In Memory of Stoney, the Forgotten Elephant From Oregon Zoo
The Oregon Zoo has had a long history of exploiting elephants, and Stoney was one of them whom the zoo sent to spend his life being used for entertainment before dying a heartbreaking death.
On June 17, 1973, Stoney was born at the Oregon Zoo to parents Thonglaw and Pet, who were both captured in the wild. At just one year old, Stoney was transferred to animal trainer Ken Chisholm. In 1975, he was sold to Mike and Sally La Torres who trained Stoney for their traveling animal show. Stoney’s days were filled with learning and repeating unnatural circus tricks over and over. But despite a grueling travel schedule in the back of a dilapidated trailer, he at least was treated with some kindness and care by Sally who essentially served as Stoney's human version of a mother.
Both Sally and Mike used traditional dominance training with bullhooks and by withdrawing Stoney’s food and drink when he was in musth, a period when bull elephants experience a testosterone surge, which is associated with unpredictable and aggressive behavior. Years later, Sally would come to regret using these harsh methods. At 13, just as Stoney hit adolescence, Mike and Sally divorced and Stoney was left with Mike.
Mike, now deceased, was much less attentive to Stoney and demanded he perform a torturous hind leg stand, which is very challenging for elephants who must balance the weight of their multi-ton body on their back feet and legs. Although Stoney hated doing this leg stand, he wanted to please Mike and obeyed his command.
When Sally left, it was no doubt a hard adjustment for Stoney; when Sally was in the picture, he had some semblance of a normal life. From the moment Sally left, Stoney’s life was never the same. Mike and Stoney traveled from one town to another for years, performing in many circuses. Stoney's last performance was at the Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas.
On September 23, 1994, Stoney fell and injured his leg during a rehearsal for the hind leg stand. He cried out in searing pain and after several agonizing hours, he was finally moved in a dumpster to a hot, windowless, and unventilated shed in the back of the hotel. There he was put into a crush cage to help keep him off his injured leg. Despite many citations by the USDA and APHIS and recommendations by various vets to provide therapy and better food to Stoney, none of those recommendations were followed.
Almost one year later on August 28, 1995, after repeated attempts to lift Stoney from the floor where he had collapsed, and after a full day of screaming in excruciating pain, Stoney died without the mercy of euthanasia. Stoney's last gesture was reaching his trunk out to his old friend and trainer, but Mike turned away and chided him by saying, “Cut it out, Stoney.” At that moment, Stoney lay his head back down and died.
A kind supporter of Stoney left this marker at his grave: “In loving memory of Stoney, a gentle giant.”
Despite the efforts of some dedicated advocates who tried to save him, including Pat Derby of PAWS Sanctuary, it was too late. And though he was mourned by many at the time of his death, in the intervening years, Stoney's story has been lost to history.
The Oregon Zoo that shipped Stoney off to his eventual tragic ending had a long record of sending elephants to circuses. Though that is no longer a common practice, Stoney's sad plight is a reminder that elephants continue to suffer for entertainment in zoos and circuses. Carson & Barnes is one of the circuses that still exhibit performing elephants.
Rest in peace, Stoney. Though long gone, you will long be remembered. In memory of Stoney, one forgotten, gentle, intelligent elephant who died tragically years ago, please take a moment to ask Carson & Barnes to retire its elephants.