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The Elephant With The Thorn In Her Side

posted by Mickey on 10/17/02

You’re the one for me, fatty

Last Sunday night I went to see Morrissey at the Enmore Theatre. If you don’t know who I am talking about, click here to read all about Morrissey. What a great show it was too! But I am not going to talk about the concert. Since the Lancashire Miserablist is the man who wrote “Meat is Murder,” there was a woman in the foyer of the theatre, next to the people selling tour t-shirts, handing out leaflets about animal liberation. I took a couple of leaflets for three separate reasons.

1). The woman handing out them out was extremely attractive and I wanted to smile sympathetically and stare soulfully into her eyes for a second as I accepted the literature;

2). I needed a piece of paper I could use to dispose of chewed up nicorette gum during the performance. I mention this with some bitterness because during the concert I leaned against a pillar at one point and learned half-an-hour later that because some moron had decided the pillar was a convenient place to park his or her chewing gum, I had chewing gum all over my going-out clothes. Thanks for nothing, asshole. You didn’t spoil my night, but you did saddle me with a dry-cleaning bill that I can ill afford to pay, just at the moment. Honestly, is it too much to expect people to dispose of their chewing gum in a responsible manner? Little acts of thoughtlessness go a long way towards making the world a worse place than it needs to be.

3). I suppose I am in broad philosophical agreement with the animal liberation movement.

This is how I came to be handed the leaflets. I was somehow struck by the title of one of them:


so I ended up reading the leaflet rather than wrapping my gum up in it, and, indeed, today I even used the internet to do some extra research into Arna. This is what the leaflet says:

“ARNA is an elderly circus elephant at Stardust Circus. Since she lost her lifelong companion Bambi five years ago, ARNA has been on her own. In the wild female elephants travel all their lives in a family group and for a female elephant to be solitary is a very dreadful fate. It is illegal in NSW to keep a solitary elephant. Recently Animal Liberation charged Stardust with cruelty. Magistrate Lyon agreed there had been cruelty but did not hold the circus responsible. This finding has been vigorously opposed by Animal Liberation and the Appeal against it will be heard in Sydney on Thursday 21 November 2002.”

Arna the solitary elephant. She might walk home alone, but her faith in love in still devout.

My very first thought when I had finished reading the leaflet about Arna was: Jesus, has Morrissey seen this? It would just be so perfect, almost too perfect, to be turned into the source material for a Morrissey song. It has got just exactly that same blend of comic absurdity and heartbreaking poignancy that operates in all of his best songs. It even has elements that appear in existing Morrissey songs: from the emotional health of members of the judiciary (the lonely high court judges of “The More You Ignore Me”) to the special atmosphere created by having the circus in town (“Rusholme Ruffians,” a song also known at least in my family as “Morrissey at the Ekka”).

Apart from the fact all this is occurring on the hard-baked surfaces of Australia rather than on the spongy mother soil of some northern town in the Old Dart, it seems to me that everything about the story of Arna is Morrissey-esque. Even the name of the circus, Stardust, seems to belong in a song by The Smiths.

According to a press release by Animal Liberation, when the circus was performing at Gosford, back in 2000, Stardust Circus trucked in three other elephants and placed them next to Arna in order to undermine an Animal Liberation demonstration.

“Within minutes, Arna, who had not been near other elephants since her companion died more than four years ago, sought affection and contact from these new companions by extending her trunk and entwining it with the others. Such activity continued for more than an hour before the three new elephants were reloaded and driven away.

“Arna continually cried out, trumpeting calls to her companions but could hear no reply, [so] she ran frantically around her enclosure, rocking pathetically while uttering low desperate growls. She repeated this distressing behavior over and over again. All attempts by the circus staff to calm her rampage were to no avail.”

Leaving aside the question of how the proprietors of Stardust Circus played with poor Arna’s fragile emotions by bringing in and then snatching away the extra elephants, as a piece of sharp conduct it has a certain audacious charm to it. We expect some bother from the Animal Libbers. We’ll just bring in some extra jumbos for the arvo. Sorted. It made me think of 1960s English crime dramas with villainous wide-boy types with spivvy little moustaches who swirl cups around on a trench-table and then ask the suckers milling about to pick which cup the five pound note is under until an incorruptible bobby played by Dirk Borgarde comes along and tells them they’re nicked and they say “It’s a fair cop” and turn themselves in, peaceful-like. OK, playing a trick like that with five-pound notes is one thing, but elephants? You have to give these guys some credit for the scope and boldness of the con they are trying to pull.

