Thoughts: Free The Elephants Conference


Panel on Media with Colleen Plumb, Sangita Iyer, Allan Classen, Alyne Fortgang and T. Rutter

This past weekend I had the singular experience of attending the Free the Elephants International Conference and Film Festival in Portland, Oregon. For those unfamiliar with this event, it was, so far as I know, one of the first times that elephant centered luminaries from all over the planet came together in one place to dissect, discuss and hopefully, find solutions to the horror that is elephants in captivity.

A veritable who’s who of experts and cutting edge documentaries highlighted, again and again, the torture that elephants endure in captivity. From Sangita Iyer’s gut wrenching “God’s in Shackles,” which illustrates the life of India’s temple elephants, to David Casselman’s reveal of the transcripts involving the plight of Billy, the Los Angeles zoo’s miserable, captive bull elephant. Did you know that all of the foliage in his exhibit is electrified, so that if he wants to engage in a natural behavior like browsing, he’ll be shocked? Imagine someone doing that to your refrigerator and you get the idea.

We heard from a former zoo keeper (Ray Ryan) who described in graphic detail, an elephant disciplinary method called “juicing”, in which a elephant is covered in water while an electric cattle prod is inserted in their anus, and if you think that is bad, we are just getting started.

Fortunately for us participants, in between these glimpses of what elephants endure, there were rays of hope; new sanctuaries popping up, (such as the Kerulos Center, catering to underserved, male elephants), victories, such as getting long suffering, Nosey transferred to sanctuary in Tennessee.

Colleen Plumb's Stunning "30 Times a Minute" in Portland, OR

Artists Colleen Plumb with her groundbreaking, gorilla-style, video project, “30 Times a Minute” in which she projects massive images of zoo elephants onto buildings around world, and Larry Laverty with his stunning images of wild elephants throughout Africa, added a visual counter point to the sizzling panels and heartbreaking stories.

But what, at the end of these three, informative, tear filled, days, did we all come away with?

Did we put together a white board filled with bullet points and action steps on how to free every last one of the elephants around the world that are rotting away before our very eyes?

Nope, not even close.

But what we did achieve is something, in my view, even more important.