How Do You Kill An Elephant?

On November 23, 2014 by Tim Newman

How To Kill An Elephant

I suppose the answer to the question in the title is “with great difficulty” but “why would you want to kill an elephant?” is probably a better question.

The Western world has been bringing elephants to its shores for many years now, without giving them the respect they deserve; this mistreatment and loss of their natural way of life has often ended in tragedy. The story normally begins with a human tragedy, quickly followed by elephant tragedy.

Below I present to you three sad tales of elephantine horror.

Mary The Elephant – Tennessee (1916)

Elephants - Mary Rare Photo

Mary was a five-ton Asian elephant who performed in the Sparks World Famous Shows circus. In 1916, a hotel worker named Red Eldridge was employed as Mary’s assistant trainer. On his second day of work, he led the parade through Kingsport, Tennessee. Eldridge was unqualified to lead the elephant and things soon went horrifically wrong for him.

According to witnesses, Mary bent down to investigate a water melon husk and was prodded behind the ear by Eldridge. Mary took exception to his manhandling, picked him up with her trunk, threw him against a drinks stand and stood on his head.

Elephants - Mary Hanging Crane

A newspaper report of the time describes it in more gory (less believable) detail. They wrote that Mary…

“…collided its trunk vice-like [sic] about [Eldridge’s] body, lifted him 10 feet in the air, then dashed him with fury to the ground… and with the full force of her biestly [sic] fury is said to have sunk her giant tusks entirely through his body. The animal then trampled the dying form of Eldridge as if seeking a murderous triumph, then with a sudden… swing of her massive foot hurled his body into the crowd.”

It’s worth reminding ourselves that female Asian elephants don’t have tusks, so we can safely assume that the first account is probably more believable. Whatever the mode of dispatch, Eldridge died at Mary’s feet.

The story, from then on, gets a little confused – thanks to newspaper embellishments. It seems people immediately began chanting “kill the elephant” and a local blacksmith fired five rounds at Mary without effect.

The nearby towns in Tennessee made it clear they would not allow a circus with Mary in it to perform on their turf.

The circus owner – Charlie Sparks – knew he had to get rid of this murderous beast before he could peddle his wares further afield. This called for a public execution, and he decided that hanging would be the best way to do it.

Elephants - Mary Hung

The next day, 2,500 people gathered to witness the hanging of Mary. Two-and-a-half thousand people decided they wanted to watch an elephant be hung from the neck until it died.

Elephants - Mary Hung for murder

They hung Mary from a crane supported by a railway car. The first attempt was a disaster and the chain snapped, dropping Mary to the floor breaking her hip in the process and terrifying hundreds of children who had come to watch. During the second attempt, the elephant died and was buried by the side of the tracks.

According to the autopsy report, Mary had a rotten tooth just next to where Eldridge had prodded her on that fateful day.

Mary’s demise was 100 years ago. Surely we’ve learned from our mistakes and no longer keep elephants captive and make them perform for our pleasure? Well, we both know that’s not the case don’t we?

Tyke The Elephant – Honolulu (1994)

Elephants - Tyke Rampage Dead

In much more modern times, Tyke the elephant paid the ultimate price because humans choose to draw pleasure from beasts they can’t control.

Tyke performed with Circus International of Honolulu, Hawaii throughout the early 90’s. Tyke had been misbehaving for quite some time and probably shouldn’t have been anywhere near humans in a built up area.

In April 1993, Tyke escaped from a performance area in Pennsylvania, causing $14,000 in damages. In July of the same year, at a State Fair in North Dakota, Tyke once again roamed free for nearly half an hour, scaring the bejeezus out of onlookers and trampling a handler.

What would make an elephant so tweaky? According to USDA and Canadian law enforcement documents:

“The elephant handler was observed beating the single-tusk African elephant in public to the point [where] the elephant was screaming and bending down on three legs to avoid being hit. Even when the handler walked by the elephant after this, the elephant screamed and veered away, demonstrating fear from his presence.”

That makes the awful tragedy that came next all the more understandable and inevitable. In August 1994, Tyke ran amok for the last time. During a performance in front of a large crowd, Tyke went nuts killing her trainer and seriously injuring her groomer before running out into the streets.

Elephants - Tyke Rampage Hawaii

There was little else that police officers could do than repeatedly fire shots into the sorrowful beast in front of a shocked and appalled crowd. Around 800 shots were fired into Tyke in the cold light of day before she finally gave up the ghost and died.

Elephants - Tyke Rampage Dead against car

It was a brutal and wholly unnecessary last chapter in the elephant’s life. The video of the death of Tyke’s handler and the eventual murder of the beast can be watched using this link; I don’t advise watching it, though. It’s pretty horrible all round.

Topsy – New York (1903)

Elephants - Topsy Electroctution

Forepaugh Circus was in competition with P.T Barnum’s more famous operation. Mr Forepaugh and his cronies needed something impressive to win over some more fans. Topsy, according to Forepaugh, was the first elephant born on American soil, he hoped this tag line would get him a few more punters.

The truth was that Topsy had been taken from somewhere in Southeast Asia and smuggled back to the US. Barnum eventually ousted Forepaugh and proved the elephant had been born elsewhere, but Topsy was still a crowd-pleaser.

Topsy soon developed a name for herself as a “bad” elephant. In May 1902, an inebriated James Fielding Blount mocked Topsy whilst she stood chained to the line before a performance. He allegedly threw sand in her face and burnt the sensitive tip of her trunk with a cigar. Topsy didn’t take kindly to the man’s advances, picked him up with her trunk, threw him to the ground and crushed him to death. Fair enough really.

Another non-fatal attack later in the year sparked Topsy’s sale to Sea Lion and Luna park. During her stint there she was paired with a drunk trainer who stabbed her with a pitchfork, let her run loose in the streets and eventually tried to break into a police station by riding Topsy and smashing down the doors. The policemen were forced to hide in the cells whilst the elephant went berserk with her drunken master aboard.

Elephants - Topsy Electroctution 2

Through no fault of her own, it was decided that Topsy needed to be done away with. But how? The park’s owners decided it would be a swell idea to hang the elephant and charge an entry fee.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals stepped in, declaring this was too cruel a method and frowning upon the sale of tickets to such an event. The officials eventually decided on the more complicated method of strangling the elephant with large ropes tied to a steam-powered winch… and poison… and electrocution.

Topsy was led to the area where she was to be killed. Her feet were plugged into the mains and she was fed food laced with potassium cyanide. A switch was switched 9 blocks away and 6,600 volts of electricity flowed through Topsy. After 10 seconds of charge, the elephant slumped to the ground and the signal was given for the steam engines to pull the ropes tight around her neck.

How maddeningly thorough. Here’s the video filmed by the Edison film company… it’s not for the faint-hearted but the black and white-ness makes it less harrowing somehow.



What can you say about all of that?





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