MARGATE – A small group of animal advocates gathered Saturday, Jan. 4 across the street from Margate’s iconic Lucy the Elephant to advocate for the release of all elephants held in captivity.
According to Adrienne Possenti of Free All Captive Elephants, Inc., or FACE for short, the international group held its second annual worldwide vigil for elephants who died in captivity during 2019.
“We are here to memorialize and honor these elephants who died in captivity in zoos and circuses around the world that we know about. There are many, many more we may not be aware of,” she said.
Possenti, who lives in Vineland, said the group decided to meet near Lucy the Elephant to draw attention to their mission, which is to get all captive elephants who are held “in brutal captivity” and kept in chains for human entertainment into elephant sanctuaries where they can live the rest of their lives with the freedom to roam.
“This is our second international vigil. Last year, our organization had vigils in six cities. The word is out on social media and this year on Jan. 4, we had more than 30 vigils,” said Robin Vitulle of Brigantine who is the local organization’s vice president.
The purpose of the solemn vigil, which included a candle lighting, songs, a procession and a cleansing with burning sage, is held to raise awareness about the brutal treatment elephants in captivity experience most of their lives. Elephants can live until well past their 50s. Those who died this year ranged from 6 years to 65. One female elephant in her 30s was rescued and lived out the remaining six months of her life at the Natural Bridge Zoo in Virginia.
“She spent 30 years in a roadside zoo that has been cited hundreds of times for animal protection violations,” Vitulle said.
Vitulle advised compassionate people to avoid attending circuses that use live animals, never ride an elephant and never go to a zoo with captive elephants.
“People must find other forms of entertainment than seeing elephants who are chained up in a zoo or brutalized in circuses,” she said.
Vitulle said the world-famous Philadelphia Zoo no longer has elephants in captivity.
“Elephants in the wild walk 30-50 miles a day to forage for food and water, which helps their digestive systems. Being chained up in circuses and kept in cages to stand in their own feces and urine causes injuries to their feet and they are often euthanized,” she said.
Vitulle suggested people who are interested in the issue wear beautiful elephant jewelry or sweatshirts with a message that can open a dialog about the suffering of elephants in captivity.
Possenti said if people knew how circus animals were treated, they would not support that form of entertainment.
“People who go to circuses don’t see what goes on behind the scenes when handlers use a bull hook to poke them behind the ears or every orafrice,” she said. “Elephants are so smart they know what they should do to avoid getting beaten.”
Sen. Raymond Lesniak introduced the first legislation in the nation to ban traveling animal exhibitions in New Jersey, called Nosey’s Law, named for an abused elephant who lived 30 years in captivity. Nosey currently lives at the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee.
“Before then, we protested at every circus up and down New Jersey,” Possenti said.
FACE is currently advocating for national regulations to restrict the use of animals in traveling exhibitions.
Possenti said Rep. Raul M. Grijalva (D-AZ-3) introduced HR-2863, known as the “Traveling Exotic Animal and Public Safety Protection Act” in Congress in May 2019. A month later, the bill was referred to the Subcommittee on Livestock and Foreign Agriculture.
“Besides doing the honorable thing to have a funeral for these majestic animals, our ultimate goal is to bring attention to the world about the plight of captive elephants,” Possenti said.
She said the organization is focused on getting captive elephants into sanctuaries and does not address poaching for ivory tusks, nevertheless, members “are horrified by it.”
The group processed along Decatur Avenue at the foot of Lucy before returning to their spot in front of Ventura’s Greenhouse for a “smudging” ceremony, a tradition among indigenous people that includes burning sage and other herbs and fanning the smoke with a sacred eagle feather to clean the mind, heart and body of negativity.
For more information about FACE, see www.freeallcaptiveelephants.org.