I have become very interested in the stories of captive elephants. Here I interview Willow. Willow is an Asian elephant born in Burma in 1966. She roamed with her elephant family across the wild lands of Southeast Asia. Around the age of one she was captured from the wild and sold into the exotic animal trade.
She was then brought to a zoo in the United States. Willow did not take captivity well. Training methods were all about domination. Willow frequently lashed out at her new trainers, and visitors to the zoo. In the 30 years she spent at the zoo she earned a “Dangerous Elephant” label. In the year 2000, Willow was transferred to an elephant sanctuary to live out the rest of her life.
Laura: Willow, would you like to share anything about your life?
Willow: During my time at the zoo I was always scared and I didn’t trust people. Here I have elephant friends and they help me trust people. We decide as a group who is safe. There have been times where I have not felt safe but the other elephants reassure me it is OK. I am thankful for the people here at the sanctuary. They are patient with me and they allow me time to talk to the other elephants.
Laura: What was being captured like?
Willow: I try not to think about the actual capture because many of my herd were killed and we got split up and the sadness I felt was overwhelming. I know there is another elephant from my herd that came to the United States but has not made it to the sanctuary and I am frightened that he is still at a bad place.
Laura: Why did you hurt people?
Willow: My mom taught me to fight when I got captured. I always remembered that.
Laura: Are you okay? How are your mind and your body?
Willow: I am okay. I like my life here. I feel really safe. Sometimes I have a pain deep in both my ears. That is from the training they used to do on me. It is harder to read which way the breeze is coming from because of it and sometimes it makes me have to tilt my head strange but I am okay. I would like more bedding to sleep on because my left hip is sore and the front bottom part of my front legs.
Laura: Is there anything you would like to say?
Willow: I would like to tell all the elephants that are not here to see if they can find a person to trust. If they find one person to trust that person may fight for them to get here. I would like to tell them that once they get here they can relax and they can finally sleep. Some of the elephants talk about having to be moved a lot and how their enclosures were really hot, and I want to tell the elephants out there that once they get here they don’t have to travel.
I also want to tell them that the people here look you in the eye but it is different than what you may have known. They look you in the eye with compassion and that feels more like an elephant. I thought that only elephants could look at each other like that. Now I have human friends and we talk like elephants do with our eyes and our feelings.
I want them to know about that because maybe they can find a way here and maybe they don’t need to suffer anymore. My wish is that all the elephants in captivity could come here. We all have different stories but some of the pain is the same. The longer you are here the more the pain goes away.
Laura: Would you rather be in the wild?
Willow:I feel like I sort of am in the wild. I know it is not where I came from. I feel safe here. If I was in the wild maybe I could be caught again. I know here nothing bad will ever happen to me. I am safe. Will you tell the people that take care of me, “Thank you for what you are doing for elephants. We are all grateful.”