It’s World Elephant Day! Maybe!

Happy World Elephant Day!  Or, at least, one of them!  The pachyderm-based day of awareness is August 9, or August 12, or April 16, depending on where you look (get it together, organizers).

I am almost paralyzed by the thought of posting today, as I have no idea how to sum up why we should care about elephants.  They are intensely important to me, but what matters more is that their lives mean something to them, and to other elephants.  These animals have complex family structures, can keep track of the faces of other elephants and people, and they call to one another at frequencies so low we don’t even hear.  They are marvels of evolution, having emerged as the bad-asses of the African plains through sheer body mass and volume.*  They roam dozens of miles a day, defend their babies against lions, and elephant calves suck their trunks as human infants suck their thumbs.

So, Happy World Elephant Day!  How lucky we are to be here on Earth alongside these lovely creatures.


Sadly, as with all things we are able to kill, humans are slaughtering elephants at the rate of one every 15 minutes.  These (mostly) peaceful animals are felled by poisoned arrows and bullets so that we may have ivory ornaments.  That humans are unable to balance the gravity of taking the life of such an animal against the fleeting wish for a bracelet made out of its teeth is heartbreaking and infuriating.

I will close today’s post with four points of action in celebrating the wonderful elephant.  The first is simple: Do not buy anything made of ivory.  Do not transport it; do not give it to anyone; do not own it.  Unless “tickling the ivories” is a new way of saying “leaving ivory in elephants’ living faces,” have nothing to do with ivory, ever.

The second point of action is to consider supporting one of the many wonderful charities whose work supports elephants.  If the above-mentioned action seems too easy to do, in that you are not a wealthy weirdo needing to prove how cool you are by displaying a fishing village carved into a glass-encased tusk in your living room, this next action might be for you.  Perhaps at least some of the money you were planning to spend on a latte or a new iPod this month might be diverted to a group that is working on the ground for elephants, to ensure that there will still be such a thing as wild elephants beyond this decade.

The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust – This organization has a broad mission that includes monitoring elephants and supporting anti-poaching activities, but it is most known for being an orphanage for calves.  Baby elephants!!!!!!

ele babies

Amboseli Trust for Elephants – ATE scarred but also impressed me deeply by rejecting my request to volunteer with them because I am not from Kenya or the region.  Remember this saying, attributed to Groucho Marx: “I don’t care to belong to any club that would have me as a member”?  Exactly.  When it comes to elephants and their protection, I can get behind groups that see beyond creating a dude ranch experience for middle-class North Americans.  This group does great work, including outreach, scientific research, and advocacy.  So, in the words of another great comedian, Ali G., mad “respek” for ATE.

The Thin Green Line – Always shown on the side bar of TWW, The Thin Green Line is an Australian-based organization whose aim is to support rangers and their families.  Every day, rangers work to protect the animals, and they are killed for it.  Gone are the days where rangers were pitted against hunters out to feed their families or small groups of poorly-armed people hoping to score some ivory to put on the market.  Today, due to the ever-increasing demand for ivory, poaching has become a major, multi-national trafficking operation with the ruthlessness of the drug trade.  Poachers are becoming better armed and more trigger-happy, and rangers pay the price.  TTGL works with rangers to give them better equipment so they are safer, as well as supports their families if the rangers are injured or killed in the line of duty.

The third point of action will not apply to many of my readers, and is simply, do not hunt elephants yourself.  That seems pretty intuitive, right?  Not if you are a rich North American who thinks it’s great fun to pay $10K to partake of a canned hunt in South Africa.  If you are such a person, you will rest easy knowing that killing an elephant in an enclosed space is legal and available at the right price.  At the day’s end, however legal, your adrenaline-fuelled activity has killed an elephant who was breathing air and eating leaves and fanning its flatscreen-sized ears right up until you ended it all with a bullet.  Great sporting fun!

The fourth point of action that definitely will apply to more people than the aforementioned “sport,” is please do NOT support circuses or any attraction that uses elephants as entertainment or rides.  Elephants are not our buddies.  They do not enjoy working for us.  They did not ask to be trained with bull-hooks and to pose on their hind legs for us in a circus.  In all cases, when you see an elephant performing or being ridden, understand that everything that animal wishes to be doing (being outside, hanging with family, walking great distances) has been sacrificed so that we can pay money and be amused for an hour.  If your practice is not to go to circuses with elephants or to attractions where they are used for entertainment, carry on!  If, however, you are considering or already do patronize such places, I encourage you to look at videos of the elephant Tyke, whose story is well known among those who follow the rights of performing animals.  As mentioned above regarding the value of an elephant life versus having an ivory bracelet, we are just not thinking straight if we think it is worth our passing amusement to keep magnificent animals in a life of imprisonment and servitude.

