two steps forward, two steps back,
the elephant sways to a rhythm no one, not even she, can hear. Two steps forward, two steps back. Swaying, her head dips to one side, then the other. Her motions are born from a numb brain, from uncut boredom, from the measurement of a life by that which does not happen.
Beyond the barriers that surround her, a jerky stream of humans flows past, day after day. Their powerful odors overwhelm her, and she touches her temporal gland, samples her urine, the only familiar smells left to her. At the end of each day, after the humans are gone, she hears a multitude of rumbles, but none have resonances she can recognize.
Sometimes she will lie down on the huge square stone into which she is entombed and sleep. There are no stars over her head.
She ceased calling out to her kin a long time ago.
As near as she knows, she is the only elephant left on earth.
Note: There are 284 elephants in 79 accredited zoos in the United States. Most zoos have more than one elephant, because elephants are social creatures who need companions from their own species. I originally wrote this piece when I learned of Maggie, who lived at the Alaska Zoo in Anchorage for 24 years, the last eleven of those years alone. In 2008 she was transported to the PAWS sanctuary in California, where she now lives with other African elephants. Here are the remaining zoos that keep just one elephant:
- San Antonio Zoo – “Lucky”
- Double M. Ranch, New York – “Reba”
- T.I.G.E.R.S., South Carolina – “Bubbles”
- Natural Bridge Zoo, Virgina – “Asha”
- Wild Adventures, Georgia – “Shirley” – Shirley is age 69 and has been in captivity since 1946.
Sources: verified independently, using the database from http://www.elephant.se