Book Post: When Elephants Weep – The Emotional Lives of Animals

Book Post: When Elephants Weep – The Emotional Lives of Animals

Dear Guys and Ladies,

Whenever I read something that is thought-provoking, unique, or just downright entertaining, I’ll create a small post about it to (a) let you all know it’s out there, and (b) create something of a catalogue of resources on this site.

The book I’ve been reading lately is “When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals,” by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson and Susan McCarthy.

WEW

Let me preface this by saying that this guy, Mr. Masson, is real smart. He wrote several books before this one, and caused some controversy in the psychoanalysis community, which is always fun.

The book’s basic premise is that animals lead complex emotional lives. Scientists have always refused to identify emotions in non-humans, for fear of committing the “sin” of anthropomorphism – assigning human traits to something that is not human. Mr. Masson suggests that animals may not experience human emotions, but they do experience their own emotions. He tells stories about all sorts of animals that he got from his scientist friends, stories that suggest the characters in them are experiencing more than just robotic animal behavior.

If you want a more intellectual, critical review of this book in comparison to Mr. Masson’s other works, this NYT review was written around the time the book was published, in 1995.

I’m just going to

  1. list some quotes I like from the book by topic, then after that,
  2. talk about the point I think Mr. Masson was trying to make with this book, and also
  3. what I personally am gaining from reading When Elephants Weep.

Quotes

 

“We need not be limited by ourselves as the reference point…”

Another idea in the book is that humans/scientists view animals in terms of what they can teach us about humans. And we think, for example, that if animals cannot speak like we do, then they cannot explain their emotions. And if they cannot explain their emotions, like we do (sometimes), then they are not experiencing any emotions.

But that thought process is faulty because it uses humans as a reference point for non-humans. We’ve always known animals can communicate among themselves, without using human words. Because they communicate in a different way, why could they not express emotion in a different way? I mean, heck, even humans have a hard time expressing emotions using words.

So Mr. Masson suggests we use animals as a reference point for animals, which is nearly insulting in its logic. But he’s right to do so, because humans have always viewed animals in terms of what they can do for humans, and its time we start thinking of animals as being valuable in their own right. And we should study them to learn more about them, not to find more ways to exploit them.

 

“How can we be gods if animals are like us?”

Ho ho ho do I love this phrase. Think about it – let’s say the situation is that a cow is separated from her calf soon after birth. The calf is shipped off to be veal and the cow is milked to death. That’s the way things are, and we don’t think too much about the actual cow or calf going through this. I mean, cows don’t have feelings, they just stand around in the grass all day, staring and mooing. Moo is not a word, cows don’t talk to each other, mama cows don’t love their calves, etc. So, we can exploit them and it’s fine if we don’t think too much about it.

But what if we studied cows for a few days? What if (and this is hypothetical, I don’t have time to study cows right now) we found out that mama cows form serious attachments to  their new babies, similar to human mothers? What if we found out that mama cows mope around or act erratically when their babies are taken away, similar to how a human would act? What if we found out that a cow that is constantly hooked up to one of those metal milking torture devices actually hated it and made weird sounds and jumped all over trying to get away from it? A human would do that to avoid being tortured, right?

Well, if we think about it that way, it makes us uncomfortable. And then we can’t use the cow purely as a tool for human consumption without thinking about it. It’s harder to exploit something if you kind of identify with it.

So, we can’t play gods if we identify with and relate to our underlings. That’s the danger of studying animal emotions.

 

“Whence”

Yes, he uses this word on page 146.

Proof: IMG_7790

Thou canst not hideth, Jeffrey! You’ve been foundeth out.

 

“The concept of funktionslust, the enjoyment of one’s abilities, also suggests its opposite, the feeling of frustration and misery that overtakes an animal when its capacities cannot be expressed.”

He discusses this German word, funktionslust, throughout the book, and what it basically means is that you want to use your natural abilities. You’re happy and proud when you use them, and you feel sad when you can’t use them.

