This week on Talk Learn Connect, Writer Yvonne Reddin asks Global Elephant Care Consultant - Gerry Creighton, to share some TLC
Could you share where your love of animals, in particular the elephants, began?
I was lucky to be a second-generation zookeeper, my father worked at the zoo for 52 years. As a young boy, I went up to the zoo every weekend from the age of 5/6, it was like my own private playground.
It was one of the best parts of growing up with the other keeper’s kids and the freedom of walking around the zoo among these magnificent animals.
I always envisaged working with animals, it held a particular magnetism, the sights and the smells that you came into contact with from a young age. To see these powerful cats and majestic elephants, I couldn’t wait to get out of school to begin my zoo career.
It was all I wanted to do and after 36 years working in Dublin Zoo, there has never been a single day I didn’t look forward to going to work.
“Elephants are the largest existing land animals” – How important is it to you to educate and share your knowledge on a global level?
It’s hugely important because elephants are a unique part of the ecosystem, if elephants thrive, the whole environment thrives. They pass seeds in their dung that rejuvenate forests that make plants grow, their big footprints they leave in the muddy sand where a pool can form from the depression of the foot; frogs can leave their spawn there and it can be developed.
They are incredibly important to the landscape and the environment that they live in. They have been so badly treated by humans because of their charisma and strength. We have always wanted to be so close to them and prepared to keep them, under any circumstances.
I want to make people understand the empathy, the emotive intelligence, the integrity of the herd, the kindness that they have towards one another and how they manage the family unit, to create a progressive future for the whole herd.
We need to look at the whole area of injustice we have done to them by keeping them in conditions and the cultural countries where they come from like in India where they still use temples and they are chained up for long periods of time.
What do you feel is the next step to shifting the narrative on elephant care from a controlled belief to a more habitual one?
The method of free contact control for an elephant is devastating because you have something that looks like an elephant, its grey, has a trunk but emotionally and physically, it becomes bankrupt.
We become the dominant person in its life, we do its thinking. It becomes a relationship based on fear and there should be no consequence for any animal when a human or keeper comes into their world and its life is threatened. They shouldn’t feel under pressure that if it doesn’t conform and do what’s right, that there will be a consequence for the animal.
The modern zookeeper or elephant keeper is like an architect of the habitat creating choice and opportunities for the elephant to express throughout the day, creating typography landscapes, looking at the biology of the elephant – how they exist, how they live, how they function in harmony with their anatomy.
We need to make sure they have the ability of expression to live an authentic life, free from fear. That’s why it's so important to educate people about the sensitivity and intelligence of these animals.
Can you share how and why the bond between mother and daughter elephants, is unique and unbreakable- it sounds genuinely extraordinary.
It is extraordinary - the core of elephant society is the mother and daughter, which is the whole function of the family. That is the unbreakable bond – their unique relationship. The mother brings the daughter into a birthing process where the mother is giving her daughter an education into the natural process.
This allows the daughter to mature into a breeding female that has respect and integrity in the herd.
It’s about how they care for one another, the whole herd comes around a young elephant, they put the calves in the middle to protect them - it’s all about the future of the herd. The bull elephants are extraordinarily different, from the moment they are born, they are designed to leave the herd.
They have a different makeup. You would see a bull drifting a few 100 meters from its mother after a couple of days, you would never see that with the female. It's almost like the umbilicus has been moved to outside the body. It’s an extraordinary relationship and a joy to watch and see that lifelong bond.
It goes the opposite way too, when the older matriarch gets older, the younger females will help her, supporting and guiding her, shorten their journeys for her and make sure she has food. They are truly an incredible species in terms of their integrity and their loyalty to each other.
Can you share any words of wisdom that you received that helped you in your successful career?
I have had many people who have had a positive influence on my life in terms of the zoo.
My father Gerry Creighton Senior was way before his time and very progressive in his thinking. Even though he came from an era where animals were in the old lion houses in the zoo and kept in confined spaces, he was always thinking forward in his thought process of introducing substrates to the floors of the primates.
Substrates were bark chippings and food items could be hidden and found. Also, Alan Roocroft has been a great mentor for elephants to me for the last 25 years.
He has worked with elephants for five decades and has evolved from the old free contact dominating person dominating the animals to understanding that these animals can thrive in our care. What we have learned in zoos is the more you step away from them, the more appropriate elephant behaviour you will receive.
But also, words of wisdom are to respect the animals for what they are - they are wild animals. Even though they are formidable, strong, sensitive, have empathy and emotional intelligence; they respect and tend to do anything for real meaning – the integrity of the herd and to protect their young, their environment, and their territory.
Respect is the keyword in all areas of care and understanding of elephants and all animals in general.
Contact Details and information about Gerry are below: