LaReeca Rucker has been a journalist for more than 20 years, and her work has appeared in newspapers across the nation. She spent a decade as a features writer and multimedia journalist with The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi, where she was also a USA TODAY contributor. She is a freelance journalist and support journalism instructor in the University of Mississippi's Meek School of Journalism and New Media in Oxford, Mississippi.

Why the injured circus elephant is so much better than the clown who shot him

LaReeca Rucker:
The Clarion-Ledger

In case you haven't heard, there was a drive-by shooting in Tupelo this week, and no it wasn't a gang retaliation, unless you consider the circus a gang.

The victim wasn't someone who had stolen the shooter's objectified, promiscuous girlfriend; skipped out on paying a crystal meth bill; killed a bird he owns that frequently wins chicken fightin' competitions, or insulted his precious mama – all reasons that I'm certain have led to a drive-by shooting or two at some point in history.

The target in this early morning potential assassination attempt; screaming cry for help; or “I-just-don't-give-a-(expletive)-shooting” was none other than a Ringling Brothers and Barnum Bailey elephant.

Yes. . .  That's right. . .  An elephant.


“Is this what the world has come to,” I asked myself this morning, when reading the story on . In addition to seeking vengeance against other human beings, now the misguided youth or emotionally stunted adults in our country – (instead of taking a beneficial anger management class) – are randomly taking out their aggression on poor defenseless circus animals!?!

The victimized elephant in this story, who was shot in the shoulder while standing in an enclosed area outside the BancorpSouth Arena, is expected to make a full recovery. Police say “leads are pretty slim” . . . unlike the elephant.

Just in case the drive-by shooter is reading this, here are several reasons why the injured circus elephant is so much better than you – the clown who “drive-by-shot” him.

(From various Internet reports.)

1. We often talk about the breakdown of the American family, but elephants have their act together. They form deep family bonds and live in herds led by the oldest female . . .  and she “ain't” playin'. Elephants can have big families or small families. Herds can consist of 8-100 elephants. The point is, no matter how big the family, elephants are thick as thieves. And when a calf is born, the whole herd gets involved raising and protecting that baby. (

2. Shoot an elephant, and he darn sure won't forget it. Elephants are extremely intelligent with memories that span many years. So, good job drive-by shooter! You've successfully traumatized an elephant for years to come. Decades later, he'll still remember that day he was standing around waiting to entertain children and someone carelessly or deliberately put a cap in him. (

3. Elephants can hear really well too, and he probably heard the lame music that was playing on your car radio (like “Eye of the Tiger” circa 1980 or something) and other things about you that he would share with authorities . . . . if he could talk! That's because elephants can hear one another's trumpeting calls up to five miles away. He's probably listening to your poor grammar right now if you are in a five mile radius of the shooting. (

4. Elephants have no natural predators . . . . with the exception of gun-wielding humans! However, lions will sometimes prey on young or weak elephants in the wild.

5. Elephants have thick skin – about an inch to be exact. Maybe that means he's tough and won't have to endure years of therapy following this trauma, but chances are he has been emotionally disturbed because elephants can suffer from psychological flashbacks and the equivalent of post-traumatic stress disorder. (

6. Elephants have the largest brains in the animal kingdom – definitely bigger than the brain of a drive-by shooter! Studies place elephants in the same intelligence category with apes and dolphins.

7. Elephants are respectful of the dead . . . and the living!!! Along with humans and Neanderthals, they are the only other animals known to have death rituals. If an elephant gets sick, members of its herd will bring it food and help support it as it stands. If it dies, they will try to revive it with food and water for a while. When they realize it's gone, they become very quiet and cover it with dirt and branches. They often stay at the grave for days. (

8. In her book Elephant Memories: Thirteen Years in the Life of an Elephant Family , researcher Cynthia Moss wrote about an event in which two elephants were shot by poachers. One died, and another called Tina was barely standing. Two elephant herd members walked to both sides of Tina and leaned in to hold her up. Eventually, Tina grew weaker, fell to the ground and died, but the two elephants continued trying to lift her.

The elephants managed to get Tina into a sitting position, but her lifeless body fell again. Other elephants became involved, some putting grass in Tina's mouth. One tried again to lift her, and broke her right tusk off up to the lip and nerve cavity in the process. Eventually, the elephants gave up but didn't leave her. They began to bury her in a shallow grave and throw leaves over her body. They stood over Tina for the night and began to leave in the morning. The last to leave was the elephant who broke her own tusk trying to bring Tina back to life.

9. Elephants (unlike some humans) will help other species in distress . . . not cause it! One case involved an elephant in India who was helping locals lift and place logs in holes. When he came to one hole, he refused to obey the elephant trainer and lower the log. When the trainer investigated, he realized a dog was sleeping in the hole. The elephant only lowered the log when the dog was gone.

10. Another researcher wrote about the funeral of an elephant matriarch that was attended by a herd that included her young calf. The elephants gently touched her body with their trunks, trying to lift her and rumbled loudly. The calf weeped and screamed. Then, the entire herd became silent. The elephants threw leaves and dirt over the body and broke off tree branches to cover the dead elephant. They spent two days quietly standing over her body, sometimes leaving to get water or food, but always returning.

11. Elephants are artistic. One author wrote about an elephant at the Phoenix Zoo that frequently eavesdropped on zoo keeper conversations and became very excited when she heard the word “paint.” That's because they often let her paint holding brushes in her trunk. One day, a fire truck flashing red, white and yellow lights parked outside the elephant's enclosure. Later that day, the animal chose those three colors for her painting.

12. While elephants have a lot of admirable characteristics that sometimes put humans to shame, it is also possible for them to go astray. Like children, elephants must be disciplined by the herd to turn into responsible members of the elephant society. Scientists say orphaned male elephants in a reserve turned into adult delinquents because they had never been kept under control by mature elephants. (

Be kind to animals. They know more than you think.

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The Journalism Portfolio of LaReeca Rucker