book cover Queenie
by Corinne Fenton, illustrated by Peter Gouldthorpe

Picture book | 24 pp | Years 5-6

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[ Respect | Responsibility ]


Respect can be defined as treating others with consideration and regard, acknowledging their rights and accepting others' opinions and their right to hold these.

Animal Rights

Do animals have rights that need to be respected?

It is commonly accepted that if an organism has the capacity to enjoy and suffer then it has rights which must be respected.

Find evidence in the book that acknowledges that Queenie had rights and that these were respected. Complete this Y-chart with your findings.

Use the information from the Y-chart as well as what you have learned already, to draw up a list of rights that could be given to animals. Use this list to construct another list that relates directly to Asian elephants. Start your proclamation.

'Asian elephants have the right to ...'

Training or tricks?

How do humans disrespect animals?

Elephants have the largest brain size in relation to their body weight than all other animals, apart from humans. They are generally thought to be one of the most intelligent members of the animal kingdom.

Investigate the reasons behind the Australian Capital Territory government's decision to ban circuses that have animal acts in their programs.

Prepare the arguments needed to debate one of the following issues:

'Training elephants to give rides or to do tricks is disrespectful.'
'Animals should definitely not wear clothing.'

Use these criteria to judge the debate and decide the winner.

Decisions, decisions

Does everybody's point of view need to be respected?

It is July 1945. For 40 years Queenie has provided rides for children at Melbourne Zoo, but after she had appeared to have killed her keeper in September 1944, she was no longer allowed to do this. Now she does not seem to be earning her keep and the cost and effort to keep her are becoming greater.

The Board of the Melbourne Zoo is meeting to decide what will happen to Queenie. It is a very emotional issue and there are several alternatives to consider.

Select one of the following perspectives and prepare a submission arguing your case. Use evidence rather than emotions to persuade the Board that yours is the best course of action.

  • Queenie deserves to remain at the zoo until she dies naturally and every effort needs to be made to ensure this happens.
  • It is unfair to risk Queenie starving to death, so she needs to be put down to ensure she dies with dignity.
  • Queenie should be returned to the wild in India.
  • Queenie should be given to a circus so she can become productive again.
  • Queenie should be sent to another zoo that can look after her and give her a second chance.

Invite some adults to take the roles of the members of the Board, and argue your case before them. You may point out the problems in others' arguments, but you must remain respectful of their views and their right to have them.

A modern conflict

How are our perceptions and attitudes changed and influenced by others? What makes one person's opinion worthy of more respect than that of another?

In 1905, Queenie's arrival at Melbourne Zoo was greeted with much anticipation and great excitement. A century later, when Taronga Zoo proposed to import unemployed elephants from Thai work camps, the reaction was very different and animal rights activists delayed their arrival for two years.

Headlines around the world included:

'Moving in: Thai elephants splurge with a roll in the dirt' (Sydney Morning Herald, 04.11.06)

The arrival of four Asian elephants from Thailand has not been a walk in the park, but the animals took to the stage like pros in their first public appearance at Taronga Zoo yesterday...

"Despite the sustained efforts of international and local protesters, Born Free regrets to report that eight young elephants were finally flown out of Thailand on July 30th, destined for Australia…"

'Taronga Zoo, Australian Shame'
(Circus Watch WA, 22.03.04)

Animal rights activists - wearing striped prison outfits and elephant masks, with signs reading "Taronga Zoo, Australian Shame" - protested in front of a Sydney zoo yesterday against the planned import of elephants from Thailand … The activists claim the elephants were tortured and beaten in Thailand, and will face a lonely life in Australia away from their natural habitat and families...

'Zoos v Nature Reserves: a question of ethics and survival'
( September 06) "In the exotic Cocos Islands located north-west of Perth, eight Thai elephants are patiently waiting, unaware of the controversy that surrounds them. Endangered animals may not survive without zoos, but animal welfare advocates warn against interfering with nature..."

Research and review both sides of the debate. Examine the language of the reports and identify which are founded on facts and which on emotions. Prepare and publish an editorial which summarises both perspectives, gives the reasons that support them, and concludes with your own opinion.


Responsibility can be defined as being accountable for your own actions towards yourself, others, and the environment, and being willing to contribute to your community's efforts to ensure moral, ethical and rational decisions and behaviour.

Words, Words, Words

Many conservation organisations throughout the world have defined the levels to which various species are threatened. One of the most commonly used is the IUCN's Red List.

Use the information from the IUCN Categories and Criteria to define:

  • critically endangered
  • endangered
  • vulnerable

Include the criteria that are used to assess each category.

Changing Times

How does increasing our knowledge and understanding affect our sense of responsibility?

When Queenie first came to Australia, Asian elephants were plentiful. Yet just 100 years later the species is listed on the IUCN endangered list with perhaps only 35,000 still in existence.

Investigate the chain of events that has led to this decline and complete this chart. Include some of the actions that members of the international community have taken to address this decline and what the consequences have been. Are some solutions as simple as they seem?

Use your notes to write a report of the current situation. Ensure you include a complete bibliography so your audience can read further if they choose.

These websites may be useful:

US Fish and Wildlife Service

Big Hopes for Endangered Asian Elephants

Asian Elephant Conservation

Endangered Asian Elephant Conservation Charity

Taronga and Western Plains Zoos Conservation Projects

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
The plight of domesticated elephants in Thailand (and related links)

Wildlife Warriors

What are our individual and collective responsibilities towards the preservation of the environment and the creatures within it?