The human version goes sort of like, oh, I don’t know, you’re looking for a job? Annnnnd you have so much to offer, but no one will hire you because you don’t have 24 years of experience for an entry-level position. And you think, my talents are going to waste away while I’m writing cover letters 13 hours a day. And you feel very sad, because no one wants to give you money to do what you’re good at doing, and you are trapped in a cover letter zoo cage and the whole employed world is laughing at you. HYPOTHETICALLY.

So, animals in zoos, they can’t run around and do wild animal things. They don’t have space; their meals are brought to them; and they have grubby kids tapping on their cages all day long. They can’t exhibit natural behaviors, and they might feel sad about this. Most large species, while in captivity, exhibit pretty stressful behaviors like pacing, gnawing, refusing food, refusing to breed, and other stuff.

This applies to animals in other situations, too, but the example Mr. Masson uses is captivity. And he thinks, among other animal-specific emotions, animals experience this funktionslust. And I super agree.

 

“This sort of behavior is so reminiscent of human actions that strong scientists feel compelled to take a deep breath and start numbering the animals they observe instead of naming them.”

In this part, he’s talking about something heart-wrenching that a baby elephant does, and I don’t have time to cry right now so I’m not going to write it. Anyway, this hypothetical behavior is most applicable to the scientific community, specifically animal experimentation. Mr. Masson suggests that one of the reasons scientists refuse to assign emotions or feelings to animals is because if they do, then they have to deal with the fact that they are performing painful and invasive experiments on animals that can feel and suffer. And that means they are holding in captivity animals that miss their families and natural habitats. And that is relatable, and might disrupt the smooth flow of animal exploitation in the name of science.

He talks about how naming animals used for experimentation or scientific study is frowned upon, because the scientist might form an emotional attachment. That emotional attachment would make it harder for the scientist to remain objective and perform his science tasks to the fullest extent. But it really just ignores what scientists, deep down, know is true. Animals are complex – it’s why we study them. Duh, we know they feel and suffer and all that. We just don’t want to think about it when it isn’t beneficial to us.

The Point

 

Animals lead complex lives, and experience complex emotions. But, to further their own interests, scientists only identify animal behavior, and not the emotions or motivations behind the behavior. One very interesting suggestion from Mr. Masson is that, by not being more open to emotional descriptions, scientists are actually missing some information about animals that is right in front of them.

And he also asks, what is the harm in opening ourselves up to the possibility of complex emotions in animals? It may disrupt our way of life? Worth it, I think.

What I’m Learning

 

I think it’s interesting to consider that animals experience their own emotions, not just the animal equivalent of human emotions. We think in terms of the animal equivalent of our sadness, or the animal equivalent of our jealousy, etc. But animals’ lives are structured differently than ours. It may be that we never learn the full range of emotions animals can experience unless we learn to speak their language.

 

**This post was longer than intended. Thanks for reading!

Laws That Affect Elephant Conservation Pt. 1 of 3 – International Law

Laws That Affect Elephant Conservation Pt. 1 of 3 – International Law

Dear Reader,

 

This post (one of three) is an overview of the legal framework with which elephants currently exist. There are three types of laws, for our purposes, that affect elephant conservation:

 

(1) international law, (2) US federal law, and (3) state and local laws in the US.

 

Broadly, each type of law affects different aspects of elephant conservation and welfare. International law will be more relevant to elephant poaching and the ivory trade; and US federal, state, and local law is relevant to domestic trade in ivory and elephants in captivity (i.e. zoos and circuses).

 

This post will discuss the first type of law:

International Laws that Affect Elephant Conservation.

 

International law is tricky because countries essentially have to agree to follow it – there is no global body of law that dictates how countries should act. For example, countries choose to join or not join the United Nations, and countries choose to submit or not submit to the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. However, once a country signs onto a treaty or international agreement, other parties to the treaty or the body holding the treaty can hold that country accountable to following the terms of the treaty.

 

So anyway, here are some international agreements (not a complete list) that affect elephant conservation, an explanation of each, and of course, why each one annoys me.