As for Arna, why the old love! The poor little blossom! This 46 year old elephant couldn’t be more of a Morrissey character if she tried. She is human and she needs to be loved. In fact, she isn’t even human, but she still needs to be loved. If humans who have grey saggy skin, and big ears, and big teeth, like most human inhabitants of Northern England, still crave love and affection, then why not recognise that this is a universal craving that might even, hell, probably does, hell, does, just straight old does extend to elephants. All she wants is someone to give her a bit of a squeeze and a cuddle when she feels lonely, with maybe a bit of slap and tickle when the lights are out on a Saturday night. If the legislators of NSW could see this, why can’t the spivs who operate the Stardust Circus see it too? Why can’t the public servants sitting there in offices wearing cardigans and tying up their files with pink string see it? Why can’t this embittered old beak of a judge see it? If he had ordered Arna to be released to the free range Western Plains Zoo at Dubbo, then this whole sorry affair could already be over.

So you go and you stand on your own and you leave on your own and you go home and you cry and you want to die.

One of the things that really struck me about the pamphlet was the sentence saying it is illegal in NSW to keep a solitary elephant. I thought: what an extraordinary law! How the hell did a law making it an offence to possess a single elephant (although not two or three, or half-a-dozen) get onto the statute books? I was so intrigued at the thought of lawmakers passing a bill to stop elephants from feeling too down in the dumps because they can’t get a date that I went to the trouble of looking it up. Actually the law is less exciting than I had hoped. Clause 17A of the Exhibited Animals Protection Regulation 1985, “Exhibition of animals at circuses etc,” states:

“It is a condition of every approval under Division 2 of Part 3 of the Act authorising the exhibition of an animal at a circus that the animal will be kept and exhibited in accordance with the Standard for Exhibiting Circus Animals in New South Wales approved and published by the Director-General.”

Sure enough, section 16.D.1 of the Standard says: "As elephants are social herd animals, they must always be able to see and touch other elephants."

I like that, “and touch”. It is, well, touching.

Arna, as desperate for affection as she is, is obviously doing a lot better than another famous female circus elephant from another era, Mary, who in the early years of last century was billed as "the largest living animal on earth." She was apparently even bigger than her contemporary, P.T. Barnum's Jumbo. Mary was the star attraction of Charlie Sparks’ World Famous Circus until she killed a couple of people in 1916, probably because she was in pain from having an infected tooth. She was lynched, that’s right, lynched, by the citizens of Erwin, Tennessee. 5 000 slack-jawed tobacco-spitting moron yokels gathered in the railway yards and watched as Mary was hanged by the derrick used for lifting locomotives free of their rails.

Still, being better off than Mary is not really that much of an accomplishment. The more I think about poor old Arna, the sorrier I feel for her. I mean, if I thought about Arna for 20 minutes straight, I would be feeling desperately sad on her behalf. On the other hand, if I compare her situation with, say a battery hen, or a laboratory rat, or a fish that has the misfortune to travel too close to a driftnet, then comparatively speaking, she is not so badly off. In fact, she is far better off, since she has people like Bryan Adams, Stella McCartney, Nina Hagen, Chrissie Hynde, Uri Geller, Sandie Shaw, Daniel Johns from Silverchair and one of Australia’s few thoughtful politicians, Senator Andrew Bartlett, agitating on her behalf, trying to get her fixed up with some other elephants; and she is the star of a big court case that is costing Animal Liberation $50 000 in legal fees. To be perfectly honest, when I read further into it, Arna’s case was not as absolutely clear cut as I had initially thought. The argument mounted by Stardust Cirucus was that Arna had bonded with her trainers to such an extent that, if she were to be removed from them back into the company of elephants, this would, in a sense and of itself, represent an act of cruelty.

So, how do you put something like this into perspective? Is this something worth fighting for, or not? If the pork chops on display in the window of a butcher’s shop are an atrocity exhibition, why has Animal Liberation decided to devote so much of its publicity, and its funds, to the cause of one heartbroken widowed lonely affection-starved old bag of an elephant? OK, she is a being, with feelings, but how can we ever know what those feelings are? How much happier would she be in a zoo than she is in the circus?

PETA is setting up a dating service for elephants?

That is Arna’s story. I don’t know the answer to any of the questions I raised. I wanted to raise them anyway. I am firmly against cruelty to elephants. Don’t get me wrong. I love elephants. They are beautiful, glorious, awe-inspiring animals. Arna’s story really does touch me. Beneath that leathery hide, beats a tender heart. It honestly can’t be much of a life for her. On the other hand, I love a circus. I really do. The acrobats, the clowns, the strong man. And then you turn a corner of the tent, and there standing on its own bed of straw is an elephant!- Look, Mummy, an elephant! – Look, Daddy, an elephant!- what a magical moment that is! There is a part of me that would be really sad if circus animals were to be abolished because a lot of spiky-haired sanctimonious killjoy cranks think they know what is best for animals. (Obviously I exclude the attractive woman handing out leaflets at the Enmore Theatre from this sweeping assessment of animal rights activists). The only solution I can see is that Morrissey should write a song, perhaps something along the lines of Bob Dylan’s “Hurricane,” about the situation. Maybe he could do it as a duet with Bryan Adams. Although I don’t know exactly how this would solve the problem, it certainly couldn’t hurt.


How can they see the love in our eyes and still they don’t believe us?

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