Space and Freedom Heal These Ex-Circus Divas at The Elephant Sanctuary by Kate Elliott

In the early morning hours of January 31, I stood on a cold sunny train platform waiting for my daily commuter train, I could think of only one thing; today begins the largest elephant rescue in US history, the Caravan to Freedom for eight former circus elephants. I turned East to feel the stingy winter sun on my face and imagined how these elephants would feel as later that day they would stand outdoors, chain free for the first time in four decades. How would this sun feel to them after two years in a windowless barn, I let the sun wash over my face and felt a thrill and a deep compassion and joy for the happy ending of a battle that took over two years. Ten days later, on February 9 accompanied by a mountain of reporters and news stories, the last of the eight Hawthorn Elephants now renamed the ex-circus divas arrived at The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee.

As Carol Buckley recounts in the ele-diary:

Today is a day of rejoicing; all eight Hawthorn elephants have arrived safely. After months of preparation and weeks of anxiety, this day has finally arrived. We had little do to with the exact date that all the girls would be here — delays seemed to be the only constant. But at the end of the day, when everyone heaved a heavy sigh of relief someone said, “Do you realize this is Lota’s anniversary, the one year anniversary of her death?” With all of our focus on the rescue of her sisters, the fact that it had been one year to the day that Lota had passed had escaped us. We find it ironic and deeply touching that this special day would be marked by Lota’s departure from the deprived life she lived and the freedom she was responsible for securing for all of her sisters. Lota’s life and suffering was the catalyst for the rescue of the herd of elephant that she shared a decade with; she gave them the greatest gift possible, freedom.

Millions of viewers watched the arrivals streamed live on the ele-cam . Four times we watched two elephants at a time disembark at their own pace. Most walked right out, and one, Debbie, took over an hour, but that is an elephant’s first experience at The Elephant Sanctuary, freedom of choice. It was thrilling but painful to watch, the leg scars from deeply embedded chains, the odd stances from years chained in place, and a couple of obviously underweight elephants, Liz and Frieda (who have gained a total of 1300 pounds in just four months!). There they were in all their glory and beauty, “tanker” Minnie at 11,130 pounds, Lottie, Debbie, Ronnie, Billie Liz, Frieda and Queenie.

For the first few days we watched as the beautiful new arrivals seemed to mill around thebarn entrance, obviously unsure; how could they possibly know what to do, and did they even know what possibilities were around. There was a lot of going in and out of the barn door at first, (A LOT!) that must have seemed in itself a huge miracle not to mention tons of fun with all its rubber door flaps! The first nights there was lots of noise from enthusiastic play with barn toys and then; over the next few months we watched in amazement and joy as they all began to revel in the habitat.

They were bathing in the spring fed ponds every morning, at temperatures below 32 degrees! They chased deer, Minnie and Ronnie became mud spa divas, and those naps, everyone was power napping! They formed two groups, the fabulous five who swam and hiked and explored together, and Liz, Billy, and Frieda the more reticent physically compromised trio who feel safe in each others company. It has not all been peaceful, after four decades of dysfunction, there have been some instances of rough behavior among the ex-circus divas. With time and all the space the Sanctuary can provide, these issues can be worked through.

I hope that they finally understand that where they are is real and it will last, but that is a human wish for I do know that not only do animals generally live in the now, but as highly evolved spiritual beings they have always known about this place. I believe that all elephants on this earth and those who have left know about The Elephant Sanctuary, and know it as a place of power and light where all of the elephant wisdom will collect. It is a safe place for those spirits to gather and draw in energy.

Sharon Callahancommunicated with Barbara, an early resident of The Elephant Sanctuary who told Sharon:

Our great wild brothers and sisters have failed to attract your attention, and so a few of us have volunteered to enter your civilization through the darkness of the circuses, wending our way into positions of influence and visibility to draw your attention once again to the suffering of mother Earth and all of life upon Her. Please listen. We have allowed ourselves to be torn from our mothers under-bellies, to endure indignity after indignity, to be swallowed up in the bowels of depression and despair all in hopes of finally being heard – not for our own suffering alone, but for the suffering of every sentient creature upon our Earth including those of your own species who live lives not unlike the most tragic of our own. Let us not be afraid. Let us love one another and let us midwife the birthing of a new and glorious Earth – a “second coming” – it is not too late.

***image1***Lotawas and is the elephant who put herself into a most visible position of influence. Lota came to The Elephant Sanctuary for only 83 days, I believe not just to bring her companion Misty, and not just to see the Heaven on earth herself, but to let us all see her wise and glorious self; and to make us listen.

Thank you Lota, Carol and Scott, and everyone who helped rescue these wonderful elephants. There are still two elephants in the Hawthorn Barn, Nic and Gypsy. I encourage you to keep contacting the USDA and urge them to find good homes for these two elephants. Namaste.

by Kate Elliott (Elephant photos and ele-diary quote used with permission of The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, Barbara’s story used with permission of Sharon Callahan)
Kate Elliott is a theatrical and event producer living in the woods outside New York City. Kate has worked and/ or produced shows with Patrick Stewart, Bobby McFerrin, Martha Graham Dance Company, Rudolf Nureyev and all major Hollywood film studios. Before falling in love with elephants, Kate was studying for a masters in Marine Biology. She now serves on the Executive Council of The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee and is also their volunteer grantwriter.