A gentle reminder that zoos are not the answer

A gentle reminder that zoos are not the answer

Every now and then I get inspired to comment on an instagram post from a news outlet or some account with lots of followers when they post about animal issues. I have done this maybe 5 times in my life. People on instagram are usually dramatic, and I’m not trying to get into it with someone that may be a robot or selling magic weight-loss tea or whatever. Not worth it.

HOWEVER.

When well-meaning, potentially naive people post about how zoos are wonderful because they encourage children to get involved in conservation, my face gets hot because how does anyone follow this logic. My first reaction is to be like, um, zoos encourage children to want to be zookeepers, or have tigers as pets. Most children that grow up to want to be conservationists likely didn’t get inspired by a visit to the zoo, because visits to the zoo if you are even 3% intuitive are depressing.

So I had to make the point under some news outlet’s repost of a cartoon re: zoos are great that animals cannot actually consent to being held captive and so it is unfair to arbitrarily pick animals to go to zoo jail for our own personal objectives. Furthermore doing so perpetuates the idea that we lord over animals and can do with them what we want. Finally I added that these days zoos aren’t necessary to educate people about what a bear looks like. I knew what a bear looked and acted like long before I ever saw one in a zoo. And to be honest, the only memories I have of going to the zoo are trying to hold back tears at the monkey exhibit because they were trying to get out of their cages and I found the whole situation unfair.

So anyway I made a short, sincere post and went on with my life. Well, someone responded to it. Which is fine, totally cool. Except that she had gone through my instagram feed and brought my cat into the argument. 

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HOW.

DARE.

YOU.

TALK ABOUT MY DAUGHTER LIKE YOU KNOW HER.

get back

in your lane

and drive away

immediately

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I am very protective of my kitty, and this person making sarcastic comments about her pissed me off. She said that my cat couldn’t consent to being my pet etc etc, and said if zoos make kids want to be conservationists then that’s a good thing? (ok but they don’t sooo)

First of all NOBODY WAS TALKING TO YOU.

But now that we’re here, I decided to revisit the reasons I don’t like zoos. And the reasons I don’t like zoos have been meticulously researched because I wrote about it in law school. Those reasons were based on arguments that zoos were unethical and unlawful. Without rehashing those rather dry arguments, here are some more reasons zoos are lame (with counter-arguments coming first).

“Zoos are educational and teach children about animals”

So do textbooks, videos, and the internet which is included on every single phone and now even 4 year olds have their own phones, I know it’s crazy, anyway thank u, next

“Zoos teach children compassion for animals”

Ummmm I learned compassion for animals by having pets at home and having to help take care of them, watching them get sick, watching them get hurt occasionally, hearing them yelp when my clumsy self would step on their foot or something. My mother welcoming all of the weird pets we would bring to the house taught me more about compassion than staring into a depressed elephant’s face. All that did was convince me that other humans didn’t get it, didn’t realize when an animal was suffering quietly.

And anyway, since when do we need to see something in the flesh to care about it? Are humans not capable of a greater level of empathy than that? On this subject I would recommend Strangers Drowning by Larissa MacFarquhar. It’s a rather extreme picture of people who dedicate their lives, and I mean every square inch of their lives, to helping people with whom they have nothing in common. As the title sort of suggests, it’s about empathizing with people we don’t know and can’t see. I don’t need to see a Yemeni child right before my eyes to care about what he or she is going through.

“It’s worth having zoos if it contributes to saving a species”

I read an interesting argument somewhere earlier (here) that submitted that a “species” in and of itself is a collection of individuals, and it’s not the existence of the species so much as it is the quality of life of the individuals that matters. How do we choose which individuals in a given species are unlucky enough to be subjected to a life of confinement? Again, that humans wield this power over animals and think we are “saving” them is narcissistic and, um, wrong. Like factually incorrect.

This brings me back to the call for human empathy – we don’t need to see these animals locked up to care about their dwindling numbers. There are so many other ways to learn about and even see animals (sanctuaries for some species; photo safaris if you’ve got the money, and if you don’t got the money then too bad for you because I don’t either, we’ll survive).

Another problem with this one is that a lot of zoo animal species aren’t in trouble. I’ve not embarked on a study of the animals housed in every zoo but it’s not like zoos are saying, “all of the species you see here are endangered and it’s important to save them.” No, all the zoos are worried about is having exhibits with hurriedly bred babies in them to bring in more money. Babies that likely won’t live as long (and definitely not as happily) as their wild counterparts.

The biggest problem I have with all of this is (obviously, by now) that people think they need to be able to see something to care about it, that it’s our right as humans to be able to see wild, powerful animals in the flesh because we want to. It’s so incredibly selfish. We take for granted the freedom we have, especially in this country, and we don’t find it necessary to bestow that same freedom on animals? Humans are too powerful for our own good. See climate change.

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This little angel isn’t in a zoo, and we would never see something this endearing or playful in a zoo, I would predict. Until I can afford to travel to a reserve I am satisfied watching videos of elephants, cuddling my 3 or 4 stuffed elephants (yes I’m an adult), and encouraging any kid I come in contact with to do the same. And if I ever have a child and they beg to go to the zoo, I would take them (only once) and I would say, “these animals don’t belong in cages, but not everyone realizes that yet. Momma/Mommy/Mother (whatever the kid calls me) is working to get these animals out and back into the wild, where they belong.”

