In Print, On-Screen, & In the Arts or ELEPHANTS in Books, Features & Other Mediums

A Reflection on An Apology to Elephants the HBO Documentary Film Part 1

This film will break your heart and that’s the very reason you should watch it and share it and talk about it and hopefully do something, anything, to help our elephants.

I didn’t remember that Lily Tomlin loved elephants. Now I can’t help but love her too. She narrates this documentary “An Apology to Elephants.”

The film opens solemnly in a train yard on a dark rain soaked night. The camera pans to a solitary figure walking next to the rail cars, gripping a bullhook in his left hand. Up ahead we see a group of men, shuffling as they struggle to carry a steel ramp high above their heads. It’s as if this was the scene of a cortege for the awaiting elephants. But no, not this time.

The men have put the ramp in place and an elephant is seen emerging. First a trunk, then an ample foot, as she carefully, slowly pads down the bumpy surface. Resigned to her fate, she comes to a halt adjacent to the bullhook wielding men.

The elephant in her, (the curious, playful, intelligent mammal that she is) explores a puddle with her trunk. For just a moment, for just that solitary moment she may have been taken back, in her mind, to what her life was supposed to be. Only it was not to be and the horror of her existence again became very real. For she is trapped as a circus elephant, and there is no way out.


HBO Documentary Films copyright


Lessons Learned From An Apology to Elephants

The following points are direct quotations from the various experts featured in the documentary.

Just knowing these facts can only bring us closer to these wondrous animals and to understanding the appalling situations our elephants are in.

  • “The relationship has mostly been one of exploitation, exploitation for fighting battles, exploitation for building temples, exploited for their ivory, exploited for their meat, exploited for entertainment.”Dr. Joyce Poole, Elephant Biologist, Director, Elephant Voices
    • “You Can Fix a Zoo, You Cannot Fix a Circus, there is no way.” the late Pat Derby, PAWS Sanctuary  (An Apology to Elephants was dedicated to the memory of Pat who passed away on 13 Feb 2013)
    • “If people knew what was going on behind the scenes, well, at least I would hope they wouldn’t support it any longer.” Dr. Joyce Poole, Elephant Biologist, Director Elephant Voices, referring to people going to the Circus to see performing elephants
  • “Seeing them out there, knowing they had some days or years of safety and peace or dignity, that is the big reward. If there is a dream, this is the dream.” the late Pat Derby, PAWS Sanctuary referring to the elephants now at the PAWS Sanctuary
    • “You can actually chain an elephant up by its leg, even today, for 19 hours every day in California and that’s legal.” Ed Stewart, PAWS Sanctuary
    • “One of the former trainers for the Milwaukee zoo said they are way too forgiving after what we put them through. And they are, they are way too forgiving.”  Ed Stewart, PAWS Sanctuary
  • “The trauma of capture stays with them for life. They are as bonded as human beings. If it happened to a human it would never go away.” Ed Stewart, PAWS Sanctuary
  • 50% of the elephants in captivity will die of foot related diseases.”  Dr. Mel Richardson, Captive Wildlife Veterinarian
  • “Elephants have arthritis and they need to move to heal it.” Dr. Mel Richardson, Captive Wildlife Veterinarian
  • “A lot of elephants are captured when they are small and shipped out. It’s pretty shameful, really.” Ed Stewart, PAWS Sanctuary

To be continued: A Reflection on An Apology to Elephants the HBO Documentary Film Part 2