Australia has one of the worst records in the world for the extinction of mammals. Since the coming of Europeans in the late 18th century, 18 species have become extinct and more than 50 are threatened.

Investigate what opportunities there are for you to take some sort of positive action in your local neighbourhood that could help lessen the conflict between the human, animal and plant populations.

As a group or a class, choose a project, identify your goal, and then work out an action plan to help you achieve it. Use it to help your planning and ensure that you meet your goals on time.

Asian or African?

Queenie was born in India, so she was an Asian elephant. Although, hundreds of thousands of years ago there were many elephant-like creatures roaming our planet, now only two key species survive - the African and Asian elephants.

Looking in the non-fiction section of your library at 599.67, locate a picture of both an African elephant and an Asian elephant. Compare these pictures and make a note of the key differences that you can see.

Then, read this description of the two types and use the Venn Diagram to compare and contrast their characteristics. When you have done this, use the list of keywords generated about the Asian elephant to write a report which describes these creatures and which would be suitable for publication in an encyclopaedia or wiki. Include a map which shows where the two species can be found.

The Blind Men and the Elephant

Form groups of six to participate in a co-operative drawing activity. Download and print a copy of the poem The Blind Men and the Elephant by John Godfrey Saxe. Give one verse to each person in the group of six. Each student then interprets their verse by drawing that particular part of the elephant on a shared piece of paper.

Discuss the similarities and differences between the groups and display these around a copy of the poem.

Discuss the saying, 'There is no reality, only perception.'


Elephants have been the targets of hunters for thousands of years.

As well as being a significant part of the beliefs of Hinduism, Asian elephants have been used as domesticated animals for transporting people and goods since their discovery. Many were kept by the rich as status symbols.

Using this web page from the Taroonga and Western Plains Zoo, compare the account of the journey of the five Thai elephants with the pictures of Queenie's journey from her home in Calcutta to Melbourne and consider these questions:

  • What was the purpose of bringing Queenie to Australia?
  • What was the purpose of bringing the Thai elephants to Australia?
  • What are the most significant differences between the two journeys?
  • What might account for these?
  • Which of the elephants would have had the least stressful experience?
  • With the help of this web page, think about why might the authorities decided that the Thai elephants had to be quarantined whereas Queenie was not?

Use your answers to these questions to write a newspaper article which demonstrates how purposes, perceptions, methods and needs have changed during the 100 years between the arrival of Queenie and the Thai elephants.

Here or there?

In groups of three, use print and digital resources to compare what Queenie's life was like to what it might have been like had she either stayed in the wild, or been born a century later. Each person in the group selects one aspect of the research to investigate.

Identify the search terms you will use to locate the resources you need, and make your notes on the Three-Way Split chart. Share your findings with the other members of the team and try to decide which would have been the best life for Queenie. Justify your decision.

Then and Now

Life in Australia a century ago was very different from today.

In Queenie's time, very few Australians had the opportunity or financial resources to travel, so exotic animals such as elephants were often presented to zoos as objects of curiosity and entertainment. Queenie was a gift to the Melbourne Zoo from Mr F. S. Grimwade.

Investigate the inventions, events or developments that have enabled Australia to become an international country rather than an isolated one, over the last century. Year Book Australia 2001 from the Australian Bureau of Statistics would be a useful resource.

Complete the timeline and then try to decide the most significant factor in this change. Justify your decision.

Value for money

In 1905, a ride on Queenie cost tuppence (two pennies). Use this calculator to determine how much that would be worth today.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the average weekly wage at that time was about $4.35 for a working week of almost 50 hours.

  • If your family lived at this time, what percentage of the weekly wage would need to be put aside for you all to have a ride on Queenie?
  • Investigate the current average weekly wage and the cost of rides in your town's annual show. Select one ride that all the family would enjoy.
  • What percentage of the weekly wage would need to be put aside for all your family members to have a ride?
  • Which generation was better off?

A Big Day Out

A trip to the zoo and a ride on Queenie's back was such a special event in a child's life that it is still remembered by great-grandparents who relate their memories to younger generations.

  • What special event have you enjoyed so much that you will tell your grandchildren?
  • What was it that made it so special?

Write a letter to your grandchild telling them about this event. Alternatively, if you have photos, you could create a digital presentation using Photo Story. Organise your thoughts first using an X-chart.

How might your memories influence your grandchild's perception of what it might be like for them to participate in a similar event?

Spread the word

Design a poster advertising rides on Queenie ensuring you address these criteria:

  • The poster and its design present accurate information on the topic.
  • The design of the poster suits the purpose and intended audience.
  • The content of the poster is positioned effectively on the page.
  • The content is easy to read and understand.
  • The content has correct punctuation and no spelling errors.
  • The poster is eye-catching and encourages the viewer to read it.
  • The poster has been published to a high standard.

Now design a t-shirt as a souvenir of a ride on Queenie. What criteria do you need to consider to ensure that it sells?

Queenie's Day

Use the story to write a diary entry of Queenie's day. Write it from the perspective of:

  • Queenie
  • Mr Parsons, her keeper
  • one of the other animals in the zoo
  • Queenie's feet
  • a child who has had to watch Queenie go round and round all afternoon before he/she has a turn to ride

Alternatively, write a letter to the zoo explaining why you would prefer a ride on Queenie rather than a ride on the merry-go-round.

Farewell, Queenie

Queenie was destroyed on 3 July 1945. Use the information from the book and this article from the Age to write an obituary for Queenie.

A new look

If Queenie were to be reincarnated and could experience life in a 21st century zoo, what changes would she find?

© Curriculum Corporation 2006