Last night I saw a TV commercial about spaying our dogs and cats. There’s way too many abandoned animals in our crowded shelters, and this simple procedure—often free at times—would be the answer to having too many unwanted animals.
Literally across the world, the opposite is happening. Magnificent creatures with a heart, and, as we are learning more and more, feelings and probably a soul are being killed, shot, cut up for frivolous ornaments, or mythological secret powers, their carcasses left to rot. Elephants and rhinos, once plentiful in number, are being eliminated before our eyes. In one part of the world, there are too many, and in another, we had, sadly, too little, and if this continues, our beloved elephants and rhinos will be no more.
In April, my teenage daughter chose South Africa for her 11th grade mother-daughter trip “South Africa?” I gulped, immediately feeling waves of butterflies, fearing malaria already. After inoculations and passports were obtained, we left for Johannesburg on April 4. After a wonderful few days in Cape Town, we headed to Mpumalanga for a stay near the Elephant Whispers camp. The opportunity to walk with the elephants, learn about them, and hear about their affectionate and playful nature was simply awesome. We each had a chance to stand underneath Timbre, feel the gust of his heavy exhale, and see the swaying of his powerful trunk; he stood easily ten feet over our heads. We were instructed to keep one hand on his front leg, a leg which came up to my eye, so he could feel us. He’d not take a step we were told. It was a breath-taking moment, and the picture taken by one of the park staffers is proudly displayed in my office.
Since then, I haven’t thought the same about the elephant, nor the rhino which we saw during our final leg of our trip at the Africa on Foot safari camp in Kruger National Park. There we learned more about elephant behavior since there were a few herds of elephants nearby and seen regularly. At one stop beside their watering hole, we watched elephant boys bump heads, another snort up some water, another pull a large tree limb down and crunch it. I couldn’t get them out of my mind.
Since then I’ve read two books on the elephant rescues: The Elephant Whisperer, the story of Lawrence Anthony, a South African conservationist who accepted a herd of wild elephants sentenced to be killed. And another, Life, Love and the Elephants: A South African Love Story, by Daphne Jenkins Sheldrick, who has devoted her life to running an elephant orphanage and nursery in Kenya. Both stories struck a chord with me that I’ll carry with me always. Both writers brought these elephants to life, giving them a personality and once you become more familiar with something, how can you let them be killed, and how can you not help in some way. There’s so much more intelligence, loyalty, compassion inside that huge grey head than we think, and the phrase “an elephant never forgets,” is one true cliché.
So I wanted to do something. I can’t literally sit and wait in the dark and catch the poachers, but I can write about the rescue efforts, bring attention to ways we in America can help these lovely creatures across the world, who still trust humans despite what some of us can do.
When something like the Olympics starts up and the news is filled with countries coming together for a single united purpose, it fills me with hope that together, we can do great things.
I am also the adopted mother of Barsalinga, who was found frightened and alone, his mother a victim of poachers. Brought to the Sheldrick nursery by jeep and by plane, Barsalinga went from traumatized baby calf to a playful toddler, ready to welcome the next refugee.
How can you help?
Get to know the elephants and the work to rescue them. Read these two books; suggest it to your next book club. The exploits of the elephants and the rescuers are well written, and comic as well as tender. By learning about these elephants, that knowledge can become very powerful and the foundation of all great things. And if one book club reads these works, talks about it, amazing things can happen..maybe another club will read it, and another and another, and more orphan elephants will be saved.
If this struck a chord with you, visit the following link to read about anti-poaching efforts by the World Wildlife Organization.
World Wildlife Fund
The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust
The Elephant Whisper: My LIfe with the Herd in the African Wild by Lawrence Anthony
Life, Love and the Elephants, by Dame Daphne Jenkins Sheldrick