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.