Born Free Foundation - Keep Wildlife in the Wild

An elephant called Slowly

17th October 2013 marks the 30th Anniversary of the death of Pole Pole, the young elephant, whose passing was the catalyst for what became the Born Free Foundation.

To commemorate the occasion, Virginia McKenna asked Born Free's poet in residence to write something in Pole Pole's memory. Below is what he returned, and it is far more beautiful than anything we could have expected.

An Elephant called Slowly

A eulogy written to mark the thirtieth anniversary of Pole Pole’s death:

For Pole Pole, Bill and Virginia Travers


“Tell me the story of Pole Pole, grandmother,” said the grandchild

“You have heard it before,” said the grandmother

“But it is a story that must be told again and again as her life changed mine - and the lives of many people and animals around the world.”

“Imagine, said the grandmother that you are taken from your mother and then your orphaned friends and flown half way around the world

to be incarcerated in a concrete jungle.”

“Oh dear it is so difficult for me to explain” said the grandmother

“And I feel partly responsible

But perhaps we should let Pole Pole tell the story?”

“Oh yes said the grandchild . Please lets..

Everything would be so much clearer if she told her story in her own particular way!”

“This then, said the grandmother, wiping away her tears is what Pole Pole has to say “

Pole Pole’s Soliloquy

I live – but I am not alive
I rock my head from side to side
I reach for trees that are not there
The freshness of the open air
I am a diplomatic gift
I breathe – but I do not exist

Deprived of all that makes me whole
I am a waxwork living doll
Deprived of all my kith and kin
I weep beneath my wrinkled skin
I rock my head from side to side
I live – but I am not alive

Taken from my natal home
I am completely on my own
And living is a living hell
Without my family here as well
I have no partner to confide
I live – but I am not alive

And everyone who looks at me
Compounds my sense of misery
For all the families who come
Are having such a lot of fun
Whilst every day that I’m alone
Reminds me that I have no home

The only place I can rewind
Is in the centre of my mind
Where Africa is living still
And all my dreams can be fulfilled.


“That is so sad,” said the grandchild.

“No creature- human or animal should have to suffer such a fate.”

“I know “- said the grandmother.

 “Your grandfather and I tried so hard to have her sent home

We never wanted her to leave Africa in the first place; but our hands were tied

We did visit her; and - do you know she recognized us!

But somehow, this made it all the harder, for what must Pole Pole have been thinking about us?

Eventually of course, the authorities agreed to move her to Whipsnade.

 However, it seems that she just gave up. Rather like the elephant man she didn’t wish to continue as a human exhibit.”

“What would her life have been like if none of this had happened?” said the grandchild.

“Let me see” - said the grandmother. “I think it would have gone something like this.”


The Elephant that should have been

The sky rolls back to let us screen
The elephant that should have been
A matriarch of many years
A grand mother a gentle seer…

Slowly the elephant that should have been
Crosses the vast savannah in the evening sunlight
The suns rays illuminate the veins in her ears
Which flow like the stained glass Rivers of Africa

She has lived for fifty years amongst her peers
Growing in grace and majesty
Beneath her curving tusks
Her children and grandchildren can be seen
Browsing amongst the acacia
Her life has not been easy
She lost her first-born daughter in the great drought
And her first born son to lions
Nevertheless, she has learned
Her wisdom has deep taproots
Nourished by the collective unconscious of the herd
She was taught where and when to forage for delicious amarula nuts
Her mother led her to the salt caves
And now she leads her own herd up into the cloud forest
In search of shade and luxurious foliage.

Any elephant needs to live in context
Needs to be anchored to its soul’s parameters
The landscape of its birth
No elephant is an island
It is part of a vast grey archipelago of lumbering love
Of aunts and uncles
Of second cousins once removed
Any elephant can only be an elephant
When it is part of the circle of elephant life
Part of a network of convivial relations
Any elephant can only be taught to be an elephant
In the class room of the savannah
And so it was with Slowly
Nurtured by her mother and her aunts
Playing with her brothers and sisters
She grew into the elephant she should have been
And now she lumbers across the far horizon
Fulfilling all her captured dreams.


“Oh!” said the grandchild. That is so marvellous!

But Pole Pole didn’t die in vain?”

“No - said the grandmother

“Her life was given as a ransom for many

And now I have done all I can to honour her memory by devoting my life to saving other captured animals I feel that her soul and mine can rest in peace., And both of us can be released.”

“What happened to Pole Pole when she died?” said the grandchild

“Well” - said the grandmother.  It was rather wonderful!”


The night that Sister Slowly died
The whole savannah came alive
The daughter of the sun came down
Complete with an acacia crown
The orphans she had left behind
All raised their trunks and stood in line
And then the angels of her soul
Returned her spirit to the fold
And all the agonies she faced
All disappeared without a trace.


“I am so glad” said the grandchild “That her Born Free spirit came home to rest!”

“And so am I” said her grandmother. It is no less than she deserved.

 And now my troubled spirit can also rest, knowing that I and my dearly departed husband, who also campaigned so hard for the world’s living treasures have done our very best.”

“Thank you so much said the grand child. You have done so well. All the animals on earth salute you and your gentle touch.

And dearest grandmother. Before I go to sleep I would just like to say that I and all the animals love you very much!”


Richard Bonfield c Easter 2013

Born Free Foundation
Broadlands Business Campus, Langhurstwood Road
, Horsham, RH12 4QP, UK - Charity Reg. No. 1070906

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