Thursday, May 24, 2012

That's no way to kill an elephant

It seemed dreadful to see the great beast Lying there, powerless to move and yet powerless to die, and not even to be able to finish him. I sent back for my small rifle and poured shot after shot into his heart and down his throat. They seemed to make no impression.
wrote George Orwell in Shooting an Elephant

I read Orwell's essay ages ago and figured it pretty much had the elephant execution story covered. Looking back I was amazingly naive about quite how many bizarre possibilities for dispatching pachyderms existed.

1. Hanging. Erwin, Tennessee thought it was a good idea to hang Mary the elephant.

2. Electrocution. In order to show that his DC current was a great idea Edison decided to show AC was really dangerous. So he got Topsy the elephant and electrocuted her. Which is a massively dick move anyway you cut it. He also invented and sold the electric chair to execute criminals as a similar negative publicity campaign against AC current. The video he produced is here

3. Shooting. Tyke (elephant) Police fired 86 shots at Tyke, who eventually collapsed from the wounds onto a blue car and died. This video is of Tyke's attack and later shooting. I am not going to embed it as it is frankly horrifying.

4. Harpooning. Chunee "Kneeling down to the command of his trusted keeper, Chunee was hit by 152 musket balls, but refused to die. Chunee was finished off by a keeper with a harpoon or sword". Having to harpoon an elephant has to be the definition of a hard day at work.

Not execution but still weird

5. Lethal Injection of LSD. Tusko was a 14 year old who weighed 32000kg. Some scientists decided to give him enough LSD to get 3000 people off their mash. This mammoth dose killed him under two hours later. The scientific paper that came out of this mess is "Lysergic Acid Diethylamide: Its effect on a Male Asiatic Elephant."

6. Lightening "Norma Jean, struck by lightning, c. 1972, during a circus parade in Oquawka, Illinois. She was buried where she died, and a marker now lies on this spot."

7. Drowning (ish). Dan Rice was a sort of PT Barnum character. He ran loads of stunts to advertise his various travelling circus events. One of these for one poor elephant was "In August 1860, Rice had Lallah Rookh swim across the Ohio River in Cincinnati, Ohio to drum up publicity for his new "Monster Show." It took her 45 minutes to swim across the river. A month later, Lallah died of a fever brought about by her swim".

While on this elephantine swimming subject my favourite theory about the Loch Ness Monster is that it was a swimming circus elephant. And once the mistake was made the circus owner used the publicity to drum up business 'In 1933 a circus promoter in the area—acting perhaps on inside information that the monster was really a big top beast—offered a rich reward for Nessie's capture'

8. Burning. In 1681 an elephant was burned to death in Dublin. How the poor creature got to Dublin at that time is difficult to imagine. But then to have your crate set on fire is just tragic. The autopsy revealed information that later helped show elephants had evolved from an aquatic animal. "An anatomical account of the elephant accidentally burnt in Dublin on Fryday, June 17 in the year 1681" is Allen Mullen's description of the autopsy

And the weirdest one, and I realise that is saying something, is not an execution of elephants but by elephants. Most of the elephants killed listed above had killed a person. But elephants were once a really common. Apparently death by Nelly was wildly popular from prehistoric times up until the late 1800s. Execution by elephant is an incredible wikipedia page, hard to extract from but worth reading through.

Because elephants are so easy to train and because an elephant standing on your head was such a gruesome way to die most south Asian countries seemed to practice it.

I do not know what the wide an varied history of death of and by elephant tells us. They are all pretty tragic tales. Recently an elephant escaped in Cork . Then later crushed one of the circus workers. It seems the same sort of issues that killed Chunee, Mary, Tyke and many people who have been killed by performing elephants still exist and that more than these historic stories is a tragedy.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

hello, this is just a thank you for your article about Tyke the elephant
I am just writing to remind you that AUGUST 20- this TUES is the tragic anniversary of TYKE and it's the perfect time for a new memorial article and to include that I will be giving away FREE downloads all day long of TYKE & the ELEPHANT ANGEL, however please be advised that for children, the hard copy is better, Both can be found here (note the five star ratings and reviews) You can also win FREE hard copies at goodreads here
or through the facebook page, all invites welcome
My new novel - Delta the Dancing Elephant - Memoir of a circus elephant can be found here
And I am also giving away FIVE free hard copies on goodreads here
Thank you for caring about circus elephants!