Working for Elephant Conservation in Africa
When I see an elephant family, free and happy in the wild, the little babies playfully cavorting in the mud with the female adults so tenderly and protectively looking after them, and see a majestic bull elephant in the power of his musth with so much triumphant dignity, every part of my being rises up with one purpose: to do all I possibly can to conserve them in all their magnificence. So, since 2003, I have been working in the US, Asia, South Africa and Kenya to protect and preserve elephants.
In the UK, I had the great joy of meeting Will Travers, the director
of Born Free. What an incredible and generous man he is and his
organization is doing fantastic work around the world for wildlife:
In Kenya, I was privileged to meet some of the world's top elephant experts and my heros...
I also met some Maasai and Samburu warriors and elders. I had not expected
to be so blessed. I am writing a book about the conversations I had with
In Africa, some tribes people greet each other thus..
People poach elephants mostly for greed. But famine and war contribute
to it also. If people are hungry, they will kill an elephant for food.
If tribes are at war, they will kill an elephant for its ivory to pay
This is probably obvious. If there is no water due to drought and global
warming, vegetation can not grow to feed hungry elephants who can eat
over 500 #s of food/ day and consume 50 gallons of water. As the earth
dries up, elephants starve.
It has not been the tradition in Africa to domesticate their wild elephants. But greed is now starting to motivate some Tour companies to do so. In 2006, Shearwater Adventures kidnapped 12 juvenile elephants from the Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe. It is suspected that two have already died.
When I was in Thailand, I talked to Thai elephant conservationist, Lek Chailert, about what training method Africans might be using. She told me she knew exactly what they were using, namely The Crushing Box, because mahouts (Asian people who own elephants) from Thailand and Sri Lanka had been hired to teach the Africans that method. Further, she had told the Africans that they could train the elephants using love and kindness but they weren't interested in it because "it took too long".
Wildlife conservationists have tried to get in to observe what method Shearwater Adventures is using to domesticate the kidnapped juveniles, but Shearwater won't let anyone in to observe, so there is a legal battle going on presently. No one knows for sure what method they are using.
From Jennifer Hile in National Geographic Today, October 18,
But to see The Crushing Box method as used in Thailand, view the video
The Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force, founded by Johnny Rodrigues, said this about the new trend in certain parts of Africa to kidnap and domesticate their wild elephants:
"According to a statement written by scientists from the Ambelosi Elephant Research Project in Kenya, the breaking up of elephant families by removing their young creates a very high level of stress, not only for the captured elephants, but also for the family members left behind. The researchers have witnessed elephant captures where the screams of the captured elephants cause their family members to attempt to rescue them. Both the elephants caught and those left behind were found to suffer physical trauma, dehydration, immune system suppression and long term psycological trauma. They claim that due to the excellent memories of elephants, they are likely to respond aggressively towards humans, vehicles and helicopters in the future.
The following paragraph was taken from their statement:
"Elephants are renowned for their memories, intelligence and sociability. Similar to those of humans, these traits also make them particularly vulnerable to stress and trauma and their long term consequences. These effects would be long lasting both for the animals removed from their families and for those remaining in the reserve. Our strong recommendation is that the authorities order, with all urgency, an immediate moratorium on the capture and training of young elephants, and prohibit all removals of this nature in future".
The attempted domestication of wild elephants is not only unspeakably cruel, but it is also very dangerous to unsuspecting tourists. An elephant that has been trained, will most likely have been subjected to cruelty and abuse. In order to make the elephant obedient, the usual method is to break its spirit. This breeds resentment and in time, some elephants have been known to turn on humans. In Zimbabwe, if an elephant kills a human, it gets the death penalty".
HOPE FOR THE FUTURE
A few stories of these magnificent, highly intelligent and evolved beings...
Elephants are compassionate:
Katy Payne tells this story: there was this bull ele walking along the
road and a tortoise was crossing the road. The bull was about to step
on it, noticed it was there and instead put its foot down to the side
so that the tortoise could continue on its way unharmed.
Elephants have a sense of humor:
Audry Delsink tells the story of Charles, a proud bull who was trying to push over a large tree but couldn't. Several conservationists, watching him in their land rover, started laughing. He looked up, saw them laughing at him, walked over and pushed a smaller tree right down on top of their land rover! Then he sauntered off with a toss of his head and a self-satisfied swagger!
Elephants love their family members:
A family of elephants were crossing a river but a little calf was too scared to cross. So the family, already on the other side, turned around and swam back. Then together, they all walked to a part of the river that was more shallow where the baby ele could cross with them.
Elephants are highly evolved and sentient:
In his tremendous book, Elephantoms, Lyall Watson tells the story of the great madam elephant, Delilah, who was put in a small enclosure at a zoo while a larger space was built. There was a corner in the enclosure that she refused to go near, seeming to express fear. Lyall was curious why this was so and asked the zoo keeper for information. It turns out, that twenty years before, another elephant was killed in the very corner that Delilah avoided and reacted to with fright!
Elephants feel emotions:
Lyall Watson relates the story by zoologist Ivan Sanderson about a young circus elephant named Sadie. She just could not seem to learn the circus routine. In her frustration she ran out of the practice tent. The trainers brought her back and scolded her. She tried again and again but couldn't get it. Finally, Lyall relates from Sanderson, "she gave up, sank to her knees, and then laid down on her side, weeping. She lay there, said one of the horrified trainers, "tears streaming down her face, sobs racking her huge body, like a child".
Elephants communicate with other species:
Again, Lyall Watson tells this incredible story: I great lonely matriarch
was standing at the head of a cliff, rumbling and waving her trunk. He
wondered what she was doing as there were no other eles around. He investigated
and discovered that she was communicating with a whale in the bay below