Anyone who has ever wandered into the pachyderm exhibit at a zoo knows the majesty of elephants. Their immense size is striking, the amazing dexterity of their trunk is a wonder to behold and beneath all that bulk is a great deal of personality. Many zoo-goers never think, however, of the toll a life spent in concrete enclosures must have on these gentle giants. Carol Buckley did consider this predicament and in 1995 she helped found the Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee. Today this refuge provides a natural habitat for injured and aged elephants to spend their remaining days in peace. Buckley, who first authored Travels With Tarra, now brings us another fascinating book that reveals the unique nature of elephants and the strong bonds they form with one another.
Just for Elephants begins with the story of Shirley. Captured in Sumatra more than 50 years ago, Shirley is removed from the zoo where she has lived for two decades because an injury prevents her from performing tricks. Little does she know as she exits her trailer that she is about to embark on a life of freedom and companionship with her own kind. Within moments of her arrival at the sanctuary, an elephant named Jenny reaches through the gates of the barn to greet her. Surprisingly, this is not their first meeting. Years before, the females worked together in a circus. Now reunited, Jenny gently leads Shirley through her first day in the open pastures of the Tennessee landscape.
Upon opening the book, readers will be enchanted by images of elephant skin adorning the endpapers and an oversized eye peering out from the title page. Photographs lead viewers through a day with Shirley and Jenny as they bathe and frolic in the pond, nap lazily and nuzzle one another with affection. There is a genuine sense of setting in Buckley's detailed descriptions of redtail hawks screeching overhead and the herd grazing on river cane and china grass that grows all around.
Included in the text are thorough notes on the habits of elephants, background on the sanctuary and a history of the story's characters. It is, however, Buckley's warmth and tenderness toward these majestic creatures that will impress animal lovers young and old. Jennifer Robinson is a teacher in Baltimore.