Time for a Nap

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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.

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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!!!!!!  http://www.sheldrickwildlifetrust.org

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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.  https://www.elephanttrust.org

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.  http://thingreenline.org.au

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!  🙂

It’s Not Easy Having a Horn: RIP Western Black Rhino

I am guessing that right now your minds are on the death of the great Nelson Mandela.  Or maybe the protests in Ukraine.  Or maybe what you are going to have for supper.  My mind, however, is stuck in early November, when I learned that the western black rhino had been declared officially extinct.*  Nestled among stories about Rob Ford’s unapologetic apologies and thieving senators, the story of the rhino’s demise was marked with no more gravity than the day’s weather.

Slaughtered for its horn, which is prized in traditional Chinese medicine, this species of rhino is simply with us no more.  Ploof!  Gone.  Millions of years of evolution (sorry, creationist followers) screeching to an unceremonious halt.  I can honestly say I was not surprised by the apparent lack of caring about this loss; after all, we have trinkets to purchase for Christmas!  And it’s cold in Saskatoon!  And can the western black rhino lower the cost of my cell phone bundle?  Who has time to care?

But what exactly is the depth and degree of our dissociation from nature if we don’t blink upon hearing that we have decimated an entire species?  Does it seem weird that we know and care more about getting a new flat-screen TV on sale on Black Friday (OMG!) than that while we sleep and play, animals who have dwelled on this planet with us since before recorded history are gone?  And not just mysteriously gone.  They have been pursued, chopped, orphaned, and shot by none other than the “smartest” species on the planet.

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Truly, I know that there can be beauty of intention in humans.  I happen to like – even love – many of them.  🙂  People rally around dogs with broken legs, organize donations for families whose homes have burned down, and flock to the streets by the thousand for Batkid.  And good for them; we need to care and have a sense of community.  Where, though, is our collective cry when a species – which poses zero threat to humans, by the way – is decimated by our own?  Why can we muster greater moral outrage over Miley’s twerking than we can over our relentless killing of animals?  Why can’t we gather around the water cooler and talk about positive action for stopping the ivory trade?  Or [insert anything meaningful here]?  Listen, I know that many of you pour your hearts and time into making a difference in the world, and I thank you.  You are exempt from my rantings.  I also understand that my cause is not necessarily your cause, and you might be doing other lovely things for the world and just don’t care a lot about large grey mammals.  You are also exempt.  🙂

But here’s the thing: how much can happen to animals and the environment before we start to care?  How long can we move along in our heated/air-conditioned bubbles (depending on the season) not caring?  I don’t know, but I am pretty sure we should all start caring.  The first reason is practical, since the extinction of the western black rhino for the harvesting of its horn is a chilling sign that people as a rule lack the foresight to plan for the future.  Today we are willing to drive a species off the planet in order to have powder purported to help with fevers.  Tomorrow that same blindness will lead to tooth-and-nail fighting over clean water, fuel, and food for everyone.  The insulation of money and North American wealth will do little when we are scrambling for life-sustaining resources.  There should be a message here.  Regardless of the resource, if it is being consumed (poached) more quickly than it can replenish itself, it will run out.  This is a fact understood by toddlers scrambling for candy from a piñata, yet it seems lost in a world where the economic ethos is one of limitless growth.  Remember our old pal the western black rhino?  The beleaguered creature who, if given a choice, probably should’ve picked not having a horn?  The one that was shown the hard way that when humans cast a voracious eye upon a commodity, it will be exhausted? Image

Reason would suggest this could be a cautionary tale for us.  Even if we haven’t learned from various over-fishing events, the dwindling number of bees, the over-hunting of the buffalo, the over-trapping of the beaver, and the seemingly endless list of endangered species, at least maybe this time we can learn.  NOBODY gets the horn now.  Neither rapacious humans nor its rightful owner.  In ten years, NOBODY will get the ivory.  At some point, NOBODY will have oil.  The fate of the western black rhino could serve to teach us that that if we are greedy and short-sighted, we end up with nothing.

But besides feeling terrified by what humans are capable of doing to animals and the environment, I also care about the extinction of the western black rhino for its own sake.  This creature wandered the plains of Africa from time immemorial: eating a bit, having the odd calf, sometimes getting taken down by a lion or super-hilarious hyenas.  It was just there, doing its own thing, as it should.  Then, enter money, and the western black rhino was slaughtered en masse for human greed.  I lament that the world lost this species’ uniqueness.  I feel heartsick that we cannot or choose not to appreciate the inherent worth of animals.

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E. O. Wilson brilliantly captures why humans should care about other animals both for their own sake and for self-preservation: “Humanity is a biological species, living in a biological environment, because like all species, we are exquisitely adapted in everything: from our behavior, to our genetics, to our physiology, to that particular environment in which we live. The earth is our home. Unless we preserve the rest of life, as a sacred duty, we will be endangering ourselves by destroying the home in which we evolved, and on which we completely depend.”  http://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/31624.Edward_O_Wilson

When it comes to the slaughtering of the western black rhino, we have proven not to be smart, or forward-thinking, or kind.  We have stood by as yet another branch of the rich tree of life is pruned, and part of the richness of our life has been lost as a result.  The implications for us are both spiritual and ethical, and I believe that our continued indifference to the plight of animals does not bode well for our own future.Image


*There is no uniform agreement on the time of extinction due to difficulty measuring, but the International Union for Conservation of Nature made this declaration in 2011 or 2013, depending on the source.  I guess it’s hard to be accurate declaring when you are seeing the last of a species.  😦


Want to do something?  Read up!  🙂

http://www.stoprhinopoaching.com/

http://www.iapf.org/en/

http://www.bornfree.org.uk/campaigns/elephants/campaign-action/anti-poaching-initiative/

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2490777/Western-Black-rhino-officially-extinct-Northern-White-Javan-rhinos-follow-unless-conservationists-warn.html

http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/extinction-countdown/2013/11/13/western-black-rhino-extinct/

http://science.time.com/2013/11/06/western-black-rhino-declared-extinct/