing about the people they are condemning or the aminals they are commenting on, they may mean well but they should at least do some research into the situation before mouthing off and causing trouble, which they just walk away from and never give a second thought to the consequences. In relationship to the Circus elephant Saigon, she has a home with Perry Bros circus actually a 70 acre Property which she shared with her other elephant companions until they passed away. Saigon when at home now shares that special place with the people that love her and various other animals so she does not need a place to retire she already has one and after the loss of her elephant friends whey on earth would you send her away to live with strangers causing her more stress. If you had two dogs and one died would you send the other to live with a strange family and their dog or would you keep the dog where it belongs with the family it knows? I have stayed on the property where Saigon lives and during the drought i have been on outings in the family four wheel drive and if we spotted any bales of hay or lucerne Lorraine would pay whatever price was asked and then we would pack the car to the hilt and take the food home so that the animals were always feed well. I ask you how many of you would do this for your animals and how many of you do gooders have owned a elephant and can honestly say you know the first thing about caring for one so why not leave sleeping dogs lie and leave Saigon and the peope who know her care for her and love here alone. Kris

  3. Millsie says:

    I think that your comment was meant for my other post!!! You ask me if I had two dogs and one of them died, if I would send the remaining dog away. No, I would get another dog to keep that one company… BUT that is not possible with Saigon now is it?! I will ask you a question though, would you like to live for the last 20 or so years of your life without seeing another human being? Would you not crave the companionship of other people? I could not contemplate life without ever seeing other people again. Don’t you think Saigon would like to see other elephants, especially since whe has had elephants around all her life? This may seem absurd to say but HUMANS ARE NOT ELEPHANTS!!!
    I have never accussed Perrys of not taking good care of Saigon. I have said that I am sure that they love and care for her, but female elephants are herd animals and are surrounded by other elephants all of their lives.
    You also talk about the 70 acre property that the Perrys own, but currently Saigon is not there, but is standing in Point Cook behind an electric fence! She is not roaming around a big property, and does not seem to have any form of stimulation. The tyre that she used to play with has been removed because of public safety concerns.
    Of course I am just a do-gooder who does not live with elephants and has never owned one, but that should not stop me from having an opinion. This is a free democratic country where everyone is entitled to express their beliefs and opinions. If it was not for do-gooders expressing their beliefs and opinions then we would just have to trust you that Saigon is being well looked after. I thought that you would enjoy being scrutinised just so you could prove me wrong… not just tell me to shut up and to trust you because yo are an expert and I am not!!!

  4. Food for thought, (well, what I could read of it). I am afflicted with color blindness (protanopia to be exact). I mainly use Chrome browser (no idea if that is of any importance), and a great deal of your web page is hard for me to read. I don’t wish to whinge, and I know it is my problem really, nonetheless it would be cool if you would bear in mind us color challenged types while doing your next site redesign.

  5. Millsie says:

    Ok, I’ll see what I can do.

  6. I appreciate the work that you have put in, in this page. Really good,

  7. Millsie says:

    Thanks

  8. Denise says:

    I KNOW quite a few signifiant homes for thee 55 year old elephant Saigon!!!

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