Sunday, July 30, 2006
The Elephant Chronicles
I have always been attracted to elephants. In kindergarten, my self-declared best accomplishment was a crayon drawing of an elephant. I used the anatomically correct grey crayon. Twenty years ago, I wrote an impassioned letter to the editor of the Buffalo News about the need to stop the slaughter of African elephants for ivory. Three years ago, I employed creativity as part of a needful healing process and drew my second elephant. This time, I used red and purple colored pencils. The pachyderm, symbol of caring, emotions, societal ideals and personal strength, has proven to be a life-long totem.
Last night, I came upon a National Geographic Channel program on elephants that are attacking people. 500 people a year are dying from sudden, unexpected elephant rampages. Largely occurring in the Far East, the rampages are even occurring in American zoos and circuses. The most distressing scenes involved a female circus elephant crushing 2 handlers to death in front of the paying audience. The elephant, wearing red tassels, leg cuffs and head plate, was then seen charging into the street. 100 rounds of ammunition were pumped into the tasseled elephant before she died on the pavement between parked cars. By this time into the program I was sobbing.
In the Far East, young male elephants in rut are the ones causing the most mayhem and death. Herds of females with their young are causing damage to crops and even, on occasion, destroying small villages in search of missing calves. All of this was puzzling and painful to watch. Until the program started to offer explanations.
What is happening across the planet, with regard to elephant attacks, is the result of years of accumulated human assault on this species. Destruction of elephant habitat has caused a battle between farmers and herds. The herds are losing. Poaching and culling (systematic thinning of adult populations with firearms) have created vast numbers of orphaned elephants. Most orphaned elephants are witness to the slaughter of their parent. Most orphaned elephants are subjected to war-zone trauma.
Elephants are so much like humans. All young elephants need the adults to teach them how to be elephants. All young elephants learn more by experiencing, than by instinct. They live in tight, social, supportive family networks. They experience post-traumatic stress disorder. They have breaking points.
It appears to be the elephant orphans that are on the attack. It appears the human disregard and disrespect for the needs and value of this species has caused a dire imbalance in the natural Order of Elephant. Dangerous, young males in rut would naturally be quelled and subdued by older bull elephants in the bachelor herds. But there aren't enough older bulls left standing. All the captive elephants that have attacked their handlers were orphaned and captured in the wild. Their 12 pound brains do not forget injuries. Elephants, like humans, are known to seek revenge if the opportunity arises.
After the program ended, I had to mop my face. I felt helpless knowing my totem animal is careening out of balance, rocketing towards extinction in a matter of decades. I felt helpless knowing I am but one person, living far from elephants. I felt helpless not knowing how to make a difference.
And the most overwhelming, helpless thing is this: it's not just elephants that are in danger on this planet. It's not just elephants that are losing ground every day to the exploits, the gluttony and the arrogance of humanity. It's whales, polar bears, baby seals, frogs, wild horses and the entire rainforest eco-system. The list could go on for 3 more pages.
I don't like feeling helpless. It's counter-productive. I sat in silence until the helplessness was washed away by soft-spoken answers filtering into my brain. Step 1: resolve to pray for the highest possible good of the entire elephant species. Pray every day. Step 2: resolve to pray for the highest possible good of the humans in position to actively reverse the damage inflicted on wild and captive elephants. Pray every day. Step 3: investigate elephant conservation organizations and find out ways I can contribute. Step 4: take responsibility for my part in consuming less and easing the strain on natural resources. Step 5: share what I'm learning about the plight of elephants.
One person's positive energy makes a difference. It makes a difference in any cause in which it is focused. And when singular, positive energies are joined by other singular, positive energies, on the physical or mental planes, the Red Sea will part and lives will be saved. Species will be saved. And the planet we call home, will be saved.