I love watching elephants. A zoo is not a real zoo without them. There is something calming about watching them eat, walk, pick things up with their trunks or just stand still. I don’t have statues or pictures of elephants around the house so this is not an obsession – I simply enjoy watching them be.
In seminary we had annual passes to the Oakland Zoo. A fraction of the San Diego Zoo, it nevertheless had elephants. Every morning, zoologists hide their food. Elephants spend hours searching for breakfast. Employees could just pile the food in one area but that’s not good for the mammoth beasts. Elephants are smart, curious and like to explore. They also need exercise. Hiding their food every day, and finding new places to hide it, keeps the elephants active, thinking and engaged in life. And it makes for a good zoo experience because guests get to watch them walk around, discern and eat.
Hiding food is not unique to elephants and is done in many zoos for a variety of different species but all for the same reason; animals need to be mentally engaged and physically active.
The only zoo I’ve ever hated was in Moscow, Russia. Our girls wanted to go see it – they’d never seen a zoo or any wild animal for that matter besides an occasional wild dog, rabbit or Russian wolf (which, by the way, you don’t want to mess with). Christi and I teared up several times during the exhibit. I have pictures if you want to be disgusted. The animals were in cages that were nothing more than aging painted train cars. We watched a polar bear walk the same pattern over and over and over and over rubbing up against the bars, turning, and rubbing along them on the other side. It’s like the body was alive but the brain was dead. There was a Russian brown bear, the pride and symbol of the people, with open sores on its worked-over body. It was angry and detached all at the same time. I have a photo of a monkey with a metal collar around its neck and a large chain attached to the center of the rail car. I was ashamed of being human and of giving money to this morally corrupt and horrible traveling group of humans and their enslaved animals. They would throw food to the animals within reach of the chains that held them. No searching or exploring for these animals.
Back to happier thoughts of elephants… the pachyderms at the San Diego Safari Park are quite well cared for and, for lack of a better word, happy. The night before our Spring Break visit I had a weird and vivid dream. I think it was God talking to me but I’m still chewing on it. I asked God, as many of you have, too, “Why don’t you just tell me what you want me to know! Why make me pray, think, read the Bible, talk about the dream to other people, and write about it. Why not just tell me plainly.” And then I saw the elephants walking around looking for a hidden carrot or head of lettuce. I saw joy when one found a hidden cache of apples.
And now, of course, you have figured out why I like the elephants so much; like me, they need to be challenged into using their minds, imagination, and muscles. God made us smart, curious and in need of daily exercise. Maybe God feeds us spiritual food in the way zoologists feed Elephants. We have to seek and find in order to be fed. Instead of slop buckets and chains around our necks – spiritually speaking, we have to explore and search for it.