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. What an appalling consequence for this gratuitous human acquisition.
Conservationists believe that both the African and Asian populations are in grave and imminent danger. 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 matriarchal 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. I keep a separate journal devoted to each of my totem animals, and today seemed like the perfect day to page through my elephant one. I have a practice of writing what I call little love letters – I think it’s important we tell those we care about what they mean to us. Tucked in my journal was this brief little note, a valentine for elephants:
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!
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.
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.
I find it delightful that elephants have many associations with clouds. There’s a charming tale suggesting that elephants once had wings. One elephant, tiring after a long flight, thought he’d rest a bit by landing in a very large old banyan tree. But alas the tree couldn’t support him, and the branch he landed on cracked and fell upon a meditating yogi who was sitting under the tree. The man lost his temper and cursed away the wings of all elephants, who thereafter had to resort to walking.
The Divine Elephant Aryavata, whom Vedic god Indra rides, is known as “the one who knits or binds the clouds.” Ayravata is considered the progenitor of all earthly elephants.
The association of elephants and rain is also reflected in the story of the goddess Lakshmi. As she rose out of the ocean seated on a lotus, the elephants of each quarter of the sky took up their pure waters in golden vessels and poured them over the goddess. She, too, is pictured with a Divine Elephant, or Megha (cloud).
Do you share my elephant love? Still carry love ties to an animal you met in your childhood? Ever see a cloud elephant? Do tell – you know I love to hear.