Category Archives: Human Elephant Conflict

Six Hours

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…


Grazing in Rubbish

With wild elephants foraging for food in smoldering trash heaps filled with endless plastic, broken bottles, batteries, etc, we witness a system so broken that even working to keep elephants in the wild is conserving an unacceptably small piece of an unsustainable future. If there is no wild left, then “saving elephants” forces them into a different sort of captivity—not one of physical chains perhaps, but captive to a world where their rightful home has been stolen and their identity forever lost.

Fragmentation (of wilderness and of public policy) is adding to the crisis of trying to keep wild elephants wild in Sri Lanka.

Documentation of the individual and family elephants that feed at this open dump has begun, with the research going to those who can best support policy change. It’s not too late, but there’s no time to lose.


Sri Lankan Civilians Receive shotguns to “control” the elephant issue

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.


Seeing Elephants at Sunset

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..


Take it off the Bucket List

“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…

Some of our sanctuary friends in Thailand and Cambodia:
https://www.facebook.com/BEESElephants/
https://www.facebook.com/ElephantValleyProject/
https://www.facebook.com/ElephantValleyThailand/

Current mainstream media article telling a bit more of the story:
https://www.nationalgeographic.com/…/global-wildlife-touri…/

To a kinder world for us all…


The Wonder of the Wild Ones

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)


Treating the Wild Ones in the Field

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.


Remembering Why We Do What We Do

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.


Back in Cambodia!

We’re back in Cambodia now, ready to take our “Elephants Can’t Read” project to the next level!  Meeting with the Community Board of the local education department, we reviewed how a year ago today we delivered school supplies to 127 kids going to Putrom 2 Primary School, many of them children of the minority ethnic Bunong, living not far from the border of Vietnam, and with long family histories in elephants.
Yesterday we helped the Elephant Livelihood Initiative Environment get children from 3 rural villages registered for the new school year, and soon we’ll set them up once again with all the school supplies they need, and also tend the library we built for them last year, filled with over 800 books, art supplies, and all kinds of mad love.
Trunks up for solid collaborations and for helping communities whose lives are intertwined with elephants—village by village, elephant-sized love changes lives, for the animals, the people, and the habitat they all call home.


Elephants are not “parts”…

We’re back in Thailand now after a challenging time working in Myanmar on several deeply saddening elephant situations. The trade of what some may call “elephant parts”, but we call “pieces of the bodies of sentient beings”, with every possible bit of these innocent animals being sold to the highest bidder. It is the most complex movement of illegal trade we’ve seen, and it was heartbreaking, eye opening, and never, ever, what it seemed.

From Myanmar, the main market for the the ivory, and the tail hair and elephant skin, is China. The market for elephant skin in China is huge. And this is, if it’s possible, more tragic than the ivory, as the murdering of entire elephant families and herds is done for skin. For the tusks, you need the big papas. For the skin, any age is a target…

CITES is slated to be held in Sri Lanka at the end of May 2019, and we’ll be there. It’s a bleak time for elephants, but more and more people around the world are fighting for the survival of the remaining wild ones, and for the humane treatment of those held captive. United we stand, in hopes that together, we can reverse the tragedy before it is too late as we fight for what’s right, for a kinder world for us all. We won’t give up, and we know you won’t either.

https://m.phys.org/news/2018-10-myanmar-torches-13m-illegal-wildlife.html

 


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