Also pray for me I have a job interview next week and I really want it slash need out of my current job before I completely lose my mind and actually start fighting with ppl on instagram HELP.

Moral of the story is do not MENTION my catdaughter on instagram if you do not KNOW HER however if your aim is to get a response from me then that is the way to do it.

The ethics of pets in an upcoming post… Maybe

Have a good Thanksgiving and you don’t have to eat turkey if you don’t want to! Meow

There Were Cats the Whole Time?

There Were Cats the Whole Time?

This blog is becoming more and more about human emotions than elephant issues, but I promise to mention elephants in every post.

Clearly, ABCs of Endangered Species is on hold, although I’ve picked out next few in the alphabet so maybe I’ll get around to it one day.

In the last post I talked about loneliness and sort of touched on identity, and I think now I’m going to ramble about identity, careers, and cats for a few paragraphs.

Like a lot of people I’ve always struggled with identity. Not so much labels, but more trying to figure out where I fit in the grand scheme of things. What is my purpose, how can I help, what am I supposed to do with my life besides take up space. I wonder about all of these things. And I’ve felt this confusion especially acutely in the past few years since I’m not in school anymore. In school, you’re supposed to learn, not really do, and you can put off worrying about your purpose until you leave the nest. I always thought I would figure it out when I graduated.

It turns out you have to really do the work to get to know yourself before you can answer any of these questions. I thought I could just take opportunities as they came to me and that I would eventually figure it out, without having to do any difficult work on myself. Wrong. Job after job, place after place, I still don’t feel like I have found where I fit. Everywhere I work, I feel out of place. And it’s quite frustrating not even knowing how to take steps to figure out what’s off.

I may have inadvertently let my identity sort of depend on what type of job I have. I’ve always been a strong believer in having multiple facets to one’s life – for example, I would crumble and die if I had a job where I worked around the clock, because I’d be committed to just one thing, and my personality has too many facets for me to be able to thrive doing just one thing forever. I’ve always been happier when I’m involved in lots of different things. But heading out into the “real world” with loans looming puts a lot of pressure to find a secure job, and a secure job (especially in law) takes up a lot of time and energy. For me, it’s necessary to have a job in an area I’m somewhat passionate about, or my energy plummets and I’m miserable. Like now.

It’s hard for me to compartmentalize and say, I’m doing this job not because I like it but because
-I need “experience”
-I guess I need health insurance (?)
-it’s technically in the “public interest”
– gotta make loan payments
-it’s a job ? who cares what it is, i should be thankful I have one.
I can’t do that. Despite my advocacy for not letting a job take over one’s life, I have let my identity depend on the work I’m doing. I get too worked up about the job I’m doing because I don’t think it’s “right” for me, it’s tedious and safe and boring and secure, and that’s just not for me. I’m not doing any good for anyone except myself. That’s what I think, constantly.

I’m terrified that I’ll never find where I fit, and that I’ll spend my whole life wishing I were somewhere else. So many people seem to have found their niche, or at least something they’re good at, and I’m hanging out doing the bare minimum at a job I hate. COMPLAIN COMPLAIN WHINE. Wine? Yes please.

 

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Which brings me to Mari Andrew and cats. I love Mari Andrew. I already loved her, then I listened to her talk at this synagogue in DC and completely lost it. She talked about how the parts of us we consider weak are actually strengths once we figure out how to harness them, etc. She also used to feel out of place but turned it into a strength because she’s really good at observing people – and I am the same way. She looks for meaning in life and definitely in her work as well, although she probably wasn’t as dramatically unhappy as I can act sometimes. Anyway, she traveled around doing odd jobs for a long time, and she talked about her job at a bakery and how she would do things to make the job meaningful.

to make the job meaningful.

Well, maybe not meaningful, but enjoyable.

That resonated with me even though it’s not a new concept to me. Of course I have tried to think of ways to make my own job more meaningful, which only work on days where I’m not feeling dramatic and angry, which is no days. I’ve made friends at work, which motivates me to go to work but doesn’t help me concentrate on the actual work. I don’t think the work would ever be meaningful to me. I usually end up finding the most joy in polishing off bags of popcorn and/or swedish fish.

What I failed to do was try to make my work day enjoyable. I’ve been at this job for almost a year, and since the beginning I’ve known there was a feral cat advocacy organization located on another floor of our office building. I follow them on twitter, etc. Just last week someone mentioned that the organization has office cats that we’re welcome to go hang out with. WHAT. HOW. DID I NOT THINK. TO ASK. THIS. SOONER.

My entire year could have been different. Petting/playing with animals is THE number one therapeutic activity for me. Hands down. And I didn’t think to go see if they had animals in the office? What is wrong with me?

Well you best believe I went down there to find the cats. And the cats were sick. And the cats were moving out of the office in two days.


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Worst timing, but also best timing. If the cats are leaving, I’m leaving. I’m interviewing for other jobs and will hopefully find something a little more my style soon, but this is a really good lesson I will take with me to my next job. On the stupid days at work, take advantage of your environment. If you’re like me, it’s easy to live in your own head and forget that your immediate surroundings aren’t a jail cell. For an entire YEAR, I could have been playing with cats at work. I could have looked forward to going into the office everyday, I could have spoiled the shit out of these cats with treats, toys, and cat clothes. Coulda woulda shoulda. I miss those cats and I never met them.

