One quick minute out of a day spent with the stellar team of the Department of Wildlife Conservation, as they responded to a call of a wild elephant needing veterinary intervention in the field. Tracking, moving the elephant into position with loud “elephant crackers”, darting, assessing, and then treating, these guys and the veterinary team are skill-in-action.
Competition for resources makes it hard to believe sometimes that wild elephants will still be here in the generations to come, and there is no simple solution. Many times it seems that there may be no solution at all… But still, there are those that stand up, rise up, and fight for what’s right, every single day, even when there is no guarantee that the effort will allow the elephants, and all non-human animals, to inhabit their rightful place on the planet. The time spent working beside those who continue to believe in the rights of the wild ones is sometimes all that heaven will allow, and sometimes, it is all that is needed to carry on.
We live and work in the rice-farming villages of rural Sri Lanka. Every day we’re exposed to all sides of all of the stories and only one thing is perfectly clear: that the situation is getting worse for both elephants and people (2019 was the deadliest year on record since 1948), and that to turn this conflict into coexistence will require a holistic way of thinking/acting/moving forward.
Just yesterday we were driving down the main road that separates the Knuckles Mountains from the paddy fields to see 2 wild elephants bathing in the tank (reservoir) in the middle of the afternoon. Although they were beautiful, seeing them at that time of day and their proximity to the soon-to-be-harvested rice was unsettling, for the safety of both families of elephants and families of people.
In the midst of it all, we gather a momentum of hope when we hear those living among these majestic animals say: “The animals seem to appreciate a kindly touch. In the middle of his paddy, Lalith and his neighbours demonstrate their technique, passed down for generations. They sing to the animals: “Go away, little babies, go away. But once we’ve gathered the harvest, anything we leave is yours.” How on earth, Banyan asks, can that work? It just does, Lalith replies. After all, he adds, ‘We’re still here, and so are the elephants.”
This final quote is taken from a recent article published in The Economist. You can access the full article here.
The first story seen is not the whole story being told…
Confronted with suffering around every bend, it’s easy to judge and submerge oneself in anger, but looking deeper it’s possible to see that those who have few-to-no options are doing what they can, and will literally chase you down the road when they see an opportunity to help end that suffering.
At first glance, most of these photos look like stories only of pain, neglect, abandonment, or worse. And those themes are present, but they are not the only chapters to be read. There’s also love and hope and gratitude, so we simply have to choose which story we’re going to read, and which one we’re going to work from for what comes next…
Six Hours. In less than 6 hours yesterday, I was lucky enough to be working alongside very diverse people dedicated to changing stories of escalating conflict into new stories of compassionate coexistence. Some of the stories were obvious. Some were very subtle and you had to pay close attention to how they were Change Makers too.
Along with my tiny-but-mighty team of Supun Priyankara Herath and Sarath Kumara, the morning was for the elephants and the villagers, working for peace with DWC’s (Department of Wildlife Conservation) Mahinda Wijayasinghe and Sanjeewa Wikrama, the Wasagamuwa Park Warden, and my favorite monk of the Weheragala village (those larger stories coming soon, still sorting photos and facts).
The afternoon was for the street dogs, the children who were curious about how to change a life, the woman who saw a chance to change her dog’s life and came running up the road, and one little boy who cannot walk or talk or sit up or chew his food or hold a toy and yet can chortle and laugh alongside his un-complaining widowed mother. I’ve been working on writing proper stories about so many animals and people here, to tell the true stories of love. Oh for that window of time to do them justice!
Every one of these people believes in the power of being willing to walk the path of Compassionate Action, even when the steps are not always clear. We might not speak the same verbal language, but we speak the same language of the Heart…