The elephant is a 26-year-old female named Edie who weighs over eight thousand pounds and stands eight and a half feet tall. She has lived at the Knoxville Zoo since 2002.
The handler, Stephanie James, was killed accidentally when Edie pinned her against a stall. The incident was not as a result of violent behavior by Edie, nor did she seem aggressive or frightened at the time.
All of the standard safety procedures were being followed, and James was working with another handler at the time. After James was pinned to the stall, the other trainer told Edie to move and release James and she did. James’ internal injuries, however, were severe and she died later in a nearby hospital.
When we advocate against zoos, we do so because the concept of a zoo is inherently unjust and the circumstances of confinement-as-entertainment are always miserable for the animals. When we try to educate people about a vegan diet, we do so because it is unethical to view sentient beings as existing for our consumption with no moral scruples whatsoever. When we work to end animal testing, it is because of the horrors associated with forcing animals to endure torture in the vain hope that it may benefit human health, somehow, eventually.
But no matter how often our critics accuse us of being so pro-animal that we are anti-human, one cannot fail to see the supplementary benefits to humanity when we respect animals. Benefitting animals doesn’t harm humans; in fact, quite the opposite.
While human deaths related to animal entertainment are relatively rare, it doesn’t make the individual deaths easier to bear for the loved ones affected. Every time a trainer or a handler is killed in a zoo or a circus, we see the terrifying human cost of these industries.
When we see that a plant-based diet reduces the risk of many of the deadliest conditions affecting humanity, we can see the benefit to humanity of respecting animals. When we view the unnerving information about the failure of animal testing to determine the safe use of medicines in humans, we see the fallacy that hinders medicinal progress.
Holding enormous animals like elephants captive in small enclosures, trying to tame them and control them will only result in misery for the animals and occasionally dire consequences for the humans who handle them.
By supporting animal entertainment and animal consumption, we not only forfeit our own humanity, but we put ourselves at risk for unnecessary pain and death.
Photo: Rennett Stowe