 

INTERNATIONAL LAW

 

What we first need to know about international law is CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (of Wild Fauna and Flora). CITES is a treaty among 183 countries, or “Parties.” CITES aims to ensure that trading in a certain animal or plant species does not threaten or endanger the species’ survival in the wild. CITES is not automatically law in the countries that have signed; those countries have to legislate these principles, using CITES as a set of guidelines. CITES meets once every three years to add, move around, or take away species from its list.

 

So, what does CITES mean for elephants?

 

CITES is very significant regarding two of the three main threats to elephants: poaching for ivory and the use of elephants in entertainment (circuses, zoos, tourism).

 

How CITES Works in 1 million words or less (no promises)

 

CITES is made up of three “appendices,” or lists. Any animal that is threatened by international trade is listed on one of the appendices based on the extent to which the species is threatened. The higher the danger of extinction, the more protections the animal is given from CITES.  Appendix I is for animals that are in the most trouble, and trading in an Appendix I species is prohibited with a few “exceptional” exceptions. Appendix II is for species that are not already “threatened with extinction,” but might be if trade in those species is not regulated. Appendix III is for species about which a particular country is concerned. So the CITES Parties may be thinking the rainbow-spotted Norasaurus is doing fine, but then Iceland says “Will you guys help us with the rainbow-spotted Norasaurus, we are worried about it.” So the Norasaurus goes on Appendix III and trade is allowed only with permits and certificates of origin. #savetherainbowspottedNorasaurus

 

IMG_7742

**See bottom for more info on this species.

 

Unfortunately, one of the big annoying issues with CITES is a problem that affects elephants disproportionately. It’s called split-listing. Split-listing means that some populations of a species can be listed on one appendix, while the other populations are listed on another. Now, split-listing would make sense if, say, rainbow-spotted Norasauruses lived in Iceland and Florida, only. Iceland all the sudden loses half of its Norasaurus population to international trade, and only has like 12 Norasauruses left, so the Icelandic population of the Norasaurus goes on Appendix I. But Florida’s Norasaurus population is ok in comparison so they want to list it on Appendix II or III. That’s fine. Florida can still export some of their Norasauruses.

 

Why split-listing does not work

 

While Asian elephants have enjoyed their sad Appendix I status since 1975, the African elephant was somewhat recently “downlisted” to Appendix II, but only for elephants that lived in 4 countries in southern Africa (Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe in 1997, and South Africa in 2000). This would make sense if each country had its own distinct elephant population, but elephants move freely across borders. There is no way to contain each country’s population within that country’s borders.

 

Another difficulty with migratory species is establishing which member state the elephants actually belong to. If an elephant wakes up in Zimbabwe and goes to sleep in Botswana, whose elephant is she?”

 

Screenshot 2017-08-23 17.49.22

 

To make matters even more annoying, the elephant populations listed on Appendix II essentially have a note next to their listing that says “y’all still shouldn’t trade ivory from these elephants, so we’re not going to allow it unless you have Appendix I exceptional exceptions.” The Namibia and Zimbabwe submitted proposals at this conference to be able to sell their ivory, but were denied. And, thankfully, Botswana decided to start supporting a total ivory ban. Botswana has a large percentage of the continent’s elephants – so this is good. But anyway, with the restriction on trading Appendix II ivory still standing, what is the point in downlisting? Who knows.

 

All the parties met at the Conference of the Parties in 2016 (“CoP17”) in South Africa, where proposals failed that would have re-listed the four countries’ elephant populations back on Appendix I. (Never fear, CoP17 was still a success for elephants, according to this article). Even if there were a billion elephants on the moon, it would STILL not make sense to downlist them, because poachers DO. NOT. CARE. They will drive their caravans and camels and AK 47s all the way to the moon and slaughter a moon elephant for $200. #savethemoonelephant

 

IMG_7746

We need to get it together and list the entire species of African elephant on Appendix I until the continent’s population is back under control.

Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals

 

So, this convention operates similarly to how CITES does, but with only 2 appendices. Appendix I is endangered and Appendix II just needs “addressing.” Elephants are migratory species, but not every country is signed onto it. This isn’t doing much for elephants yet. 

