HESPERIA — Mojave River Academy students here received a lesson in compassion Tuesday from an unlikely source: an elephant.
Ellie the Elephant — a 78-inch tall animatronic Asian pachyderm designed to teach kids to “Say no to the circus” — visited the school’s Hesperia campus to tell the story of her journey from a circus to a sanctuary.
“When I was in the circus, things were really terrible,” Ellie said via a built-in voice recording. “When people see us in the circus, I’m sure they don’t have any idea what are lives are really like. They see us doing tricks and think everything is fine. But it’s not.”
While in the circus, Ellie said she was chained at the ankles, forced to eat and defecate in the same cramped quarters, and prodded with a sharp bullhook when she did and didn’t perform tricks. She much prefers her new home in an elephant sanctuary where she’s free to run and swim.
Ellie is the world’s first robotic educational elephant, according to a People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) statement. She began traveling across the United States in 2015 to teach kids that elephants belong in the wild.
Along the way, Ellie has taught students empathy by comparing elephants to humans. Like people, elephants have complex emotions and form strong bonds with their families. But her story advocates for other animals as well, like dolphins, whales and tigers.
“I’m here to tell you that you have the power to help all animals,” Ellie said. “Please make a promise to never go to a circus that has animal acts. If your family is thinking about taking a trip to a circus or aquarium, say, ‘No thank you.’”
Most of Ellie’s 500-pound body is made of neoprene (the same material used to make a diver’s dry suit) that has been dried and hardened, according to Ellie’s handlers Stephanie Maddux and Jordyn Tacoronte.
Her trunk, however, is made of silicone, which…