I was so wrapped up in feeling like my personal growth was on hold because I’m at a job I don’t like. How dramatic is that? And why do I feel entitled to the “perfect job” at 28? And who says I was growing in the first place? Crying because my cat turned five and I remembered she would die one day isn’t really a sign of an emotionally mature person who is experiencing significant personal growth. (for real though why can’t our pets live forever I can’t handle it)

But I could have at least enjoyed going to work even though I don’t want to be there forever. Trying to keep the job at arm’s length zaps my energy and doesn’t leave anything left to put toward my own writing or any other hobbies besides drinking and sleeping late – both art forms which I have mastered. But I also love animals and writing, and the hardest part of trying to navigate the professional career field is making time for the things you love if you can’t incorporate them into your work. I have not mastered this.

So anyway, elephants. I guess I imagined a job where my love for elephants would be intertwined with my work. But then I remembered I paid for this website’s URL, and I should keep using it and see what happens. And I don’t have to painstakingly research every blog post and I likely won’t ever do that again because it’s hard enough to do legal research when you actually get paid to – why would anyone do it for fun, and why did I think I could be that person. So I’ll keep writing about elephants and people and cats in my free time because I love all of them except people, and I’ll quit whining about not being able to find the perfect job that incorporates all of my hobbies which would be impossible because all of my 18 different personalities have different hobbies. So.

Conclusion: Elephants are awesome. They are satisfied living their lives just doing elephant things and I wish humans would let them do that. I’m living my life doing people things, hoping I can find a way to help make the world better. Hoping I can meet an elephant one day. Hoping I can start to make sense of things. I would encourage anyone that reads this to find out if there are office animals in your building and to visit them when you feel bored or unfulfilled at work. I give you my blessing (see below).

 

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Live footage of me giving my blessing to you
Elephants, Faces, and Loneliness (and whales!)

Elephants, Faces, and Loneliness (and whales!)

Asha, a 35-year-old African elephant, has been at the Natural Bridge Zoo in Virginia for 22 years. Every day, for 22 years, Asha trudges through the same lonely, solitary existence. Every day, she wakes up, and her life is the exact same as it was the day before. And she’s going through it completely alone.

She’s likely been beaten into submission by the “trainers” at this awful place – in fact, a commenter on Yelp stated he’d been asked to leave when his grandson was riding Asha (problem number one) and the trainer began hitting Asha with a stick. If this zoo’s employees are so bold as to hit Asha in front of patrons, imagine what they’re capable of doing after hours? It makes me sick.

She gives rides day after day, even in the sticky, unrelenting heat, with no hope for a better life after all of her literally back-breaking work. No breaks, no proper diet, no proper medical care, no shade….. cracked feet, small quarters, back rides (I can’t) the list goes on. Any of these is reason enough to shut this stupid zoo down, but the Virginia gaming and whatever crew doesn’t know what’s best for animals anymore than the riff raff over at Natural Bridge Zoo does. In any case, to me, the worst part of Asha’s situation is that she’s completely isolated. She’s alone. Everyday, the same painful, humiliating routine. Alone.

[sign a petition for Asha]

Loneliness is scary. Our identity is wrapped up in the relationships we have with other people, and when those relationships aren’t healthy, or they fail, or we isolate ourselves from others, we question our identity. That’s a big reason for depression and other mental illnesses. I mean, how many times have you been down the Rabbit Hole of Sad (RHoS is my own invented phrase, not to be confused with “Rabbit Hole,” an actual sad movie starring Nicole Kidman), and it just takes a simple interaction with another human being who did not go down the Rabbit Hole of Sad for you to snap out of it? (I’m not talking about actual depression – I would never suggest a depressed person simply “snap out of it”). It’s so important to have other humans around you to provide perspective when you get stuck. Even serious suffering can be alleviated by shared experience – see benefits of Group TherapyBut imagine being completely isolated at the hands of a different species. Having no way out, or being powerless to change whatever is isolating you – I mean, that’s even MORE isolating.

Lately I’ve gone down the Rabbit Hole of Reading About Face Transplants because (a) my morbid curiosity always wins and (b) face transplants are f-ing AMAZING. I am blown away by the teams of surgeons that perform these procedures. The intricacy of attaching a face, the super strict time constraints (aka keeping the face alive from donor to recipient). It’s just incredible. Have you ever seen a photograph of a face… just a face… laying on a table? If you get squeamish, ever, I wouldn’t Google it. But.. I mean you should. It’s crazy.

ANYWAY – there are a hundred reasons why a face transplant could fail. The biggest reason is that the recipient’s body could reject the face, just like it could reject any other organ transplant. But a face has more attached to it – muscles, tendons, bone, blood vessels, etc – so there are more ways your body can reject a face than ways it can reject a kidney. This means the recipient has to be on a crazy intense regimen of immunosuppressive drugs, which in turn leave the body vulnerable to other types of infections, and like, cancer. wtf?

My actual point is, another surprising way face transplants can fail is that the recipient doesn’t react well psychologically. Think about it. Think about what you think about when you think about you. (if you break that sentence down, slowly, it does actually make sense).  You think about your face first, right? Our face is our identity, because you can’t identify someone by their thoughts, feelings, preferences, or relationships right off the bat. Our faces allow us to identify a person quickly, so all of the feelings we have about a person are associated with their face. Now imagine that your face is gone, and you have someone else’s face, often ill-fitting (they choose donors by blood type, not whether the face is the same size) and oh also you have to take 700 medications per day which might allow you to get cancer good luck!