 

CMS parties

 

Maybe more on this later.

 

International Union for Conservation of Nature

 

As its name implies, IUCN is an “international union” of approximately 90 countries and hundreds of non-governmental entities aimed at everything from conserving nature to promoting sustainable economic development. Importantly, IUCN assesses the status of all species and lists threatened species on its rather famous “Red List.”

 

IUCN is relevant to CITES because CITES listings of species usually mirror IUCN’s listing of species. This kind of confirms, at least in my opinion, that both organizations’ data is somewhat reliable, or at least that they are using the same data, which implies that the data is reliable.

 

Either way, with regard to elephants, the data is pretty clear. However, African elephants are listed as “vulnerable” on the IUCN spectrum (7 levels: Least Concern (LC), Near Threatened (NT), Vulnerable (VU), Endangered (EN), Critically Endangered (CR), Extinct in the Wild  (EW), and Extinct (EX)), even though the explanation on the website cites “high levels of uncertainty” regarding the reasons for and levels of population decline and growth. Asian elephants are listed as endangered.

 

Other Agreements

 

Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare

 

Another international agreement that has not been approved yet is the Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare. Because it focuses on welfare instead of rights, it has gotten a wide range of support, but not from too many countries with native elephant populations. If approved, it will be non-binding and will give countries “guidelines” for adopting strong animal-friendly policies. This document was created by World Animal Protection, and enjoys the support of Compassion in World Farming, RSPCA, IFAW, and HSUS. Hope to see this approved soon!

 

Non-Legal “Charters”

 

Two documents that are in less danger of being approved by an international body are the Declaration of Animal Rights and the Universal Charter of the Rights of Other Species. Not hating on the effort of the drafters, but these won’t get loads of support for the following reasons. The Declaration on Animal Rights advocates a vegan lifestyle, which just ain’t gonna work in the USA. The Universal Charter of the Rights of Other Species is worded strangely – it talks in circles almost. Also, it *suggests* a vegan, co-exist type lifestyle but makes a bunch of exceptions, one for captive breeding programs, which is a problem for elephants specifically that I’ll cover later on. Anyway, check ‘em out and decide for yourself if you want to sign.

 

Before I wrap up, there is this really awesome Elephant Charter written by Joyce Poole of ElephantVoices. Definitely read it and consider signing it! You can also peer pressure your friends and colleagues into signing, too, because you can search the document to see who has signed.

 

In Part II we’ll cover US State and Federal Law. It’s really interesting I promise!

 

**

The hypothetical rainbow-spotted Norasaurus is inspired by my pet dinosaur, Nora. She eats a lot.

IMG_7741

5 Reasons We Should Care About Animals, or, Why Is An Elephant Like An Oyster?

5 Reasons We Should Care About Animals, or, Why Is An Elephant Like An Oyster?

Dear Reader,

 

Before this blog (blawg?) gets into laws and regulations and such, I want to first touch on a philosophical question common in the animals rights/welfare movement.

 

WHY?

 

Why should we care about animal welfare and/or animal rights?

 

First, the welfare vs. rights distinction.

Welfare just gives humans a duty to make sure animals are well cared for. It establishes sort of a mutually beneficial relationship that started way back when everyone was a farmer. There is a body of thought that welfare comprises these “Five Freedoms,” and as long as these are checked off, everyone is good.

  1. Freedom from hunger and thirst
  2. Freedom from discomfort
  3. Freedom from pain, injury, or disease
  4. Freedom to express normal behavior
  5. Freedom from fear and distress

So, animal welfare still allows humans to use animals for their meat, skins, etc.

 

Animal rights activists generally disagree with the use of animals for any reason, even if the animal is cared for in a “humane” way. The basis of this belief is that animals possess intrinsic value, and are not just valuable for what benefits they provide to humans.

 

Note: Beware the groups that demonize animal rights activists. Every social movement has its extremists, and not all animal rights activists want to take your pets away. Don’t believe everything the NAIA tells you. Seriously what is with the graphic at the bottom.

