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Pre-2008 Posts

Rest in Peace, Hansa, and With All Love and Sympathy to Her Caregivers, Please, Free Our Sisters, the Elephants


Hansa, the first Asian elephant to be born in captivity in Washington, has died.  She was six years old.  She became ill a week or so ago and veterinarians and caregivers had been treating her, and she had seemed to take a turn for the better.  She passed away in her sleep a few nights ago.  When her caregivers found her, her mother, Chai, was with her.

Hansa was dearly loved by those who cared for her and watched her grow up.  She received the best care it was possible for her to receive within the confines of a zoo. 

But elephants travel 30-50 miles per day.  This is their natural  habit; they need this in order to be healthy.   The Woodland Park Zoo could only offer the elephants one acre.   Even though the zoo did all it could to create the kind of space elephants need and can thrive in, an acre just isn’t enough.  There were other things– two sad chapters in which Hansa was struck with objects for, for example, eating dirt.  Chai, her mother, her aunties, would not have struck her.  The zoo defended the practices as appropriate, but why is it appropriate for human beings to strike a baby elephant who is no danger to anybody, not even herself?

I am wondering if it isn’t time to end the practice of confining these magnificant creatures in zoos,  however well they are cared for, however much they are loved.

Elephants are intelligent, sensitive, and highly social creatures.  They cry, tears of sadness, and they comfort one another.  They hold vigils over their dead which last up to a week and carefully cover the bodies of those who have passed on.  They also recognize the bones of their dead.  They protect, defend and care for one another.  They are matriarchal.  The mothers, grandmothers and aunties lead and care for the herd, and the bulls keep the younger males in line.  They are family, tribal.

The elephants are suffering now, worldwide, in the wild.   Generations of having been killed and brutalized by human beings for their ivory or for food, together with the loss of their habitat to human encroachment has deeply affected elephant culture, traumatized herds and severely reduced the elephant population.  While it can be argued that keeping some elephants in zoos has served to preserve the elephant gene pool, and while it is helpful to elephants to have the support of all the people who watch them in the zoos and come to love them, too many of them die in captivity.

We are at a time in history where human beings can love and support the elephants from a respectful distance, without capturing and confining them, by watching them on webcams as they go about their daily lives in their own habitat. 

I know the zookeepers at Woodland Park are grieving and devastated right now; the elephants are family to them.  All of us who love the elephants and loved Hansa are grieving, too.

I think a fine tribute to Hansa’s memory, though, might be to send the elephants remaining at Woodland Park and in other zoos to the elephant sanctuary in Tennessee, where they can live out their days in freedom and peace. 

We are coming to a time in history in which we are going to have to step aside, as humans, and share the earth with the animals, or face the consequences.  The age of the rule of men must come to an end, or there will be no earth left to rule.   Human abuse, dominance, brutality and mistreatment of the elephants and all creatures  cannot continue.  We must find new ways to live together on the earth peacefully, harmoniously and respectfully with all of these many intelligent, beautiful creatures whose cultures we are just beginning to understand, or we will all pay the price for our shortsightedness and human arrogance.

Rest in peace, sweet Hansa.  You will be missed and never forgotten.

Link to fine NY Times Article About Elephant Culture

Hansa’s Death




13 thoughts on “Rest in Peace, Hansa, and With All Love and Sympathy to Her Caregivers, Please, Free Our Sisters, the Elephants

  1. Some zoos treat elephants better than others. There have been major problems with the Los Angeles zoo, for instance. I do not think elephants belong in zoos, and from what I have read, the circuses are worse.

    Posted by Aletha | June 14, 2007, 7:21 am
  2. No, in an ideal world, elephants wouldn’t belong in zoos. But I think there’s a service to be provided that could satisfy little zoo-going kids’ elephant jones while also helping some elephants:

    Many, many Asian elephants were used as work animals in the logging industry in Thailand until logging was all but banned (because, you know, the mountains were all but deforested…funny how those two seem to go hand in hand). Well, the elephants, trained to interact with people and to work, and also bereft of what would have been their habitat, are still around. There are charity organizations that keep them, but keeping elephants can be awfully expensive, and wouldn’t it be nice if these “retired” logging animals could be the ones given places in zoos? Perhaps this already happens–I’m no kind of elephant expert, of course, and I haven’t done a lot of research on it.

    Posted by villiers | June 14, 2007, 12:10 pm
  3. I am glad you blogged about this. You are so right about everything! Hansa’s story broke my heart and I thought about you, Heart, because I know you live in WA. What a cute picture of her!

