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R.I.P. Dondi the elephant

ARFF is mourning the death of “Dondi,” a solitary female Asian elephant who was a regular performer at Flea World, a flea market in Sanford, and at Santa’s Enchanted Forest, a Christmas festival in Miami. (Click here to view video of a performance at Flea World in February.)

Dondi died of unknown causes on July 28.

ARFF held numerous demonstrations on behalf of Dondi. For years, ARFF pleaded with Dondi’s owners to retire her to a sanctuary where she could be free from constant travel and have an opportunity for normal social relationships. It is tragic that her life ended without being given that chance. Dondi deserved better.

Sadly, Dondi was not the only elephant in Florida forced to live alone. Visit ARFF’s website to learn how you can help “Nosey,” an elephant currently traveling with the Liebling Bros. Circus.

4 Responses to “R.I.P. Dondi the elephant”

  1. on 30 Jul 2010 at 10:10 pm Kim Hogan

    I sent the following letter to Southwick Zoo, where Dondi was kept except for when she had to go work in flea markets and amusement parks in Florida.

    justine@southwickszoo.com

    Ms. Brewer, I am so sorry to hear about the death of Dondi. I could only think of how a human being would survive if forced to live alone, separated from other human beings. I understand that poor Dondi lived alone all her life and also was forced to perform and give rides at your zoo during the summer. During the winter, she had to perform and give rides at Flea World, the giant flea market and amusement park in Florida.

    What a sad life for poor Dondi. I hope you will empathize with her lonely existence and encourage other zoos NOT to use elephants in this manner. If you were to ask humans if they would rather view a happy elephant in his/her natural habitat (or a once-captive elephant released to an elephant sanctuary) versus an elephant who is handled with a bull hook and lives in a small environment with no pond, no sister elephants who has to give rides and perform tricks, you would see that humans do NOT want to see sad elephants in sad environments. Elephants that are either in their natural habitat or in an elephant sanctuary where they enjoy grazing, socializing, dusting themselves, playing with each other, wading in ponds are happy elephants.

    We could NEVER call it normal to hold elephants captive in zoos where they have little room to move about, much less roam. Because elephants are highly social animals who, in the wild, live in large family groups in which females remain with their mothers for their entire life & Asian elephants have a natural lifespan of 60-70 years, zoos are constantly doing a disservice to elephants. Recent scientific studies show that elephants in zoos die decades earlier than those in relatively protected wild populations.

    Is this what we truly want our children to learn? No! Elephants in circuses & zoos don’t provide a realistic educational tool for children. Children are seeing broken-spirited animals reacting to a stressful and unnatural environment.

    I implore you to rise to a higher standard, as other zoos are doing, by not replacing Dondi with another elephant. Please honor Dondi by saying - “That’s it. No more elephants at our zoo. We are going to pay homage and respect to Dondi by no longer having elephants here.”

    If you made a statement like this, the world would stand up and take notice. We would have such respect for you as one who truly has the welfare of elephants at heart. We would respect you as a leader amongst zoos and zoo directors. We are confident you will continue to think of Dondi — her life and her death — as you move forward.

    Thank you.
    Kim Hogan
    Lynchburg Va

  2. on 30 Jul 2010 at 11:46 pm Bob B

    It is sad Dondi passed away, she was a incredible creature that i had the incredible oportunity to live right down the street from where she spent her summer months at Southwick’s Zoo. I had the chance to see her grazing with her keepers in the 100 acre field many times during the day.
    She had a family that she loved dearly.

    People should not pass judgement before they have all the facts. Dondi was rescued from a lumber camp in Asia. She was not born in the wild and would not have survived had it not been for the Schacht’s family.

    My heart goes out to the Schacht family as they are true ambassadors to the voice of animals.

    Maybe you should know these people before you pass judgement on them.

  3. on 22 Sep 2011 at 12:43 pm Barbara

    I knew Phil and Francine Schacht and Dondi when Dondi was two and three and saw them on the road again when she was about 20. Dondi never had a lonely or unloved moment in her life. We got together and had a 3rd birthday party for her at the RV park in River Ridge, La. The Shachts were a trapeze act,’The Flying Apollos’ prior to purchasing Dondi from a rescue organization at around six months old. They valued her as a member of the family, not a device for making money. Dondi loved preforming.
    I remember when the so called animal rights people poisoned a whole petting zoo full of animals in the night and left signs stating they were better off dead than in a zoo. Phil and Fran were informed right away and guarded Dondi that much more. Up to that time people were allowed to feed Dondi fruit given to them by the Schachts. That had to stop for fear of someone putting a razor or poison in the fruit before handing it to Dondi.
    I remember one time when Dondi was very young the Schachts and I tried to go to a drive in movie. We got to about the end of the driveway at the RV park and Dondi realized she was alone and started to trumpet. Needless to say we did not go to the movie that night or any other.
    Try this in your life…Never going anywhere with your husband or small son. If they were on a show and had no time to cook (the norm when you’re on a big show), they would go to meals one at a time..alone. When Josh came along he would go to meals with his mother or father while the other stayed with Dondi. When she was small she had living quarters in the back 2/3 of their mobile unit. They took 1/3 for themselves and the costumes. When they were sponsored by a trucking company Dondi got 2/3 of the trailer rigged out for her comfort while Phil Fran and Josh got the other 1/3. No one ever complained, no one ever begrudged her the space. She was always outside on her own nice clean flooring, they were very careful to see to it that she got the proper food, vitamins, rest, etc. Dondi loved the Schachts and they loved her. For some ‘animal rights’ group to say she wasn’t treated properly, or died of loneliness is worse than ridiculous.
    I had a conversation with Fran, I think it was in Iowa. They had ordered new canvas and it had not come out right so they had to travel up from Fla. to get it fixed.They were staying with Dondi at the fairgrounds. I had come in to do a show. I was happy to see them as I had no gotten to do so in years. They were still taking turns going to meals so Dondi would not be alone. Fran and I had a chance to sit down and talk a bit about the future. She and Phil wanted to retire, but couldn’t because they Josh was not old enough to take Dondi out alone. They were going to try to spend more time on the property in Fla to see how Dondi liked staying home. The only concern they had was what would suit Dondi and what would make her happy. Elephants live longer than their owners, usually. That was a great concern for them. I know Fran was writing books about Dondi’s adventures. They thanked God for Josh, who loved Dondi and took on more and more of the responsibility for her as he grew older. Though I didn’t see them often these past years I always valued the Schachts in my heart. They are great people and probably the kindest, most loving elephant parents in or out of the business. And they were PARENTS, not owners. If anything Dondi owned them, not the other way around.I know they mourn Dondi and I hope people will always respect that.
    Sincerely, Barbara Johnson

  4. on 19 Nov 2011 at 2:15 pm Steve Bonnell

    Before any passes judgment on Phil or Fran and their handling of Dondi you first need to walk in Dondi’s pads. I had the pleasure of working with Dondi, Phil, and Fran back in 1977 with Circus Fantastic at Great America theme park in Gurnee, Il. To know Phil and Fran was to know Dondi. Their daughter (Dondi) was soo loved cared for and pampered it is unbelievable. Dondi grew up very comfortable around humans and the love she had for Phil and Fran then was quite obvious. To anyone that feels Dondi would have been better off in a sanctuary with other elephants is sadly mistaken. I had the pleasure of baby sitting Dondi one evening so Phil and Fran could have an evening out alone and it was very obvious that Dondi missed them for just the few hours they were gone. Dondi grew up knowing Mom & Dad were always there for her knew she was loved. She was a very content and happy camper last time I saw her!

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