So you have someone else’s face, and it probably doesn’t fit right, and it’s swollen in weird places and your eyes are droopy, and it’s just generally an uncomfortable process. And often, when someone’s face is destroyed, their eyesight is destroyed too. So you’re going through this, unable to see whatever family or friends are supporting you, unable to see your doctors, just, in the dark. And face trauma/transplants are still rare, so it’s not likely that you’re in a unit in a hospital with twenty other people with funky faces. No, it’s just you.

And even if it’s not just you, the trauma of losing your face, your identity, is so deeply personal that it can be isolating even if you meet others with the same issue. Some face transplant recipients have a hard time adjusting – like Isabelle Dinoire, who, three years after her transplant, said she didn’t know who she was (like in a existential sense, not in an amnesiac sense). And her new face actually looked really good! Nevertheless, she had a hard time coping with essentially having a new identity. Also, a few years ago her body started rejecting her new face and then she passed away from cancer.

Another transplant recipient literally went crazy after his transplant and committed suicide – although it was a previous suicide attempt that took his face in the first place – despite teams of psychiatrists finding him to be healthy enough to handle a transplant.

Anyway – loneliness, identity, coping, health, blah blah blah. That’s my point. Loneliness is the worst and it’s bad for you, healthwise and for purposes of morale. It’s always better to have a buddy.

Back to Asha. What I am NOT doing is suggesting that Natural Bridge Zoo get a second elephant. No sir. What I am suggesting is that part of the reason zoos are evil is because elephants are isolated. Even within groups of elephants held in zoos, elephants isolate themselves because their fellow inmates are not members of the elephant’s family. Zoo groups are usually brought together in a piece meal manner and it just doesn’t work.

Elephants exhibit signs of loneliness. They are highly social animals that cannot thrive in solitary confinement (who knew?!). They can literally die from the effects of being lonely – they stop eating, don’t get enough nutrients, and die of infection.

But Asha doesn’t even have the option of interacting with another elephant. She just has idiot kids ranting and raving about riding her, and idiot “trainers” that hit her when she does something wrong normal. Basically, everyone is an idiot.

I can’t even sleep properly (poor me!!) imagining what her life must be like. It’s sad and infuriating, and shame on the state of Virginia for allowing this carnival of death and evil to continue operating.

I don’t quite know what to do other than email/write letters/call both the zoo and whoever is in charge in Virginia and hit them with facts. We could organize a protest? I think my organs would shut down if I got within 100 yards of this place. Umm… tell your friends not to ride elephants? Mkay yes thank you.

From the permit application it looks like collectionpermits@dgif.virginia.gov is a valid email. BRB gonna send them my feelings on the matter…

And now ~ back to the ABCs of Endangered Species.

Today’s featured celebrity is… TA DA…

the Blue Whale

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Bio:

OTHER NAMES

baleine bleue in French. Quel charme!

HABITAT

blue_whale_range_map
lol, everywhere 

IUCN says they live in every ocean except the arctic. More populous in Southern Chile, Gulf of California, and the Coral Triangle.

POPULATION

10,000 to 25,000

SIGNIFICANCE

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look at dat faaaace (this is not a blue whale)

So blue whales weigh – wait for it – THIRTY. THREE. ELEPHANTS. They literally weigh the same as 33 elephants. WHat. The largest animal on the planet and it’s louder than a jet. I can hear a jet now (I live near an airport) annnnd, let’s just say I ain’t wanna be near a blue whale when it gets mad. That is just crazy. Like, SeaWorld isn’t even gonna try to cram one of these things in one of its pathetic prison tanks. Imagine airlifting 33 elephants at a time? Omg.

So the significance of whales is that, well, first of all they exist and they have every right to exist just as much as we do. Also they are at the top of the food chain and therefore significantly impact marine ecosystems. Sort of like when my supervisor leaves for the week no one goes to work (is that just me?).

THREATS

Uhhhhh climate change? Habitat loss, toxins from all the trash we throw in the water (seriously littering should be a capital offense it is NOT hard to throw your stuff away and throwing your trash in water? what is wrong with people), toxins from other things like, idk, oil I would imagine. Also they can get into trouble with boats and get tangled up in fishing gear. I can’t imagine how puny fishing gear would be any match for one of these 33-elephant-fish but apparently it’s a serious threat to them. Also they eat krill and krill is disappearing. But let me clarify – they eat 4 tons of krill EACH. PER DAY. They eat four tons of food per day?! So jealous

Also pollution from big ships like barges harms whales by dirtying the oxygen they breath and the water they live in.

THE HELPERS

Sooo for one, World Wildlife Fund and other groups are tracking these babies and documenting the routes they take, so that hopefully those routes can become protected areas where no fishing is allowed. There is also the International Whaling Commission that big groups like WWF lobby for better protections for whales.

Also this group of helpers is encouraging big boats to slow down to help protect the whales. That’s neat.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

Unfortunately eating fish/seafood contributes to the problems whales face. The fishing industry often harms bigger fish when it rounds up the tiny fish for us to eat. I’m not like, preaching at you I’m just saying

You could symbolically adopt a whale through Defenders of Wildlife although I interviewed for a law school internship with them and didn’t get hired so can we really trust them

not bitter i swear

Help however you want. Tell your friends! Tell your cat if you prefer to spend time with your cat over humans. No judgment here.  Spread empathy, that may be a good place to start! Also do not throw your trash in the water or I will find you ~

Thanks for reading!

ABCs of Endangered Species

ABCs of Endangered Species

FRIENDS ~

 

It’s World Elephant Day.

