Lessons Learned From Last Chain on Billie
– Learn about the tricks our elephants were forced to learn and the permanent damage these unnatural positions would inflict upon their elephant bodies. (Treacherous posing such as the “one-legged tub stand” or the act of walking across an arena on their hind legs “would cause elephants to develop arthritis” or cause a female elephants’ uterus to rupture. p. 68) And “none of the tricks an elephant performed in the ring were natural movements,” (p. 76) despite the fact that some elephant trainers (including those from Ringling now in charge of their retired elephants at their Center For Elephant Conservation) continue to insist that they are. (See p. 85 for 1993 news item Wilkes- Barre Times Leader)
– A Happy Day: There is a tiny moment captured on film (p. 68) where the Hawthorn Five, on a break from performing, were “unchained and let out to wander to a nearby lake”. It was obvious they were in such heaven (“elephants adore baths”) amongst themselves in that New Jersey town.
-Discover that in spite of the Endangered Species Act (1973) and other similar “Acts” & Agencies (the USDA) elephants continued to be abused and exploited (& continue to this day to be abused and exploited) by unscrupulous individuals who own them.
– An African elephant named Tyke is perhaps the most notorious circus elephant of all time. She “lost control for the last time during a performance for the Circus International”. She was gunned down after she took to the streets of Honolulu, Hawaii (after killing a trainer, injuring others & leaving a path of destruction behind her) in a last desperate attempt to escape. (p. 91) See this PETA video (WARNING THIS IS GRAPHIC) if you want to witness this horrific moment.
– “A beaten elephant will likely return the abuse. Elephants attack because they intend to, and the clues to their intentions are obvious if anyone bothers to notice. But there’s no way to predict when the payback will occur.” John Lehnhardt (p. 92) “If a horse of a camel gets mad at you, they’ll go after you right away. But an elephant will wait- wait for the best time to nail you.” Omar Norton (p. 98)
-Scott Blais’ “favorite elephant was a mischievous Asian named Wimpie, who relieved her boredom by playfully thwarting her keepers’ commands. Tell her to lie down and she’d do a headstand. Tell her to cross her legs and she’d bow. Her handlers beat her for her contrariness, but they were light beatings, not the kind reserved for her aggressively rebellious comrades.” (p. 97)
– Discover the cruel training methods involved to teach an elephant to stand on her head. (p. 87)
– Learn about how The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee (co-founded by Carol Buckley and her partner Scott Blais) evolved (it opened in March 1995, p. 102 ) after “Tyke’s Rampage”. (p. 91) Discover how “Buckley had found her calling” (p. 93) long before founding a sanctuary with her first baby elephant Tarra (formally Fluffie). “Dominance training” is also exposed, …“you have to show her you’re boss” (p. 95-96)
– By 1996 when Billie was retired (after 20 years) from the Hawthorn Five the elephant found herself in quite a dismal place. (p. 108) The Hawthorn Barn at Cuneo’s “winter facility in Richmond, Illinois” included “a small enclosure that housed Billie” and another elephant Frieda. “Their pen was roughly twenty feet by twenty feet, barely big enough to turn around in.” It was here that Billie found herself put away and it was here that the “eight-foot-long-chain would be attached to her left front ankle”. That is until the 3rd of May 2011, when elephant caregiver Richard Treat removed the last traces of her old life; a truly monumental day. For years Billie and a number of her elephant comrades owned by the Hawthorn Corporation (John Cuneo Jr.) had just stood, unlifelike, inside that “concrete and metal barn” basically forgotten, neglected and “pining away”. (p. 117)
– The elephant trainers’ weapons of choice to inflict “fear and pain” on elephants are bullhooks and the “hot shot” (“a cell-phone sized device that delivers high-voltage, low current shocks of electricity”). (p. 122)
– And who would know that a magic “gray powder” called “wonder dust” is what “trainers use to conceal bullhook wounds on their elephants. The saying goes, for some trainers, that they hold a “bullhook in one hand and a can of ‘wonder dust’” in the other. (p. 217) A cover-up powder for elephant abuse. Wonder what the USDA has to say about that?
– Billie had such a fear of “the crush” (p. 149-150) that “she refused to enter it ever again, even when it was used just as a restraint to help her get routine foot and medical care.
To be continued: Last Chain on Billie : How One Extraordinary Elephant Escaped the Big Top by Carol Bradley : Review Part 3
Watch YouTube Video “Billie’s Last Chain”
Carol Bradley the author of “Last Chain on Billie” website
More photos of Billie at the Daily Mail: