2019 was the deadliest year for elephants since Sri Lanka’s Independence in 1948, with over 350 elephants losing their lives, most at the hands of humans…350+, forever gone, lineages disrupted, and more yet to come…
And now, somehow one of the “solutions” appears to be 2000 civilians receiving shotguns to “control” the issue. Not only are they an endangered species and deserve a more thoughtful response simply by being what they are, but if the discussion must turn to money (and it always, always does), then looking at the amount of money wild elephants generate through safaris and tourism in this small island nation surely must give those overseeing the situation some pause…
The complexity of the issue is easy to ignore in our anger. First reactions can fly about on wings of hatred and overwhelm as the seemingly never-ending story of conflict, greed, ill-advised farm placements, overpopulation, etc, subsumes the greater issue—that this, that ALL of this, is about relationships and what we value as a species…
Everything is about relationship– to the land, to the animals, to one another, to money, to the complex/interwoven systems that have somehow trickled down to create such desperation.
There are no answers at this time. For those of us that live in rural areas, every night we hear elephant “crackers” (like fireworks) or gunshots, as small-family farms attempt to bring their rice to harvest. I cannot speak for the huge farms and banana plantations down south, where corporate export $$$ is making the decisions, I’m only able to share that in this area the impoverished do not want to kill the elephants, they only want to feed their family. They are not land-grabbers, as most of them have farmed here for generations, so attacking them is popular, but not helpful.
With that said, we are 100% against this proposal of arming civilians with shotguns. Violence begets violence, and once these extraordinary animals are gone, they are gone forever. End of story.
Yesterday’s gift was breathing with wild elephant families at sunset. A surreal experience and an exquisite reminder of what so many of us are fighting for.
Nothing in conservation is what it seems—there are the fights you expect and the ones you don’t. There are the conflicts that you can understand (even when you can’t always resolve them), and the conflicts that you can barely dream might have a resolution in them.
To those who don’t really know me, it may seem like my work is to fight for keeping wild elephants wild while extending humane care to those already held captive. Or perhaps to stem the flow of the suffering dogs seen around every bend in the road, or to enable local subsistence farmers to keep their crops in the ground until harvest, while simultaneously offering their children options and choices for a different future.
But that’s not quite the work, not really. What it really is, for me, is the willingness to go with fierce love to where I am called, to be relentless in living my life as an offering of the dharma, and to remember to be happy along the way.
And then sometimes there are wild elephants at sunset..