 

Today, I choose to celebrate animals instead of stress over the convergence of the white nationalists and their unkempt facial hair onto DC.  I’ll also encourage you to donate money or share information with your friends or protest your local zoo, or order a pet portrait from me so that I can then give that money to elephants. Or protest Betsy DeVos as a human being, or… I don’t know, adopt one of these chickens from the Humane Rescue Alliance. However you want to celebrate.

 

This holiday (should be a federal holiday, right? Maybe I’ll skip work tomorrow, on principle) always makes me think a lot about the injustice of what’s happening to elephants, which usually spirals into a tornado of all of the injustices in the world.

 

Here’s something I thought about today.

 

I currently work in veterans’ law, dealing with disability appeals, and so I am more aware than I used to be about how policy affects veterans differently than other demographics. The New York Times covered Betsy DeVos’s decision to roll back transparency requirements that for-profit colleges are supposed to meet, that are supposed to protect prospective students. Not only is her decision transparently dirty, as most of her minions are involved in the for-profit college scam and get A LOT of money from taking advantage of students, but it can disproportionately affect veterans because of how they pay for school.

 

Please return to the ritzy hell whence you came, Betsy.

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A 22,000 square foot summer home…? Who needs that?

 

I won’t go into it – you can read for yourself here and here, and also check out this informative presentation on why Mrs. DeVos and her eyebrows are evil. 

 

Anyway, this realization sort of strengthened my resolve to do better at work, to do better for elephants, to do better for many marginalized demographics, rather than sit around and complain. There are so many ways people can be taken advantage of, and conversely, so many ways to help.

 

It can be overwhelming to think about all of the terrible stuff going on, especially living in DC where complaining about policy and social justice issues is super posh. But I saw on instagram the other day (while making responsible use of my time) the quote by Mr. Rogers where he encourages us to “look for the helpers,” meaning that, where there is injustice, there are people trying to make it right.

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And those are the people we should look to for guidance, rather than seething over the purveyors of injustice. Focusing on the good that’s being done, and working to improve on that, is a much better source of motivation.

 

I recently attended a day of the Taking Action for Animals conference (TAFA), hosted by the Humane Society of the US every other year or so. First and foremost, I got to hear Allison Argo speak. She made the film about Shirley and Jenny, the two ex-circus elephants who were reunited after a long time apart and remembered each other. Watch this famous clip and let the tears flow freely.

 

More importantly, I got to immerse myself in a community of people who consider the compassionate treatment of animals to be common sense. It was invigorating and inspiring, and the food was pretty good. I got to hear people speak passionately about tiny birds, big cats, and horseshoe crabs, and it reminded me that all animals deserve as much attention as elephants. A little blind dog gnawed on my hand. It was glorious.

 

Working in animal welfare is tough, as is other employment in which you mostly deal with the worst people in society, some from your home state. A pretty clear secondary theme of the conference was to focus on the good being done, to remember all the achievements of the past few years to strengthen resolve moving forward.

 

In honor of focusing on the good, and remembering the marginalized, I wanted to highlight other species besides elephants that need our attention, while also focusing on the ways people are already helping them. And, because art is therapeutic, I’m drawing them (sorry, not sorry).

 

In honor of World Elephant MONTH 2018, I present to you

 

the ABCs of endangered species

 

 

Sure, it’s sad that these gorgeous and unique animals are endangered, but yay for the groups working to save them.

 

Our first celebrity endangered species is, behold,

 

the Amur Leopard.

 

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Hisssss

 

Bio:

 

OTHER NAMES

 

Far East leopard, Manchurian leopard, or Korean leopard.

 

 

HABITAT

 

Northeastern China and the Russian Far East – also known as Amur-Heilong. More specifically, according to Science Daily, the Primorskii Province of Russia and the Jilin Province of China. I know nothing about these places.

The-current-range-of-the-Amur-leopard-popu-lation_Q320

 

POPULATION

 

Like 84 – which is an increase from the 30 counted in 2000, and 70 in 2015.

 

 

SIGNIFICANCE

 

Like many other endangered species, conserving the Amur leopard’s habitat benefits the other species that live there, like tigers and deer. Plus, the Amur leopard can jump 19 feet in the air – that’s reason enough to warrant saving it (and to warrant staying the hell away from it).

 

But, similarly to elephants, why don’t we consider saving them because they are animals, and they’re worth saving. Moreover, since its sort of our fault as humans that they’re in trouble, then it is our duty as humans to right that wrong.

 

 

THREATS

 

A few things. Its habitat is shrinking, and its being poached for its beautiful coat. Obviously my drawing won’t do it justice, so here is an actual photo.

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d/b/a Beyonce

 

 

It also suffers from a shortage of prey (like deer), which also benefit from habitat conservation.

 

 

THE HELPERS

 

Thankfully, the Land of the Leopard National Park was established in Russia in 2012, giving the leopards 650,000 acres of safe space to roam. It was largely this move that allowed the population to begin to recover.

 

 

 

HOW YOU CAN HELP

 

Thoughts and prayers! Just kidding, that doesn’t work.

 

Though I’m skeptical about where donor dollars go with big organizations, feel free to adopt a leopard through WWF for $55 – you get an adorable plush toy in return.

 

Um…. go to North Korea and herd their leopards across the Russian border? Maybe don’t do that either. For several reasons.

 

Find ways to support groups that are working to save them? Yes. You’re smart – do this however you want.

