Elephants…and the Availability of Family Planning Services


Me on an elephant in Thailand

Me on an elephant in Thailand

What do   most  Americans know about elephants?  They are big, they are smart (they never  forget),and they live long.  But, do most of us understand that their habitat is disappearing due to  human population encroachment, and  that those in Asia which  traditionally had jobs  are losing them to trucks? Do many people know that the ones still used, for  work—often entertainment—are either passed down in families…or actually mortgaged (and  they cost around $100,000)?

I learned about this when I traveled in India and Thailand.  In Thailand, there are several businesses that  are open to tourists in the Chang Mai area, that do elephant ‘shows’ of elephants playing soccer and painting. They address the  history of elephants in Thailand, and that  they don’t  want to lose  their elephants, but  need to find  something for them to do, and keep them healthy.  The  keeping and using of elephants as  beasts of burden goes back centuries in Asia, but  not so in Africa.

2 good books for learning about  elephants are, “Coming of Age With Elephants,” by Joyce Poole, and  “Portraits in the Wild:  Behavior Studies of East African Mammals,”  by Cynthia Moss.  Poole was a protege of Moss, and the Moss book, published in 1975, is dated, of course, but  anyone thinking of going on safari in Africa should definitely check it out, as  it is comprehensive and a good   entre’ into  wild animal behavior observation.

Why should any of this matter?  I have  been a proponent of animal rights/animal welfare for  most of my  sentient/conscious life.  I am not a vegetarian partly because my father was a meat packer when I was young.  However, I do eat  lower  on the food chain, and am conscious of my choices.  But enough about me.     I have blogged about  Armchair Activism, and one of our concerns  has always been  animals  exploited for entertainment.  Animals in zoos/aquariums, and circuses.  It’ one thing to train a dog.  Dogs have been domestic for over  10,000 years.  Dogs love to learn,and  many love to work.  Some of the Asian elephants have been from  domestic  bloodlines, but  from what I’ve read, this is a rarity,and they are still being captured in the  Asian forests.

We know  African elephants are still being slaughtered  for ivory, and, as I write this, in 2015, China has put a moratorium on  ivory imports (but this has not  been true in the rest of southeast Asia), and Robert Mugabe,  the president of Zimbabwe—one of the last old time dictators who will NEVER get the Mo Ibrahim prize for leaving his country in better shape than he found it, has been selling  elephants to  highest bidders.

The news came  down this week that the largest  circus in the US, Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey, is phasing out the elephant act.  Could be they finally got religion, and the ban on their use prevented them from  setting up shop in some major markets?   Or because they are old, and many are ill? This came about  not because elected officials  have such a high consciousness about animal exploitation, but because activists made a compelling case for why this  should not be allowed.  In case I am not getting my point across:  these are large animals, they are smart, they are under a great deal of stress, and they can be dangerous…and it is no  feat of intelligence on the part of humans to brutalize them.  It is a display of cruelty and  exploitation—hardly entertaining.

I guess the Felds—the owners of the circus,  saw that this scenario  was really bad for the bottom line.  It costs a lot  to  care for elephants.  People are starting to think about what is involved in  keeping  endangered species for entertainment.  The elephants in the circus are old, and they should be retired.

Most likely, if we can make our voices heard, the elephants will be retired to the elephant sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee: http://www.elephants.com/

This is a true sanctuary.  People are not allowed to visit—but you can go to the website & see how  they elephants live.  In fact,  zoos with elephants should  bring their  elephants living in  solitary confinement (as most are in zoos) to the sanctuary, and run the films  to explain to zoo goers  that this is much more humane, caring,  and ethical  than  what we  did before we knew better.

So I have to put this out there:  if the thought hasn’t crossed your mind already:  how can you  say you love animals—your pet animals, and  not  at least be concerned about  ALL ANIMALS?

We are at the moment of truth.  We’ve known for decades —at least 5—about habitat loss and human encroachment.  But do we know that  women in less developed countries still don’t have access to  family planning and education? That  my own United States government still gives foreign aid (mostly in the  form of military  equipment and expertise) to many governments that  don’t provide  public education, don’t train teachers,and don’t allow  women to have control over their own reproductive choices?  We give money to MEN who  make the decisions…and you can see they’ve done a piss poor job of it.  Women would choose to have smaller families, and there would be less habitat loss…and more room for wildlife, and fewer ecological disasters.

I urge  anyone who hasn’t seen it, to get a copy of the movie “Charlie Wilson’s War.”   It’s an entertaining  look—based on a true story—of how a politician who didn’t have  an opinion either way—was influenced.  I also urge you to read Malcolm Gladwell’s marvelous book, “The Tipping Point.”

With social media—yes, Facebook—we can now get out message out so much faster.  I  became reacquainted with a friend whom I hadn’t seen in  30 years, and he asked me what I had been doing.  I told him  about grooming dogs, training, Peace Corps.  He said he wished he could  do something. I told him   the  one thing he could do right now  was to start recycling his trash. Start there.  Start learning the issues.  Know who your elected officials are. They are not entertainers (for the most part), but  public servants.  Tell them what matters to you. Sign the petitions.  Anyone asking you for money—any nonprofit group—really do some research and make sure they aren’t  countering your values…but  go out of your way to help those  that  live your values, like the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee.  If everyone gives or does just a little, it makes so much difference!

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