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October 4, 2014

Why the Elephants Need Us.

Baby African Elephants And Mom

Join me in the March Against Extinction on October 4, 2014.

Most people have heard the words an elephant never forgets. What they never forget is love.

Risa, a young orphaned elephant was rescued and raised by caregivers after her mother was killed by poachers. She was eventually released to wild living. Years later she returned for to visit her caretakers and in a highly joyous elephant greeting, introduced them to her newborn calf.

Animals remind us that all beings who walk, stand, swim, crawl or fly are radiant, mysterious and unique expressions of life. Every species has it’s own culture and unique ways of experiencing the world.  Throughout history,elephants have fascinated us and continue to hold a special place in our hearts, perhaps because the more we learn about them, the more we realize about humanity.

Cool facts about elephants.

They are long-lived—60-75 yrs—and have an extended period of childhood during which deep loving bonds are formed within families and with friends.

We share similar emotions and just like us they feel love, anger, fear and grief.

Recent studies have shown elephants demonstrate mirror recognition, meaning they recognize themselves as individuals when looking in a mirror. Science offers self recognition as a determining factor in the ability to experience a spiritual life. Many people, including myself, have witnessed elephants recognizing and interacting with each other as unique individuals.

Elephants are known to visit and honor the remains of deceased members of their families. Because elephants along with other untamed animals are now suffering from many of the same struggles we face—such as dealing with stress from the damage to the environment—they are exhibiting  the same physical symptoms. Back in 1966 over 2,000 elephants were sampled in Murchison Falls National Park in East Africa and almost every mature elephant—over 13 years0ld—was found to be suffering stress-induced cardiovascular disease.

We imagine that elephants will always be with us as a symbol of the astonishing beauty and majesty of nature, the soul and essence of Africa. But humanity has claimed dominion over and conquered the animals and the land.

Open plains and lush habitats have been replaced by cities, roads and walls. The great herds have been hunted, poached and crowded out to ever diminishing, unnatural boundaries. In the early 1900’s the first white hunters intruded to collect the heads of game, no one imagined there could be an end to the vast paradise that was Africa.

All seemed inexhaustible.

One hundred years ago there were millions of elephants in Africa, today there are roughly 200,000 elephants left and we are losing over 30,000 a year to poaching alone. The tragic reality is that we have conquered nothing at all.

It is now clear that what we also have in common with elephants is our fate. What we do to animals and nature we do to ourselves. When animals are oppressed and exploited, their dignity denied and their lives deprived of meaning, it is as miserable for humans as it is for animals.

When we destroy animal habitats, we destroy our own habitat as well. When our treatment of other living beings is dominated by cruelty and economic expediency, humans too, are cruelly treated. When we can no longer see the hurt in a neglected animal’s eyes we have become hard-hearted toward our own pain.

The grim truth is that what we do to animals we do to ourselves has a joyful corollary. When we rescue animals we rescue ourselves. Human beings possess an astonishing capacity for compassion combined with the ability to recognize a problem, come up with a creative solution and implement it. But we have a choice whether or not to act.

How we value all life forms and how we treat them are true measures of our humanity.

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is what are you doing for others?” ~ Martin Luther King 

People are now beginning to understand and address the problems that threaten the survival of all life on the planet. There is no time for us to despair, rather it is time for every one of us to act, to take up our role as guardians of the animals and nature. Let’s all rise up, speak the voice in our hearts and do what needs to be done.

Please join us and walk for the elephants and rhinos on October 4th.

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Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock

Photos: courtesy of the author

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Linda Bender, DVM