    Elephants are suffering so much that in the wild, where they have always been peaceful and coexisting with humans for CENTURIES, they are beginning to turn on and attack humans. It is SEVERELY time to LEAVE THEM ALONE and let them regain their peaceful lives again.

    No zoo, however well intentioned, can adequately meet an elephant’s needs. And don’t even get me started on circuses, they are beyond inhuman. So we need to leave elephants where they are with their herds and families in Africa and Asia and for already captive elephants, the Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, TN is an excellent place to be.

    RIP Hansa. You will not be forgotten.

    Posted by Branjor | June 14, 2007, 12:47 pm
  4. Great post. !!!

    Posted by profacero | June 14, 2007, 4:51 pm
  5. I blame you Heart for my boss walking in while I was bawling my eyes out (after watching the videos over at the elephant sanctuary).


    Thanks for posting on this.

    I was just pondering trying to blog more about eco-feminism. Anyone game?

    Posted by Q Grrl | June 14, 2007, 7:39 pm
  6. Hey, Q Grrl, I’m so there.


    Posted by womensspace | June 14, 2007, 10:03 pm
  7. Damn, this is such a tough topic to deal with. On one hand we have 6.6 billion humans running amuk upon this planet, the resulting pressure on natural habitats, food sources and so forth is pressing so many animals into extinction.

    Conversely I despise the idea of “Humanity as Caretakers”. I do not believe that we were ever appointed ‘caretakers’ rather, so very long ago, we claimed that title for ourselves. The hostile takeover of so many species and their habitats is a result of the ‘caretaker’ mentality.

    Yet, how do we get funding to actually try to work FOR these creatures if people can’t see them? It’s a sad fact that most folks don’t CARE about dolphins unless they can see them at Sea World jumping through hoops. Without exposure on a large scale they are doomed.

    Sure, we know about the plight of the Tiger and the Rhino, but how many of us understand the plight of the plain old backyard songbird who is currently experiencing large problems due, in part, to outdoor cats, expansion of humans into their native habitat and so forth (link: )

    When I go to the zoo I am always unsure how to feel, on one hand I am saddened and exasperated by the fact that mankind seems to think that so many things are just theirs for the taking. On the other hand I see the rampant destruction of the environment and the loss of all of these species and I know, that without some intervention, these creatures will be very likely to go extinct.

    Heart, this is an issue that is so near to my heart and I wish, so badly, that there were some answers. I fear that as long as we exist in a society built upon dominance, violence and oppression that our sisters and brothers in the animal kingdoms will continue to feel the cut of mankind’s greed.

    It all makes me want to cry again (I just got over a good cry a few hours ago over the woman who died on the floor of the ER while onlookers called 911).

    I don’t have the answer to these things, and sometimes, I think about coming back out of my dungeon and reviving The Den to work on not only radical feminism, but also a bit of radical environmentalism to boot. Then I check my moderation queue and delete another 10 violent comments and decide that maybe I’ll start again tomorrow *sigh*.

    Anyway, my heart goes out to Hansa and all the others who will die slow deaths far from home. Peace to you and your folk my sister.

    Posted by bitingbeaver | June 15, 2007, 12:00 am
  8. Elephants are so very attached to their young, her mother must be grieving so.

    Great post, and I agree, elephants do not belong in zoos.

    And yes, Aletha, for the most part, circuses are far worse than zoos. I won’t go to a circus with animals in it, period.

    Posted by Gayle | June 15, 2007, 12:13 am
  9. You know, BB, I don’t know that being able to see the animals in zoos causes people to care about them. I think for that, consciousnesses have to be raised– I sure know mine did. People can live with animals, you know, and mistreat them, objectify them, other them, brutalize them, just as with us as women. 😦 As to how consciousnesses are to be raised, I do not know. This has to do with spirit, you know? Not just mind, not just intellect, not even just emotions, it goes deeper than that. I know that it is radical feminism and radfems which are responsible for my own evolution so far as creatures go. I have always loved them, always been nonviolent, a pacifist, but I never respected the earth and her creatures in the way I do now until I began to deeply honor and respect *women* and to see all the parallels between the treatment of me, as a woman, the treatment of children, then the treatment of animals, the treatment of the Earth, and to see how it is all entwined, connected.
    Part of my own evolution I attribute to my Naomi, now 16. When she was 4 and I was recently excommunicated, someone gave us tickets to the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus. I figured the kids would love it so we went. We were sitting in the bleachers at the Seattle Center Arena and as the elephants came in, Naomi began to sob uncontrollably, to shake, she was devastated, because of the treatment of all of the animals but the elephants especially, and as she talked about it I began to consider her intelligent, wise words, the words of a child, but so true, about the brutalizing and tormenting of beautiful wild creatures.
    We left and never went to the circus again. 😦

    Posted by womensspace | June 15, 2007, 5:04 am
  10. It’s strange what things in your life wake you up.

