August 12, 2015
So you love elephants. You know they’re fighting for their lives across the globe and they’re losing the battle. But what can you do to help? How do the choices you make help or hurt elephants? What about your entertainment and travel dollars? Here are 10 things you can do to make a difference in one or many elephants’ lives. This list is not intended to cover everything, but it might give you a place to start.
- Ivory: Don’t buy Ivory, even if it’s sold as “antique.” No one who is an elephant advocate is going to knowingly buy new ivory. But the market is flooded with items that are being sold under the guise of “antique” ivory. It may just be a miniscule amount in a pair of earrings or knife handle or musical instrument, but all ivory contributes to the decimation of the world’s elephant population.
- Trekking: Don’t pay to ride elephants in Asia. There are many opinions on whether one human astride an elephant will actually cause physical harm to its back or neck, but there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes. Where did that elephant come from? Was it “broken” in one of Asia’s infamous “crush” sessions? (If you don’t know what that is, Google it, but be prepared to have your heart broken.) No matter where it came from, paying for an elephant to entertain you or haul you around only encourages more operations to provide these animals for our enjoyment, and they’re usually maintained in less-than-optimal conditions.
- Circus: Never attend an animal-centric circus that uses exotics. No exceptions on this one. Every dollar you spend at such a circus allows them to maintain these imprisoned animals.
- Zoos: Do not support a zoo with your entry fees or donations if they’re keeping animals in substandard conditions. Elephants are social animals who can wander up to 50 miles a day. If the animal(s) at your local zoo are kept in small enclosures and/or they are kept alone, petition your zoo to transfer them to a larger, more suitable facility.
- Africa: Going on a photo safari? Research your tour operators & destinations. Most African tour operators offer photographic safaris, but some also offer hunting safaris or are affiliated with operations who do. Know what type of outfit you’re supporting before you support them. What about the locations you’re traveling to? Is it a country that either outlaws or severely restricts big game hunting? If not, spend your money elsewhere.
- Donate. There are wonderful organizations in the US and abroad that rescue elephants and provide the care and life they deserve. In the US, there’s The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee and PAWS in California. Saving Ganesh supports Sri Lanka’s elephant population, and the Elephant Nature Park is making strides in protecting Thailand’s elephants. The Sheldrick Wildlife Trust operates in Kenya. The Serengeti Foundation helps elephants and other animals across the world. Five bucks a month doesn’t seem like much, and it’s not, but if enough of us do it, we could provide the funds these sanctuaries and organizations need to help the world’s elephant population. Twenty bucks will do the trick even better. Before you donate, research who you’re donating to.
- Petition Lawmakers. Laws need to change. Proposed legislation in the US is either meeting serious resistance or is completely ignored. Ever heard of TEAPA – the Traveling Exotic Animal Protection Act? Probably not. Same with your state Senator or Representative. If you care about the laws regulating ivory sales and traveling exotic animals, write your state legislators and tell them how you feel. Need more information? Visit Animal Defenders International or the Humane Society. Both can provide information and instructions on how you can make a difference.
- Act Locally. Does your city or state allow animal-centric circuses? Connect with others in your community who share your compassion for elephants and try to do something about it. How do they restrict the sales of ivory?
- If You See Something, Say Something. If your friends, family, acquaintances, etc. are wearing or using ivory, attending animal-centric circuses, or traveling to places where tourism has an effect on elephants’ lives, speak to them about your feelings. Explain to them how their choices make a real difference.
- Share Something. When you come across a hashtag such as #dontflywild (asking airlines not to fly big game trophies), retweet it. Share blogs, facebook posts, and Instagram images to raise awareness. One of these beauties will love you for it!
We can all do something to help elephants. Sometimes it may feel small and insignificant, but if many people are doing the same or similar things, we will have a cumulative effect and make a difference on the local and world stage. If this post has helped to inform you, please start by sharing in on your favorite social media platforms.
If you can add to this list, please do. Comment. Tweet. Do something, and do it now.
Kathleen Cremonesi an ex-circus performer who supports elephant sanctuaries and recently petitioned the Oregon Senate Judiciary Committee to pass SB 913 banning most ivory sales in Oregon. Her 2015 memoir, Love in the Elephant Tent: How Running Away with the Circus Brought Me Home was released by ECW Press. Find out more at http://KathleenCremonesi.com
July 3, 2010
Before I fell in love with food, I fell in love with elephants.
After all, I wasn’t kicking and screaming into the kitchen all by myself. Someone had to drag me, and that someone, as you may know, was my future-husband, Stefano. What you may not know, is that someone – or something – was dragging Stefano. Elephants. Seven of them to be exact.
A bit of back story: December, 1988 found me bumping around northeastern Spain on an old Bela Vega bus with a band of street performers and misfits looking for work in Catalonia’s orange groves. One night, the juggler saw a circus poster and decided he’d ask for a job – except he didn’t speak Spanish. I conjured the remnants of high school Spanish and waltzed with him into the big top. Next thing I knew, I was working in the cafeteria by day and dancing in a chorus line wearing a rhinestone bikini and my very own pair of ruby stilettos by night. Enter the elephant keeper, Stefano, and the seductive powers of his elephant troupe.
Twenty-two years later, our years in the circus are distant memories, but we will never forget the impact elephants had on our lives and the elephant-sized holes that remained when we walked away from these amazing beings. In 2008, while traveling in Thailand and Cambodia, Stefano and I knew we wanted to see elephants, and we knew we didn’t want to see them performing or painting or hauling tourists on jungle treks. In Chiang Mai, Thailand, we heard about Elephant Nature Park, a sanctuary for rescued elephants.
The park is the dream of a very small woman with a very big heart. Sangduen “Lek” Chailert has saved over thirty elephants, one at a time, using a combination of volunteer labor, personal funds, and international donations to bring her forty-acre reserve to capacity. Her mission is to offer sanctuary, advocate for elephant rights and welfare, and educate Thai people and the rest of the world on the Asian elephants’ fight for survival. Here’s a great video of a few of the babies testing their authority with the pack of dogs who also make the park their home. Watch for the back leg kicks (aimed at both dogs and mahouts), and how the babies run and hide among the aunties when the dogs react. The woman with the hat is Lek, and her love and empathy for these animals is clear.
It can often take weeks or months for a position to open at the park, but the day Stefano and I inquired about volunteering, a couple of other volunteers had to cut their visit short. Kismet. By the following afternoon, my husband and I were knee deep in a remote river scrubbing 4,000 pound elephants.
We spent the remainder of our vacation living in a bamboo hut, mixing elephant food, bagging elephant dung (traded for produce with a local organic farm), and making time between tasks to inform day visitors of the park’s mission and encourage them to learn more.
Observing these elephants interact freely with their family groups is heartwarming, and watching the babies tussle with each other in the mud pit is pure belly-laughing joy.
Working toward the success of Elephant Nature Park was both a humbling and empowering experience for Stefano and me. For twenty-two years, elephants have bound our hearts and fueled our dreams. Thanks to Lek and her park, we were finally giving something back.
We continue to support the park through small donations and encourage anyone who can spare a few dollars now and then to do the same. If you’re interested in helping, click on the video link above, and then click on the donation link. You can also visit http://www.elephantnaturepark.org. A little money goes a long way in Thailand, and for ten bucks, you can buy an elephant lunch.
Hmmmm… lunch. Somehow, it always comes back to the food.
Next week: Tiramisu!