Boycott Betsy DeVos for funsies? Somehow, this will help.

Boycott zoos? Definitely. (BTW, just because some animals live longer in captivity doesn’t mean they live well… It’s still inhumane to cage wild animals).

Tell your friends how cute Amur leopards are and how high they can jump? Absolutely.

Do things that make you happy and be nice to others? Good place to start.

 

Happy World Elephant Month! ❤

Ethical Animal Tourism – SE Asia

Ethical Animal Tourism – SE Asia

Hey friends ~

 

How’s everyone feeling? If you feel good, I’m jealous of you. Everyone in the apartment is sick right now. Not to be excluded, even the cat threw up on the shag rug this morning. Now I have about 30 minutes of energy left in me, so let’s talk about elephants again.

 

The only tv I could handle today was Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown on very low volume. One of the first episodes was filmed in Myanmar, which is where The Elephant Project is looking to build a sanctuary. It reminded me that recently, a few friends have asked me about visiting elephants in Thailand and how to do it responsibly.

 

I have mixed feelings about visiting elephants. I wonder sometimes if all elephant tourism stopped, if eventually people would just leave them alone in the wild. This is obviously not true, as human-elephant conflict will never allow both parties to live in peace (I care about humans, too!). Maybe elephant tourism is a necessary evil. Some animal rights extremists say owning pets is a necessary evil, and that all domesticated pets should be neutered/spayed so that eventually they will die out. I don’t think that’s happening anytime soon, and neither is the end of elephant tourism. Plus, I’m thankful that at least people want to see elephants in their native countries, as opposed to some pathetic zoo over here. 

 

So,

Six rules for a responsible elephant sighting in southeast Asia.

 

 

 

#1  Take your chances

 

If you won’t be devastated by potentially not seeing an elephant, I would suggest visiting a national park or reserve, where the animals roam completely free. For example, according to this article it’s pretty easy to spot an elephant in Minneriya National Park in Sri Lanka during certain months of the year. I’m sure this is true in Thailand, where there are a bunch of national parks.

 

I know it’s tempting to visit somewhere that you know you’ll be able to interact with an elephant. Who wouldn’t? I would pee in my pants if I got to meet an elephant. But the point of seeing an elephant is seeing it happy, exhibiting behaviors like it would in the wild (waving its tail, flapping its ears, constantly on the move). Who wants to see an elephant that’s been beaten into submission? It’s not worth it. Please, if you can, take your chances. Your elephant karma will be high, maybe that increases your chances of seeing a family!

 

 

#2  No riding

 

 

Most people know this by now (hopefully), but under no circumstances should you ride an elephant. Who are you, Aladdin? Who needs to ride an elephant? Nobody. No matter what the reviews say, no nothing. Those elephants were most likely beaten as infants and are chained when they’re not working. Plus, even if trained elephants were treated humanely, spending money on this activity supports this form of tourism, which increases the demand, which increases the abuse endured by elephants in the industry. Spend your money other ways in the country if you want to help.  

 

#3  Do not. ride. any wild animals.

 

Just don’t. I can’t even post a photo of western tourists riding elephants because they look so. stupid.

 

snape

 

 

#4  Keep it on the elephants terms

 

Elephant Nature Park, right outside of Chiang Mai, Thailand, has the best reviews by “woke” tourists – most people picked up on the fact that every interaction at ENP was “on the elephants’ terms.”

 

You shouldn’t visit places that have trained the elephants to do anything for you. To be trained, an elephant usually has to be broken, first.

 

african-elephant-balancing-on-ball-260nw-718342978

 

NO…….

Here’s a documentary about domesticating an elephant if you really need to be convinced: Yes, it’s PETA, just watch it.

 

 

#5  Use common sense

 

Now that you know an elephant shouldn’t be performing tricks for you, pay attention to the interactions between the mahouts and elephants. Read all the reviews you can. Ask what happens to the elephants when the place is closed. Are they chained or allowed to roam? I’ve read a lot of reviews from people who said they decided not to stay at a place because it “seemed fishy.” If something doesn’t feel right, don’t stay.

Do the animals look healthy? Do they have visible wounds?

 

Do they look like this?

bad-elephant-drawing.gif

Definitely a bad sign.

 

Are the elephants separated or together, in groups that resemble their original family structures? If it feels bad, it probably is.

 

 

#6  Finally, apply this knowledge to other animals

 

Elephants aren’t the only animals exploited for tourism money. See what happened at the famous Tiger Temple a few years ago.  And now they want to open a zoo next door! Don’t visit a zoo, don’t visit a “menagerie.” You should only be viewing animals in an environment as close to their natural habitat as possible.

 

tiger
Mood

 

There are a ton of web articles about ethical elephant experiences, but the best advice is to use your common sense. If you feel that an elephant is being mistreated, don’t stay. If you feel an elephant is being mistreated at a place that claims to be ethical/rehabilitating/sanctuary, tell someone! Leave a review! Contact the owners. Blow up Trip Advisor. It’s important, now more than ever, for us to be responsible with our tourist dollars.

 

 

 

So, if you’re going to Thailand, or anywhere else in SE Asia, I’m jealous. I also hope you’ll spend your dollars wisely. It just takes a little bit of research but it’s totally worth it for the elephant babies – and for other animals too! Beware of any group that’s making an animal perform for you.

Is There Hope for Any of Us?

Is There Hope for Any of Us?

