Year of the Elephant & Festa della Donna (International Women’s Day)
March 14, 2015
It has been a week since International Women’s Day, but I am still in a celebratory mood. Mind you, I’ll find many a reason, and sometimes any a reason, to celebrate -- and I’m all about womanhood, though I can’t say I've ever celebrated Women’s Day outside of Italy, where Festa della Donna is a much-loved tradition. I still recall how the overflowing boquets of brilliant yellow mimosa fronds everyone had in hand made sun-kissed Italy seem even sunnier that day.
But that’s not what I’m celebrating today.
I’d like to belatedly dedicate this year’s Festa della Donna to the thirteen female Asian elephants I had the honor of knowing during my circus days, twenty-some years ago. Unfortunately, many did not survive to see March 5, 2015, the day Ringling Brothers announced they would phase elephants out of their circus performances. And even if they had, there is little hope that Italian circuses will move beyond their until-death-do-us-part mentality toward elephants any time soon. That traveling life is hard on all animals, though perhaps none more so than an 8,000-pound wanderer who would trek thirty or more miles a day in the wild, but is instead kept nearly immobile, chained by a front and back foot to a ten-by-six-foot wooden deck for over 23 hours a day. The circus elephants I knew did manage some movement: rocking side to side, their heavy chains clinking in tempo as they marched endlessly in place. Most people who see this haunting dance do not easily forget the image.
I will never forget. So it is to those elephants that I dedicate Women’s Day 2015. In fact, I dedicate this entire year to all elephants. Our awareness of these socially complex, astoundingly intelligent, and hyper-sentient beings grows every year, as does our awareness of the harm mankind inflicts on this species. Exciting, hopeful events are happening in the elephant world, from Ringling releasing elephants from their traveling prisons by 2018 to Mexico's ban on exotic circus animals. From Kathryn Bigelow’s Last Days documentary detailing how an elephant is slaughtered for its ivory every 15 minutes to Yao Ming’s efforts to educate China on the effects of supporting the ivory trade. And, locally, Oregon’s SB 913, the bill to ban sales of all ivory and rhino horn, which has been scheduled for a Senate Judiciary Hearing on March 24, 2015.
With hope that the Judiciary Committee members will recommend a “Do Pass” to the full Oregon Senate, and that many, many more strides will be taken this year across the globe to protect these animals from circuses, ivory-trade slaughter, and other forms of exploitation and endangerment, may 2015 truly turn out to be The Year of the Elephant.