22.1.08

updating the elephants

So far I have learned:

Wrigleys may have been a mis-hearing of Ridgeways but Ridgeways Circus could not have been the one that came to Ohakune in the late 1950s or early 1960s because they did not exist until 1966 - before then they were known as Cole Brothers Circus.

Ridgeways had three elephants, called Dolly, Bimbo and Sheba. Sheba choked to death in Christchurch on a small twig from a branch of a tree she was eating. She was buried there. Bimbo was put down because of a terminal bone disease late 1970's. Dolly was still in action in 1968.

Wirths lost an elephant called Betty to tutu poisoning in 1950.

Doug Ashton of Ashtons Circus is still alive and said it was certainly not one of his elephants - although one did suffer tutu poisoning in New Zealand - it survived.

Ginni, an elephant with Soles, in 1959 likewise survived hemlock poisoning - that was around Rotorua.

Bullens elephant Sally, 25 years old, 3 ton in weight, died on Sunday, April 17th 1960 at Riversdale railway siding (58 miles north-west of Invercargill) after drinking from a 44 gallon drum of water that had previously contained weed killer.

In 1964 Rill, an elephant with Soles/Wirths, ate tutu but eventually recovered.

There is known to be an elephant that died in the North Island around the probable time of the Ohakune incident but so far the name of the animal, nor that of the circus, nor the place of the event have been uncovered.

The Ohakune elephant was probably not called Rajah - generally a name given to lions.

This information kindly provided by New Zealand circus historian John Sullivan, who further says the Ohakune elephant was definitely not with Bullens, Wirths or Ashtons, all of which were large circuses with big elephant numbers – that is, six to nine animals. That leaves Coles/Ridgeways as the most likely.

I am still confused on the relation between Coles and Soles.

Mark St. Leon, scion of an Australian circus family and also a circus historian, told me that it is not uncommon, when the sites of old show grounds are excavated to build supermarkets, for elephant bones to be uncovered.

A fellow I met yesterday described a sequence from a documentary film he remembered from his youth. They interviewed an old lion tamer, whose then job was to give the elephants an enema before their performance. The interview was conducted in situ, he was wearing prophylactics, a raincoat and hat - when asked if he would ever retire and he said he could never give up show biz ...

I also learned, serendipitously, that elephants used in Burma to fell and bring out teak, sometimes contracted anthrax. Black spots would appear on their rumps, rapidly swelling into great buboes – eventually these would become of such size that the animal’s anus would become blocked, meaning that they could not shit. As soon as the signs appeared on an elephant, everyone else, men and beasts, would flee the logging camp; but the elephant’s keeper, joined by an indissoluble bond, would sometimes stay with his charge and share its agonizing fate.

2 comments:

Moonmidwife said...

I hope you do locate the Ohakune elephant's story. These details are intriguing. I had in the back of my my mind that a circus elephant died in Invercargill when I was young. It was probably the Riversdale one and I heard it as a 'family' story as its a little before my time.

Dan Koehl said...

Martin, I read on http://nzpoetlaureate.natlib.govt.nz/2008/09/ohakune-elephant.html that the elephant was identified as Bullens Molly.

I admin the worlds largest elephant database at www.elephant.se, and Im trying to complete the section with elephants in Australia; http://www.elephant.se/country.php?name=Australia I think Im almost done with the zoos, but still miss records for circus elephants, why Id be happy to get in contact with you, John Sullivan, Mark St. Leon, and other circus historians who may be able to help me with listings of the elephants. I belive you can contact me through my blogger page.