Guess what? Just OFFICIALLY signed on the dotted line to make this site ElephantAdvocate.com! Turns out I don’t know much about elephant law, and this way, this site can engage in advocacy for other issues, too.

champagne+pop

 

Like mental health.

 

Mental health is a topic that’s really important to me, and often misunderstood. Issues with mental health manifest so differently from person to person, too, making it that much tougher to understand if your brain works like it’s supposed to.

 

After news of Anthony Bourdain’s suicide broke today, I got about.. oh I don’t know… another 45 minutes of work done before I paid to cancel my workout class and came home early to work on this site.

 

It’s not just him. Every time someone dies this way it hurts me, physically and emotionally. I think because, I understand what it’s like to be in a dark place, but even I have been able to somehow bounce back every time I go there. And it hurts a lot to imagine others being in that dark place, either for so long, or hurting so intensely, that they don’t see a way out. Quite honestly, it also scares me, because I don’t have any more control over my mind than they have over theirs.

 

Usually a dark side will breed some sort of creativity – you see it a lot with artists and writers and so on.

 

catscream
That’s me – tortured and brilliant.

 

So then, that means that a lot of people suffering from all sorts of mental problems have a lot to offer in terms of art or other thought-provoking mediums. And I think those creations are important, because they help us understand mental illness better than a psychology paper. For example, Sylvia Plath’s Bell Jar helped me understand how to put what I was feeling into words, and also encouraged me to start therapy, because I identified a little too much with the main character, if you know what I mean.

 

Another example is pretty much anything written by Andrew Solomon, who helped me understand my depression more than my own therapist. Had he not reached rock bottom, I wouldn’t have had his brilliant writing and speeches as a resource with which to understand myself. And that would be a shame.

 

 

Anthony Bourdain’s death is hard for me to comprehend, because I really identified with what type of human he was. I’ve worked in a lot of restaurants, and tended to appreciate the same sort of chaotic, fast-paced, late-night (I think he also mentioned free food and pilfered booze) life-style that he liked. I watched his shows not because of the culinary aspect, but because he seemed to not give a shit about anything. He seemed to be so open about everything. He wanted constant adventure – which I also get, because I tend to get bored with life really easily.

 

From my perspective (and probably everyone else’s), he seemed to have found a way to channel his constant need for stimulation or adventure, into something we couldn’t get enough of. He was raw and unapologetic, but still extremely charismatic, open, and non-judgmental. Or maybe he was judgmental. I don’t know. I don’t know him. All I know is that he had the life I want. And that, for me, begs the question – if that life couldn’t cure him, is there any hope for me?

 

Lately I’ve been “adventure seeking,” if you want to call it that. Really just putting myself out there in creative ways to see what sticks – performing, mainly. I’m doing it because the 9-5 life is not for me. I wish it was, I really do. But I feel more alive when I’m doing something out of the ordinary, and I’m tired of trying to fit myself into a box that wasn’t built for me. I’m wondering if Mr. Bourdain did the same thing, and then outgrew the adventures he was having. What if all of his adventures were in search of something, or running from something, and he got tired of running? And what if that’s what I’m doing? Will it be the case that, at some point, no matter what I’m doing, it won’t be enough?

 

 

ADTWO49alt

 

I don’t think that’s the case for me. I don’t know what kind of demons he was battling, but I have to assume they were more powerful than mine.

 

 

Elephants need advocates because they can’t speak for themselves. They can’t form non-profits and dress up in suits and go meet with elected officials, and explain, “Hey, um, we’re being murdered by the thousands. Could someone maybe help us out?”

elephant-in-a-suit
Can you imagine

 

We have to do that for them. But in different way, victims of mental illness are also unable to advocate for themselves. Depression sends your thoughts into a constant tornado of negativity, anxiety, what if, and then – blank. It’s hard to even explain to a friend what’s going on with you, much less put together a task force to fix the problem. Plus, who wants to bring it up? “Hey, I see you’re having a good day. Wanna talk about how I can’t stop crying?”

 

IMG_2063
Yeah, I drew this. We’ve come a long way from the Endangered Species Act.

 

Nobody wants to be that person. That’s why it sometimes falls to friends and family to ask for help for help on their behalf. Friends and family don’t always know you need help when you seem to have your shit together, I’m guessing. (Never had my shit together, so I can’t say for sure).

 

 

Anyway, there are a lot of topics I want to cover in the next few months, and mental health is joining elephants at the top of the list. If we don’t take care of ourselves, how will we save elephants?

The Gift of Empathy

The Gift of Empathy

Hi friends!

 

Has this been the month from hell or what? Is it just me? What’s going on with you guys?

 

Hell-road-sign-Reuters-5319176

 

March has worn me out and we’re only ⅔ through. I am TIRED. I’m tired of Maryland drivers, and tired of a lot of other things but mostly Maryland drivers. Everyday I cross the state line from Virginia to Maryland, and silly ensues. I think my Google maps lady is getting tired of it too. I feel her rolling her robot eyes every time she says “there’s a 500 minute slowdown on 495 for no identifiable reason.” “Your commute has just been multiplied by 40.” I guess I just hate driving, but I’m thankful I have the means to get to a job in another city everyday.

 

ANYWAY ~ I’ve had a hard time working up the motivation to draft a blog post lately, because I originally thought every post on here needed to be like, really good. (They haven’t been but… ) To put it simply, I thought blog posts needed to take a lot of time to prepare. And, remember when I thought it’d be cute to illustrate my own posts by hand? Well, that was a different time in my life. Let’s call it the “working part time at a wine store” era; the Barrel Epoque – my extended inability to deal with modern adulthood and subsequent enlightenment aka the realization I needed health insurance and therapy.