Thanks for listening on this, one of many days on which to celebrate elephants!  🙂

World Elephant Day


*I recognize that this article is heavily skewed to the African elephant, as it is what I know best.  I don’t mean to dismiss the neglected Asian eles!  The love applies equally, if not my familiarity!  🙂

Inability to Cope, Part 4

People, not that I am worried that you sit around and wonder how I am doing in #5 of the resilience factors list (social support), but I have to tell you, I have this one cased.

social support

Inability to Cope, Part 3

Remember when, in your early twenties, you would finish your supper shift at Domino’s Pizza on Friday night, race home in your ’78 Civic with a small double-cheese pizza, and hunker down on your Futon as the eerie theme music of X-Files signaled the commencement of an hour of gleeful creepiness?  Or, were you not a loser nerd and were out at the local discotheque partaking of alcoholic beverages with friends?  Or mastering a skill, such as heckling stand-up comedians or rock-climbing?

Anyhoo…Getting back to my point, any devotee of X-Files, whether watching it in its original time slot or while recuperating from a night of mirth, will remember well the poster in Fox Mulder’s office declaring, “I Want to Believe.”  While Mulder and I share a pervasive broodiness and an annoyance at Scully’s inability to acknowledge a paranormal event if it took human form and bit her in the ass, we diverge at some point, in that unlike Mulder, I do not believe in psychics, albino leech-people, and dolls that encourage people to commit suicide.

Yet is it weird that in a way I envy Mulder his belief in something?  Even if it is in people who can will trees to do their bidding or who mutate into seething animal hybrids over decades in the sewer system?  It turns out that in Southwick and Charney’s (2012) fourth component of resilience, religion and spirituality, I am not showing up well.  Despite a childhood bathed in the grim hymns and hold-your-breath solemnity of my grandparents’ religion, I retain only a fleeting fear of a maybe God, with none of the requisite faith or soul-shaping purpose.  I must point out that I find it difficult to characterize Mulder’s beliefs as faith, per se, as weekly he saw irrefutable evidence with his own eyeballs; however, for the religiously faithful, evidence of a higher being also exists everywhere, if we look for it.

My atheism pains me, as not unlike Mulder, I want to believe.  I don’t want to think that life ends in an eternal dirt nap.  Who wants to be invited to that party?  I want to believe in an omniscient being ushering me from cradle to grave and beyond, encouraging me to do good things.  If I can’t walk with the God with whom I was partly raised, I would like to believe that there was once a portly Buddha posed under the Bodhi Tree and experiencing massive revelations.  Or wouldn’t I love to hang out spiritually with the wise Ganesh, to be comforted by his intellect and resemblance to my beloved elephants (though on that note, with his perky tusks I don’t love Ganesh’s odds in this trinket-thirsty world).  Unfortunately, I don’t believe any of this.  I think that religion is a wholly human construct that arose from our awareness of our mortality and our attempt not to have our minds break under the weight of that understanding (sorry, Grammy).

Religion and spirituality

Many people who don’t believe in formal religion speak of their spiritual sides being nurtured  in nature, in meditation, in walking.  They speak of lighting candles and stretching in unusual ways while thinking important thoughts.  Sometimes, people’s eyes light up when they speak of playing with dirt as they plant tomatoes.  These things, they gush, are spiritual.  If this is true, then might I be doing better in this pillar of resilience than I thought?  I have recently begun gardening, though I admit I impatiently await harvest more than I revel in feeling soil fall between my fingers.  I walk, though mostly to the bus stop.  I meditate, but only if by “meditate” one means “think one or two things fleetingly before being distracted by the iPod.”  I light candles never.  Maybe I am not doing so well?

For Southwick and Charney (2012), there are six crucial components to spirituality.  The authors have written from a more formally religious perspective, but I have modified the elements to fit almost any activity that is purposeful and ritualistic.  They include:

  1. Setting aside time in one’s daily routine for the practice.
  2. Making a regular habit of reading things relevant to the practice.
  3. Designating a location for daily spiritual practice.
  4. Practicing a physically active form of the spirituality, such as yoga.
  5. Practicing a creative form of spirituality such as singing or painting or writing in a way that relates to the spirituality.
  6. Becoming part of a group that practices together.

I believe you can’t force faith, and while I flounder in my search for something to fit this category of resilience, I will try to apply the above framework to anything I do.  Take knitting, for example (because I really need to cultivate more inactive hobbies).  I could knit each day at 8am in the backyard while singing and attend a weekly knitting circle to discuss the successes and challenges from the past seven days of crafting.  Knitting is inherently one of the most sedentary activities known to our species; however, with time, I could learn to balance on an exercise ball, thus coupling engaging my core with creating a comely dishcloth (#4).  Would that be a kind of spiritual activity?  Maybe.  The only problem with this plan is that I have zero desire to knit every day and to have knitting be the cornerstone of my spiritual life.  You can’t make me.


This whole discussion leaves me realizing that I am failing miserably in the religion and spirituality category of resilience.  Unlike Agent Fox Mulder, for whom the world is populated by ghosts, demons, aliens and telepaths, mine is a world of the tangible.  And if spirituality is essentially about finding serenity and passion in a ritual, I want to believe that something will materialize for me.


What Would MacGyver Do?

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