“Elephants in Captivity” is a complicated topic, with many countries entangled in its web via logging, patrolling, temple duties, and/or tourism of many shapes and sizes. More of the story is being heard as the mainstream media starts to pick up the pieces of a puzzle that, even when put together, will have no clear picture of how to fix all that has been broken. Education is key, as is an active empathy for a once-wild animal that is now living in a world that is not its true home.
It’s currently low season here in Asia, but many are planning holidays for the high season soon to follow. If plans include interacting with elephants, consider if your ”pachyderm love” is truly helping or hurting what you care about.
It might be easy to fall into the trap of loving an “elephant experience” (bathing, hugging, “too-close selfies”, etc..) more than loving the elephant itself. A “hands off” sanctuary that places the needs of an elephant before the desires of a tourist or volunteer is a great place to start changing the story from “they exist for us” to “they are deserving of as much respect and space as we can possibly give them”. Sometimes it’s about taking something OFF your bucket list…
Current mainstream media article telling a bit more of the story:
To a kinder world for us all…
Isuru and his Amma are quite extraordinary. They live a km or so away, alone in a dark brick house after Isuru’s Tata passed away, and although Isuru cannot walk or talk or sit up or eat by himself, he sure can smile and laugh, and when you visit him his eyes will follow you everywhere, telling you all sorts of stories until you learn how to follow the thread. His Amma, who does every and any thing for him and has every reason in the world to complain about how hard life is, instead smiles lovingly, letting you know clearly that she makes the choice, every single day, to be happy.
Since meeting Isuru in December, we’ve been bringing sacks of staples to his Amma every month. Rice, Dahl, Tea, Sugar, Milk Powder, Vegetables and Fruit, Soap, Washing Powder and Coconut Oil are just a few of the offerings that we gladly supply each visit as we work to source some larger items for their house.
I used to think we were the ones bringing nourishment when we pull up in the tuk tuk every few weeks with sacks of food, but yesterday it was clear that sometimes you get fed with food, and sometimes you get fed with smiles.
Sometimes Dharma Teachers come in disguise.
The wonder of the wild ones. I watch them and they watch me, and who knows who is really saving whom. The conditions are challenging, the myriad of problems in turning multi-layered conflict into unilateral coexistence is not for the feint of heart, and the uncertainty of the future for the wild ones is on my mind every day. On the days when I see gunshot wounds in a crop-raiding bull or speak with a family impoverished by that same innocent bull, the answers are as nebulous as the monsoon clouds. The sustaining belief in the power of Compassionate Action is real, yet no doubt the complexities of the issues are as well. With poets by our side, we’ll continue the good fight for the peace of wild things…
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free. (Wendell Berry)
There is a little one-room school in the middle of wild-elephant lands that has always held my heart. To be consistent with the same 10 children several years in a row is such a joy, seeing how much they’ve grown and how much their English has improved! Last year they could barely say my name, and now a few full sentences tumble out of their smiling mouths as they race to the door with happy hello’s. This year their school itself has seen terrific improvements, with a solar panel powering music for dancing and, bless it, a fan for the hot hot days. The teachers and principal in this tiny far-flung school are some of the best, showing so much Compassion-In-Action.
We’re excited to fulfill a long-held dream of this little school, bringing in a bulldozer to make way for a playground! Conversations were held not just with the school team, but also with the parents of the children, bringing the entire community together, and they were all so excited! We’ll create space for them to play their beloved cricket, and the parents will join us in making it beautiful, with flowers blooming right beside the children.
We’re so happy we can open up a safe place in the jungle where they can forget about the challenges of their lives for a little bit, move their bodies, and play. To give the children of rural subsistence farmers more options and choices for the future helps create a world with less conflict and more coexistence—for themselves, for the elephants, and for the land they all share.
Why Dogs With Heart?
This is why. This forsaken dog off the side of the road I met yesterday on the way to somewhere else. Treatment is coming, and though it may be far too late, love might at least hold her on her way to what comes next.
Are they everywhere? Yes. So much so that many do not see them anymore. Cannot see them, as to hold so much suffering—without any way to help alleviate it—deadens the human heart.
So that is why Dogs With Heart—a costly, time consuming, heartbreaking, health jeopardizing, and difficult project—refuses to turn away, even when the help is never enough, and the resources always too few. To sleep in peace knowing their suffering is acute and prolonged is simply impossible.
feel the cautious support from people here, and also sense their dismay, their feelings that such a project is futile in the face of it all. I am such an impatient person (not my best quality), and so much needs to happen (funding for sterilization and education, on top of the obvious immediate needs of nutritional support/safe shelter/medical intervention), that I pace up and down the rock behind my room until I can actually sit and meditate to realign enough to get back to work. I remain forever grateful that the presence of Spirit is much stronger, and more active, than the presence of my sorrow and worry.
“Bless the beasts and the children
For in this world, they have no choice
They have no voice.
Light their way
When the darkness surrounds them.
Give them love,
Let it shine, all around them.”
To a kinder world for us all, filled with Compassionate Action, most especially for the innocent ones, the “beasts and the children”.
Working alongside the Department of Wildlife Conservation, we spent a rather amazing day in the world of tracking/darting/treating a wild elephant in need of veterinary intervention. It is an honor, in every sense of the word, to learn and serve with these fine people, all working so hard to keep Sri Lanka’s elephants wild…And safe…
Stories to come as soon as a rainy day keeps me bound to the IPad. When the weather is good, the work is too big to get the stories out of my head and on to the page.
A sunset spent witnessing wild elephants in their wild homes is 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 barely dream could ever have a resolution in them.
Creating sustainable change rarely has a direct path, and the complexities of resolving Human Elephant Conflict on a very crowded planet can be overwhelming. Some days though, you get lucky enough to quietly watch families of wild elephants simply being elephants, renewing the hope that the beauty you see is the beauty that can be saved.
“Dogs With Heart”, a project from Heart of Ganesh and The Elephant Love Project, held the first Mobile Medical Outreach clinic at the village temple yesterday and everywhere you looked there were good families patiently waiting for hours for their dogs to receive free health care from the Heart.