Warsaw Zoo photo.

Warsaw Zoo photo.

COLUMN: Confessions of an elephant rider

Don’t tell me what to do, and get out of the way of my elephant before you get stepped on.

When I used to ride elephants, I was a lot younger, and considerably more foolish.

This goes back more than 30 years.

Don’t picture me adventuring in open plains or grasslands. I rode elephants in dingy hockey arenas, during the off-season, parking lots, and once at a ball diamond.

If you had a camera and a notepad, back in the day, there were always free tickets when the circus came to town.

The elephant rides, you had to pay for. Ten dollars a lap, if memory serves.

It was a lark, a photo opp, and I put my kids on elephants too.

To say the least, that was thoughtless, ill-considered behaviour. To say the most, it was active participation in the exploitation and suffering of animals – wondrous, awe inspiring and endangered animals.

Like a lot of people, I never thought of it that way, which is hardly an excuse.

For decades, animal rights activists have protested the use of exotic animals in circuses and carnivals. While there is no national or provincial ban on the practice, many communities in British Columbia have passed municipal bylaws prohibiting this type of abuse, including Central Okanagan, Chilliwack, Salmon Arm, Vancouver, and Victoria.

All that said, this column is not really about elephants. (Fooled you, eh?)

It’s more about how people learn, how their internal lights flicker on, and how they grow.

Even 15 years ago, if someone had shoved a sign in my face, called me names or flung pachyderm dung in my direction, it’s entirely likely I would have dug in my heels.

Don’t tell me what to do, and get out of the way of my elephant before you get stepped on.

Instead though, a friend started a gentle conversation about elephants, after our family had returned from another circus.

She brought out some facts, and credible research.

Did you know circus elephants spend an average of 17 hours a day shackled in chains? Their trainers routinely strike them behind their ears, under their chin, and on their legs with metal tipped prods, called bullhooks. There are documented cases of circus elephants understandably rampaging, and having to be shot by police, in public.

Who knew I was an elephant person?

I also eventually changed my ideas about zoos. (It doesn’t matter how good they are. They are not good.)

Hateful expressions; bigotry, misogyny and homophobia, will always deserve to be challenged outright.

In other situations, however, there is far too much “calling out” in our society, and not enough “calling in.”

Education, listening, open-mindedness, and civility are better ways to approach the world’s ills, than resorting to accusations, defensiveness, stubbornness and anger.

Something to think about in 2022.

Also, as the world’s elephant population continues to decline, there are numerous groups dedicated to their conservation and survival. One of these is the World Wildlife Fund. You can adopt an African elephant for $60 — and you get a free stuffy!

Okay, so maybe it’s a little about elephants, too.