    I don’t believe in the caregiver role of humans with animals anymore than I believe that humans are separate from nature. I do believe in human stewardship towards the planet and its ecosystems and inhabitants: a subsuming of the human ego into/under the needs of the animals, plants, and watersheds that make this world.

    This is difficult for me to write, because I keep what is most precious and soulfull closely guareded. But this thread cracked me open in ways I cannot deny. In March I opened myself up to the universe to guide me, to grant me the vision to realize my vocation. This is my fourtieth year on this earth and I have yet to act. I have gifts, true gifts, wholly outside the scope of my desires and trivialities. And to use the ancient metaphor, I place them under a basket.

    My gift is with animals, wild or lost, hurt or habitatless. They trust me, at least long enough to help them. They also find me; they arrive on my doorstep, or they show themselves to me. At times it is eerie; at other times there is no thinking, just acting.

    In the last two weeks, the local Barred Owl has come to me three times – twice on the power lines just feet away from my porch, then three days ago around the corner while I was walking my dogs. She let me stand directly below her for a good 10 minutes while I babbled nonsensical happiness at her (with my three dogs, no less). Maybe only six feet separated us. I moved slightly, on my way to go, and she started talking to me, making vocalizations I hadn’t heard before – almost a warning, but like that of a patient, if not exasperated parent.

    I am thrilled to experience this, thrilled to be part of something larger than myself, thrilled to use the most ancient forms of communication known to all of us: respect, awe, and wisdom.

    So I know now. I can’t just keep this a private thing. That’s selfish. If I can help, I have a duty to help. After reading here and at the elephant sanctuary site yesterday, I signed up at my local wildlife rehabilitation center; and I’m going to be looking at volunteer opportunities at the elephant sanctuary next Fall.

    The elephant sanctuary also has a job opening. My girlfriend isn’t going to let me rest until I apply. I should, if not for any reason other than to start this journey.

    I’ve never asked folks to pray for me before, but if you’re the praying kind, give a shout up for me, for the animals. Thanks.

    Posted by Q Grrl | June 15, 2007, 6:24 pm
  11. This is a twin topic that is dear to me, Elephants in particular because I’m (a fan) and am so saddened to witness the myriad of psychological problems affecting them in both captive, and wild populations. Plus the issue of conservation in the present and near future.

    This is such a well written treatise for getting over ourselves as human overlords, and to encourage thinking about other ways to live in harmony with our environment and the other animals that inhabit it with us.

    I’m looking forward to checking out those links you left for us.

    Posted by hazel8500 | June 15, 2007, 9:22 pm
  12. I agree with so much of what has been said here and you know, their oppression has so many similarities with the oppression of women as well.

    Animals, so many of them, all of them, have been rejected and pushed from their homes. When so much of humanity wishes to put, say, a new shed on their property, so few of us care to wonder what we may be displacing.

    When we build a new home, so many humans simply assume that we had some kind of ‘god given’ right to evict whatever was living there. But the damage doesn’t stop there, we assault the ground with our Scottslawn chemicals because the precense of dandelions are offensive to us. Dandelions! In the process we destroy the world of life that lives on the surface of the soil, the earthworms, beetles, ants and so forth. Ultimately those same chemicals find their way into water sources where they are distributed onward down the chain.

    I get so damned scared and so damned worried about all of this and then I feel so damned helpless about it. The parrallels with radical feminism are also apparent to me.

    The methods of dominating and the belief in some sort of entitlement is still there, the pieces fall into place and I see that one is a mirror image of another.

    The whole thing makes me want to scream, or sob, or both *smile*

    Posted by bitingbeaver | June 15, 2007, 10:13 pm
  13. Susan Griffin’s “Women and Nature”, written in the 70’s, is still one of the most influential feminists texts that I’ve read. I recommend it to everyone.

    Posted by Q Grrl | June 16, 2007, 4:24 pm

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