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Often the roles we fulfill in life are dictated by the circumstances in which we find ourselves.

The Princess, Kibibi, is a wild beast. Captured young, she is trained as a circus performer. With no other choice, Kibibi accepts this role and grows to enjoy it and excel at it.

As the circus industry declines, she is saved from a gruesome fate only to be confined in a zoo.

Everything that had meaning and importance in her life; her talent, her training, and artistry are no longer factors in her new role as zoological specimen.

Will Kibibi adapt accordingly?

She was born in northern Tanzania under a full moon. The local tribe called her Kibibi, for “princess.” Across many miles and tides the name was returned to her by people that could not have known. The chief veterinarian looked for a name in a Swahili language book. Princess, he said to his subordinates; that’s what we’ll call her. Unbeknownst to him, she had been Kibibi on the Serengeti. She was Kibibi once again in the Chicago Zoo.

Even for an adult female African elephant, Kibibi’s tusks were huge, though one was stunted. The zoo veterinarians did not know how this happened. When Kibibi was nine years old, she had been the property of a Belgian traveling circus. Her keeper was a drunkard. The cage she traveled in was narrow. Curious, and excited by the motion of driving from booking to booking, the princess always rode with her face flush to the cage. As her right tusk protruded through the bars, the drunk sideswiped a van and the extended tusk snapped in two. She bled from the root for three days and was kept out of those performances. Her face healed but the tusk did not grow at all. The Chicago vet suspected nerve damage, but Kibibi exhibited no pain. Of course, his examination came ten years after the collision. In those intervening years, the princess was sold three times.

The changes in ownership were not because of Kibibi’s disfigurement. Elephants are expensive to keep and require much attention. Owing to a sluggish metabolism, much of their intake is not digested and becomes waste. A cow the size of the princess could easily eat 400 pounds of food in a single day and drink many, many gallons of water. Amusement  companies need a respectable budget to accommodate a single elephant, let alone several, for their shows.

Kibibi’s personality and manners made her a desirable  acquisition. You see, she never blamed the drunk Belgian for her accident. Did not even know he could drive, let alone attempt it inebriated at her peril. Kibibi’s eyesight, like all pachyderms, was poor. In compensation, her hearing was excellent and her senses of smell and touch quite acute. The night she was maimed, Kibibi smelled the ever-present whiskey on her keeper’s breath. Nothing unusual about that. Besides, he was loading her into her traveling cage, which she knew meant a pleasant trip somewhere else. How the flatbed vehicle, which carried the cage, managed propulsion and navigation were beyond her understanding. The driver’s cab was blocked by a high partition.  Kibibi would wait, and wait, and then they would be moving. That was sublime, especially at night.

Current Reviews: 1
  • by Andrew Morris Date Added: Tuesday 28 June, 2011 'The Princess' is an enchanting little tale written from the perspective of a circus elephant. The reader is taken on the elephant's journey from its birth in the wilds of Africa, to its life in the circus and eventual retirement in a Chicago zoo.

    Conroy deftly handles the question of whether the elephant would have been 'better off' in the wild, as a circus attraction (which the elephant clearly enjoys) or 'safe' behind the walls of a zoo.

    I found myself thinking over these issues long after I read the short story.

    I thoroughly enjoyed it.
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