Today, August 12 is World Elephant Day, dedicated to the preservation and protection of the world’s elephants.
There are so many factors endangering the elephant populations, including habitat loss due primarily to deforestation; human-elephant conflict because elephants now must share habitat with humans; and mistreatment in captivity. But by far the greatest danger is due to poaching. Despite a ban on the international trade in ivory in 1989, the demand for ivory continues. The heart-wrenching truth is that current statistics suggest that 27,000 elephants are slaughtered for their ivory each year. It’s estimated that at least 8% of the total population needlessly killed every year for this gratuitous human acquisition.
Conservationists believe that both the African and Asian populations could be wiped out within 12 years. It’s estimated there are only 400,000 elephants remaining in Africa, and their population is classified as “vulnerable.” The number of Asian elephants is estimated at 40,000 and they are classified as “endangered.”
This is grievous and entirely incomprehensible to me. The birth rates cannot keep up with number of elephants killed; and even more problematic is the fact that elephants are a matriarchial society. As the female members are killed off, great rifts in social stability occur. Herd matriarchs are responsible for moving their tribes to safety, to watering holes, to feeding grounds; knowledge that is accumulated over decades.
Elephants are dear to me, and always have been. But curiously two things came up for me this very week that highlighted them. First, I’ve been encouraged to return to a practice of writing love letters. I keep a separate journal devoted to each of my totem animals, and in the one I have for elephants, I re-discovered this note.
My Dear Beloved Elephants –
Have I told you lately how much I love you? From your first appearance in my baby life as a plush toy that walked I was smitten with you and my delight has only grown exponentially with the years. I am most definitely a card-carrying member of the Elephant Adoration Society. Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s poetry taught me I am affected by Aanabhrandhanmar, which means mad about elephants. I carry that proclamation proudly.
It is said you once had wings; and that you are associated with clouds; and there is that wonderful tale of your alliance with the rabbit kingdom. You carry such powerful medicine and have so much to teach us about communication and loyalty, compassion, intelligence and nobility. You are considered a “keystone species” playing a pivotal role in structuring both plant and animal communities. And our species has grievously harmed yours to near extinction with poaching and habitat encroachment. I love that the Dutch word for you is olifant; in Lithuanian you are called dramblys; and Swahili hails you as tembo. Such beautiful words befit creatures as wondrous as you, and to them all I add Beloved. May you always be safe, always know peace, always know joy. And know I love you!
The second incident involves Ganesh, the elephant-headed Hindu god of wisdom, prudence, and salvation, also known as The Lord of Obstacles. It is believed that since he can either create or remove obstacles, he must be acknowledged before beginning any new enterprise. He showed up for me this week offering to help with some root chakra work, and I feel very blessed indeed.
On this global day dedicated to these beloved giants, what we can we do? This article offers a few suggestions, including being mindful of the coffee you purchase. Additionally, palm oil plantations have decimated elephant habitat, so avoiding products containing palm oil would be helpful. Unfortunately this is a uphill battle since it’s the most widely used vegetable oil in the world, but we can be mindful. It’s not enough – it’s never enough. But we must do something – all of us. In whatever ways we can.
Gods in Shackles is a film by Sangita Iyer addressing the conditions of Temple elephants in India. It’s a sobering account of a problem many don’t even realize exists. There’s a short trailer for the film here.
And while I believe it’s important to be informed of all the difficult issues so we can be strong advocates for the elephants, I also think today is a day to celebrate the joy that is elephantness as well. Here’s a short little clip that will likely make you smile – The Truth About Trunks.
Do you share my elephant love? Still carry love ties to an animal you met in your childhood? Do tell – you know I love to hear.