Retirement

When working elephants are displaced in the lumber industry by modern machinery, they become 'unemployed'.  In countries like India, Sri Lanka, and Thailand, there is a growing surplus of tamed, but now unemployed, elephants of this type.  Their upkeep has become a financial burden on their owners, and it is not clear what to do with them.  It is argued that such elephants are too tame to be returned to the wild.  So the people in these countries have begun to recognize the need for elephant retirement homes. 


photo M. Noonan 

In an ideal realization of this concept, the elephants would still be fed and managed by people.  However, they would also be given the freedom to intermingle with each other, form their own social bonds, and even interact with their environment in ways that would allow them to express many of their natural behaviors.  In a way it would be like a halfway house.  The elephants would pretty much get to behave like elephants.  But, at the same time, it would still be a place where people could get close enough to take care of them. 

In truth, retirement facilities of this type -- ones following the purely altruistic mission of serving elephants who had previously long served man -- is still more of a dream than a reality in Asia.  Even the facilities that publicly support the notion of retirement for working elephants often have most of their efforts (and their elephants) devoted to serving visiting tourists with 'safari rides', 'logging demonstrations', etc.  Admittedly, this may be the only way for these facilities to earn enough money to pay for the necessities of the elephants in their care.  However, it nevertheless just amounts to another form of obligatory servitude from the point of view of the elephants. 

Interestingly, the idea of an elephant retirement home, and/or of a domestic elephant sanctuary, has been gaining recent momentum in the United States.  In fact, two separate facilities, each associated with large parcels of land, have already been created in Tennessee and in California.  Their stated mission is to accept retired or surplused elephants from the circus or zoo communities, and to provide them with semi-natural conditions in which they can roam.  

 

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