 

I never wanted to practice law, but I stumbled upon an amazing job opportunity and decided to give it a shot. And I love it. I am so so grateful for where I am now. The only problem is I haven’t quite built up the stamina to work a full day and then do more research and writing for this website, at least at the level I first anticipated. But I have so many ideas that I want to archive on here that it’s probably best to just keep writing and see where this goes. Plus I need to chill, this is a blog, not the bar exam. Go do legal research yourselves.

 

So, I’m going to write about empathy today and hopefully won’t trail off in a direction that’s too hard to follow.

 

The Gift of Empathy

 

What is empathy? My understanding is that it’s the ability to put yourself in the position of someone or something else. When we see pain in an animal, human or otherwise, it bothers most of us. We may not do this consciously, but what we’re doing is sort of imagining what that animal is going through by virtually placing ourselves in that situation. And when we’re in that virtual situation, we think, “I don’t like this…  they probably don’t like it either.” And then we feel bad.

 

Empathy is somewhat easier to have when the pain and suffering is in our face. But most of the pain and suffering non-human animals experience is purposely hidden from us, as consumers. Meat is packaged nicely at the grocery store and the ridiculous ag-gag laws (blog post idea!) prevent us from seeing what really goes on in slaughterhouses even if we wanted to know. Some dog breeders won’t show you where the animals are kept – they just show up with a cute lil puppy in a parking lot somewhere, or sell puppies to a clean pet store. Even more subtle, zoos put lonely, depressed animals on display and then tell us that they’re fine, that their behavior is natural. But, none of this is the whole story. And, it is much harder for us to imagine the suffering these animals are experiencing when we are not seeing it firsthand.

 

It takes what I like to call “advanced empathy” to have the same feelings of compassion and shared suffering when we can’t see an animal suffering firsthand. The good news is that seemingly a lot of people have advanced empathy. The bad news is that a LOT of people do not. (looking at you, NRA).

 

But more good news – you don’t need advanced empathy to make changes that benefit animals! You just need to know that doing the right thing is important, and you need to know what the right thing is. Even more good news is that these days, none of us can claim ignorance regarding animal suffering anymore. Everyone is on blast, and even if they are not, these days everyone should have a healthy level of skepticism about…. Well, everything.

 

So empathy, or the knowledge that animals are suffering, should be sufficient to encourage us to make changes in our daily lives that benefit them. Consuming fewer animals products, perhaps going completely vegan, speaking out, volunteering, donating, etc, are all good ways to help. Furthermore, taking action for animals propagates more action. You’ll want to go even further in your efforts or encourage others to join you.

 

The bad news here is that empathy and knowledge aren’t always enough. Take the current administration, for example. (not really a good example of typical, warm-blooded human beings but whatever). Here’s how their decision making process goes:

 

 

Admin:  we’ll lift the ivory ban for no apparent reason

 

Animal advocates: WHAT, elephants are on their way to extinction and they’re having their tusks ripped from their faces. How is sending Americans on hunting safaris going to solve this problem what is wrong with you everyone knows even the DC Circuit OMG 

 

Admin: okay maybe we won’t, that sounds kinda bad

 

NRA and SCI: here is money also can we join your board 

 

Admin: Ban lifted! Who cares about elephants

 

IMG_3617.gif

“I CAN’T, AND I CAN’T” 

(Kate McKinnon as Mika from Morning Joe, honestly one of her best characters just kidding all of her characters are the best)

 

I’m assuming some of the decision makers have their wits about them, and have some inkling of guilt or emotional pain when considering how barbaric trophy hunting actually is. Or maybe not. But they DEFINITELY have the knowledge that what their doing is mind-blowingly stupid, like, scientifically. This is a great example of a situation in which knowledge and empathy (if it exists) aren’t enough.

 

Where the process breaks down is in our weaponry. The two sides are not fighting with the same weapons. Animal advocates are attempting to appeal to the goodness and logic inside decision makers, and the gun lizards are using money. The decision makers see money and forget to use their brains. It’s a mess.

 

So what do animal advocates do? We’re broke. We are tired of the “small victories” being overshadowed by the endless suffering that no one in charge seems to care about. It feels like constant loss and it’s depressing. (Spoiler alert: there is no resolution in this poorly organized blog post).

 

I for one have decided to embrace my own empathic tendencies. Sure, it means I get sad easier. But if I can muster the energy to turn my feelings into actions, then I have an endless supply of ammunition. I will never run out of empathy, but my opponents may run out of money or power.

 

I used to be self-conscious about how sensitive I am. But now I am proud of my ability to put myself in someone else’s shoes. I forgive faster and I also am not living an insular life. I like feeling connected to animals – all of them, not just dogs and cats. Sure, my empathy is human-centric, but I think I’m in a good place and cheers to always improving.

 

 

Oh yeah – elephants.

Elephants are SUPER empathetic.

Just one of the many reasons we should strive to be more like them. I wonder if elephants show empathy to humans, too, or just their own species? I want to keep going with this but actually I need to go to work on this lovely spring day.

 

IMG_1449

 

 

You know what Hemingway says, stop writing when you know what happens next. That way you know where to start the next day. Stay tuned for my next post on Elephant Empathy!