Part 2: Entertaining Elephants: The Review
“In 1796, an elephant came to the United States.” From his first “scheme” to capitalize on these animals (the purveyor of pachyderms, Captain Jacob Crowninshield, readily admitted to these shenanigans) Americans were introduced to something they knew little of, namely, the elephant.
It is from this humble existence that the often troubled relationship between man, and his “performing elephants,” began. In “Entertaining Elephants” Susan Nance reports on this history behind “the business of the American circus” and it is just as fascinating as one would expect.
With no known path laid out before them, both elephant and those men responsible for this massive animal’s training, were out of their element. But this was just the dawning of the misfortune to befall the elephants. Manacled and padding across barren land, this is where the traveling circus and the elephant’s role in it began.
In her book, Nance exposes the treatment or rather mistreatment that performing elephants have had to endure for decades. But must the show really go on and at what costs to these sensitive, intelligent animals? It begs the question: was an elephant really born to learn to stand on its head?
It is difficult to read at times, these accounts of oft used training methods, relying on the “elephant hook” or the dreaded pronged pitchfork, produced to obtain obedience and at times, even death. These accounts are shocking but not really surprising. Don’t even ask what happened to Topsy, Mandarin or Fritz. You don’t even want to know or read about that.
There are accounts of many other performing animals such as horses or the ‘big cats’ but they only seem to slow the story down. Especially a book entitled “Entertaining Elephants” read by one who is expecting a book strictly about elephants. But, yes, we are forewarned by the subtitle.
There are endearing stories, too, such as the relationship of Hannibal and Queen Anne and their embraces and “elephantine kissing.” Now that is real love and if you are a true lover of elephants, such as this reviewer, then you must add this book to your collection and remember this.
If anything can be learned or taken from this book it is that if ‘the show must go on’ then mankind, if he has any compassion for these animals, must do so without our beloved elephants.