 

The main difference is that the animal welfare movement stills allows for the use of animals for human benefit, and animals rights movement aims to give animals legal rights and more autonomy.

 

Elephants & the Law’s position is that animals deserve better legal status, because they are valuable in their own right. Obviously not the same legal status as an adult human, although I do think my cat should be able to vote. She’s Lib-purr-tarian…

 

Animals are not ours to use freely, but we should be able to coexist with them, and use what they provide for us if our use does not cause harm. We should be smart enough to know where to draw the line.

 

But still, why do we even care?

 

Five Reasons

Because animals are valuable in their own right.

 

 

 

If you have the time, I would suggest reading Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation or Practical Ethics. Both were published a while ago but the philosophy behind his arguments is timeless.

 

               Peter-Singer-Animal-Liberation-Book         Practical_Ethics,_1980_edition

 

His argument starts with Jeremy Bentham’s utilitarianist view that the test for whether animals matter is whether they can suffer. Peter Singer builds on that test, explaining something that he termed “equal consideration of interests.” Basically, if an animal can experience pain and suffering, then that animal is worthy of consideration. That animal has an interest in not suffering, and that interest should be weighed equally with the interests of humans. Because no one wants to suffer.

 

Animals exist in their own complex universes, innocently concerned with not hurting, starving, or being eaten. We have no place ranking their importance in our universe.

 

But, while we’re on Bentham and the question “Why?”…

jeremy-bentham-remains

Why?

Click here for an explanation

Because we are compassionate beings.

 

If you really need a reason to care about animal welfare or rights, this is a pretty good one.

 

What is compassion? Google says: “Sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others”

 

So suffering and misfortune provokes a compassionate response in humans. Well, animals – elephants in particular – are experiencing suffering and misfortune constantly. And we just can’t plead ignorance anymore.

 

We are compassionate to other humans (hopefully), so why not every living thing?

 

Because caring about animals makes us better.

 

“He who is cruel to animals becomes hard also in his dealings with men. We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.”

Immanuel Kant

Caring for animals makes makes us better in a lot of ways, not just our health. ( I know some people are like ew Huffington Post, but the author of this article is a well-known neurologist and a very reputable animal advocate. Check out Aysha Akhtar on TedX!)

Caring for animals makes us a more compassionate, progressive, sustainable society.

And less violent.

There are a lot of studies about the link between animal abuse and domestic violence Studies show that abusing animals during childhood is an indicator of violence later in life. This article suggests that children who do abuse animals have probably witnessed domestic or animals abuse themselves. What a terrible cycle.

So, if we turn this around, then maybe showing animals compassion during childhood is an indicator that one will show animals and humans compassion throughout one’s life. Maybe loving elephants is an indicator that one is not a serial killer? Would this hold up in court? Asking for a friend.

 

Because a world without elephants would SUCK.

Question: Why is an elephant like an oyster? (credit: IFAW)

IMG_7694

Answer: Both are “keystone” species. “This means that if the species were to disappear from the ecosystem, no other species would be able to fill its ecological niche.” 

And other reasons. And other other reasons.

 

But, most importantly, elephants are valuable in their own right, remember? They are valuable because they exist. They are beautiful, intelligent, friendly, vegetarians, and a world without them would be so, so, sad. Because a world without elephants reflects on our apathy to their suffering. For what? Little ivory statues? One of my friends from law school often says, “Is everyone okay?” Seriously.

DBJCxfgXoAAafUm.jpg-large

 

And finally,

Because progress is important.

 

Because progress on animal rights reflects progress on equality in general.

 

Equality is about more than race, sex, or whatever humans seem to think. Equality is about an open mind, about consideration, about realizing the world doesn’t revolve around one person or one species. Progress on one front means we’re going in the right direction.

 

“The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for white, or women created for men.”

– Alice Walker.

YES ALICE. By the way, Alice Walker is an author and civil rights activist – not an animal rights activist. She might not be vegan, and that’s her business. This is a good quote and a sentiment that resonates with me.   

There is a common argument against animal activism that says it’s wrong to put time and energy towards animal rights when humans are suffering. But, like I said, progress on one front is progress in general. This article about a human rights activist-turned-animal-rights-activist is another good response.

