I was standing in the shadows of my kitchen, looking out into blazing summer heat. What I saw instead of backyard summer green was the death of elephants. Hundreds of them. I saw the Babar I’d loved as a child, gunned down in rampant slaughter. I saw his children nudging his prone body and his face with his huge ears, bloodied from hacked-off tusks. A wave of nausea and hatred against my tribe paralyzed me, and kept me staring from darkness into rampant sun. Eventually I turned and wrote a check to African Conservation. I had to do something from my northern state, halfway across the world, to try and save the Elephants. It was the mid-1990s, the beginning of my environmental conscience.
It’s very difficult to write about the whole-sale slaughter of one of the earth’s most magnificent animals. Over the years, my outrage and sorrow have taken me toward many other gross indignities against life on earth. Dangers from pesticides and herbicides–read increased autism if one lives within a mile of most U.S. farms, read loss of one third of the nation’s colonies of bees–create fear and extra efforts for my little plot of soil and beyond. Lower and lower numbers of many birds–read loss of habitat to increased population, human numbers growing at 227,000 per day. Threats against drinking water and pristine native habitats from fracking and the transport via pipelines or rail cars of oil. And then there are the extreme disasters like the British Petroleum oil rig spew that has turned some of the Gulf of Mexico into a death trap for every kind of creature from tuna fry to sea birds to dolphins, not to mention humans who try to make a living from the sea.
It’s hard to write about whole-sale slaughter because over the years, I’ve become deadened myself to the outrage and stupidity, the whole-sale greed and convenient ignorance of so much of the world, including many neighbors in parts of the United States. Our news comes to us piecemeal. It takes concentration and stitching together of separate facts, it takes time to let these facts percolate into reality before outrage and determination are aroused.
Recently I saw a documentary about 1964: Mississippi Freedom Summer, commemorating that enormous sweep of mostly white young people into Mississippi to live with black people there who were denied the right to vote. What struck me was the danger, but even more how those who being denied had to overcome enormous fear and centuries of submission. It took an outside force, young blacks and whites often from the north, to help stand by them, to build up hope.
I want to build hope that we can help save the Elephants, the bees, the endangered birds. For Elephants, many efforts have already been tried and for a time succeeded–adding rangers to the various national parks in African where most Elephants live; creating a global signatory of nations agreeing to ban the sale of ivory, supporting skilled NGO’s like TRAFFIC which keep track of Elephants and what happens to them and the ivory which is so often the reason they are killed.
As Elizabeth Kolbert’s recent commentary in The New Yorker outlines (7/7/2014) the United States plus the British and Chinese have pledged large grants and the outlawing of ivory. But I think much much more needs to be done. Here are some ideas:
* Since the primary sales of ivory occur in Thailand, we need to pressure the Thai government to put real teeth into forbidding the sale of ivory products. We need to fund these efforts, and probably as important, educate school children in Thailand about the magnificent animals who are being killed to bring bracelets to Thai shops.
* Coloring books, posters, school curriculum – all about Elephants in Africa. We need to rouse children to love these big animals the way I loved Babar and his family, years ago in Charleston, South Carolina, before I even saw an elephant. We need to give rewards to those shops that proudly display “NO IVORY SALES” in their windows. We need to educate tourists against buying ivory and encourage them to protest any sale they encounter.
* We need an international, political effort, perhaps a Peace Corps for the Elephants, to educate and protect the animals and to arouse the countries where Elephants roam and ivory is sold to act in their defense.
I want to believe this is possible. I want to believe that my monthly contributions to the World Wildlife Fund’s endeavors for Elephants will make a difference. I hope you who read this will contact your legislators and urge that the US institute immediately the planned efforts to protect the elephants. I urge all of us to remain involved, submit ideas, protest and lobby. In our lifetimes, there have been astonishing environmental successes in our lifetimes – notably outlawing DDT. There can be more. As they say in the ballparks, MAKE NOISE.