In May of 2014 I introduced the students at Morgan to a book called, Tarra & Bella: The Elephant and Dog Who Became Best Friends. Tarra, who is a former circus elephant, came to live at The Elephant Sanctuary with her trainer, Carol Buckley, the author of the book and the founder of this beautiful retreat for elephants. Tarra did not make friends easily and was often seen alone until a stray dog, Bella, arrived at the sanctuary. The two bonded and became inseparable.
This story aroused some curiosity in me about how elephants are treated in circuses and side-shows. I found a short film about Shirley, another elephant who was also adopted by the sanctuary, who had not seen another elephant in over 25 years. She was alone in the circus where she performed. Elephants are very social creatures and need companionship. I found it heartbreaking that so many are isolated in captivity.
After seeing the video about Shirley and reading about Tarra, the students and I began to research the plight of African and Asian elephants in captivity in media class. We also learned about the illegal ivory trade and how quickly elephant numbers are dropping because of poaching. We discovered a video of Suda, an Asian elephant in a preserve in Thailand that paints beautiful pictures to raise money for the World Wildlife Fund to help stop poaching.
The students at Morgan wanted to help. They raised enough money to purchase a painting for our media center by Suda. Part of the price for the painting went to the World Wildlife Fund to help stop the illegal ivory trade. The remainder was used for veterinary costs, mahout salaries, and food for the elephants at the preserve.
We also had enough to donate $200 to The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee. We have adopted Shirley and Tarra for this school year to help with the costs of their food and ‘treats’ at the sanctuary. We will have a donation event later in the school year.
If you have not seen the beautiful painting, please take the time to stop by the media center at any time. Suda’s artwork is a constant reminder to us that there is always something we can do to make the lives of animals a little bit better.