I just love this:

Of course this is the dominant mentality, based on a presumed superiority of humans, so much so that the slightest harm to a human is often seen to outweigh a tremendous harm to an animal. Given that the capacity to suffer is in no way limited to human beings, this bias in favor of humans is simple prejudice, favoring those we perceive as similar over those we perceive as different and therefore inferior, the hallmark of all discrimination and oppression.”

 

Basically, equality is important, and progress towards equality is essential. And that includes animal equality. It doesn’t mean building mansions for mice, it just means letting them live in peace. It’s not that difficult!

 

Thanks everyone!

 

World Elephant Day Bonus Cocktail Post!

World Elephant Day Bonus Cocktail Post!

Elephant-inspired cocktail…!?

Wow! What? Is she insane? Yes.

Random, but tasty!

I warned you this blog would start out as a bunch of things.

Anyway, I started bartending again when I moved to DC last year, and have been very fortunate to have had access to the best ingredients. Fresh produce and high quality spirits make a huge difference.

With World Elephant Day approaching, I figured an elephant-inspired cocktail would be appropriate. The only connection I could come up with between an elephant and a cocktail was the color gray. And I love a lavender/purplish-silver-gray color, so that’s what I was aiming for.

Purple ingredient? Crème de Violette. What do you make with Crème de Violette? An Aviation Cocktail. Put a little spin on it and you’ve got…

Elephants on a Plane

I already know the name is stupid, but I’m in charge. So, it’s staying.

One more thing before I give you guys the recipe. Elephants on a Plane™ calls for one egg white, which I don’t personally care for, and maybe a lot of my readers will be vegans or want to avoid egg whites. I suggest replacing it with chickpea brine, called “aquafaba.” Aquafaba means “bean water,” which is cute. I have not tried it yet, and we did not stock it at the bar. I have read that it is a better replacement for egg white in cocktails. So I’m putting it in this recipe.

Just in case you’ve never used egg whites in cocktails before (I hadn’t until I moved here), just a minute before you turn your nose up like I did. Egg white/aquafaba is a common ingredient in certain cocktails, mainly fizzes and sours. It doesn’t change the taste, it only gives the drink a frothy, silkier texture. And it looks pretty, too.

Without further rambling, I give you..

Elephants on a Plane

First… Tools!

cocktail post toolsedited
You don’t absolutely have to have all of these tools – I have shaken cocktails in water bottles before. But I think, if you have Creme de Violette lying around, you probably have a shaker tin. Be creative if you need to.

Ingredients!

cocktail post ingredients**See Super Bonus Recipe at the end of this post.

Finally… Steps! 

  1. Use peeler to cut a lemon peel for your garnish. Set aside. *Make sure to do this first, so that you only use one lemon. #SavetheLemons
  2. Put ice water in martini glass to chill it
  3. Cut lemon in half
  4. Squeeze lemon juice into small measuring cup, to ¾ ounce line
  5. Add aquafaba to measuring cup, and pour contents into shaker tin.
  6. Add remaining three ingredients
  7. Seal shaker tin and dry shake (shake without ice) for like 15 seconds
    **This “emulsifies” the egg white. The citrus sort of cooks the egg white so it loses the ability to make you sick. Aquafaba won’t make you sick in the first place.
  8. Add ice to shaker tin, reseal, and shake for at least thirty seconds, definitely until condensation forms on the outside of the tin. Feel free to check inside the tin to see your froth progress. Reach desired level of frothiness and stop shaking.
    **Tip, if you want to UP your froth game like never before, strain your cocktail into an extra glass, dump out your ice, and return the cocktail to the shaker tin. Dry shake again. This is known as triple shaking, and it will make your arms tired.
  9. Fine strain//double strain into your martini glass or coupe.
  10. Squeeze lemon peel, yellow side down, over the cocktail, twist, and drop it in. The oils from the citrus make a big difference! (I did a lemon spiral in these photos, and it is prettier but not as effective.)

And voila, you’ve made a time-consuming but delicious cocktail, and you’re celebrating elephants! Look at you!
close up cocktail

**SUPER BONUS RECIPE ~~

If you don’t have maraschino liqueur, or you want to branch out even further, you can make Elephants on the Moon™!

“Wow”  “what’s that?”  “I want one”

Okay, okay. This is my own elephant-inspired variation on the Blue Moon, which is a variation on the Aviation. Cocktail inception!

For this recipe, follow the same nonsense listed above, but omit the maraschino liqueur and replace it with a ½ ounce of simple syrup. The cocktail will turn out to be more of a bluish-gray than a lavender-gray, but still delicious and totally worth the effort. If you don’t have simple syrup, then still omit the maraschino, and add another ¼ ounce of Crème de Violette, for a total of ½ an ounce.

Thank you all again for checking out Elephants & the Law. Enjoy World Elephant Day 2017 wherever you are! See you next time!

The State of the Elephant

The State of the Elephant

Dear Reader,

Happy World Elephant Day 2017!

Thank you for visiting Elephants and the Law. Elephants are the most magnificent creatures on our planet. Countless individuals work to protect and conserve the species every day, and this website will discuss legal, political, and moral issues that affect those efforts. This will be a learning experience for me, so hopefully we can work through some of these issues together. I certainly appreciate suggestions and questions from all of you.

This blog might start out being a lot of different things, but, with time and feedback, I hope to grow it into a blog that is really good at just a few things. I am also going to try to photograph and draw everything myself, because I don’t understand stock photos, so, bear with me. Until I reach blog enlightenment, though, the basic purpose of this website is to

  1. inform all of you guys,
  2. stimulate open-minded discussion,
  3. encourage action, and
  4. hopefully add a compassionate angle to the way the reader thinks about animals in general- while using the elephant as the primary example.

Why? Because elephants are dope.  

This debut post will cover the following topics:

  1. Why Elephants Are Neat
  2. The State of the Elephant
  3. What We’re Doing (Wrong)
  4. How We Can Do Better

 

Why Elephants Are Neat

Besides the fact that baby elephants are super relatable (see below), elephants are magnificent for so many reasons.

baby elephant tantrum

Same.

Elephants are self-aware

Elephants are part of the small group of “self-aware” species that currently only includes elephants, dolphins, monkeys, and us. That is hugely indicative of elephant intelligence. I know some humans that could use a little more self-awareness, if you know what I mean.

Elephants comfort each other

Like humans, elephants comfort each other through physical contact with their trunks – elephant “hugs,” if you will.

Elephants stick with their families for life

Fact: the elephant divorce rate is 0%. An elephant herd consists of a matriarch, her daughters, and her daughters’ daughters. And they stick together forever. The herd allows the male elephants to hang out until age 12 – 15, then the male gets the boot. Yasss ladies.

Elephants mourn their dead and celebrate births

This indicates that elephants have a concept of loss and new life. The fact that they grieve like we do is so relatable. Here, I made a sad drawing to illustrate.

IMG_7611

Don’t you want a custom sad elephant sketch? Ask for one here!

Elephants exhibit signs of distress

Elephants in captivity exhibit behaviors that do not exist in the wild, such as pacing, gnawing, bobbing their heads, and swaying. Elephants also experience post-traumatic stress indicators. This NYT article is a favorite of mine and talks about this – either read or save for later. 

Elephants and Humans have similar histories

Elephants and humans evolved “in parallel” hundreds of thousands of years ago. In fact, some bodies of research show that elephants were around long before humans were. Respect!

ELEPHANTS ARE AFRAID OF BEES

Guys, this is super important information. They are afraid of humans and bees. I am also afraid of humans and bees. And I didn’t think I could love them any more.

Elephants do have great memories

Don’t worry, Shirley and Jenny will have their own post on Elephants and the Law. I’m not crying, you’re crying.

Shirley n Jenny

Okay, I’m crying, too.

statue

Buying this.

Elephants are a “keystone species”

More on this later, but elephants help maintain the biodiversity of the ecosystems in which they live. They even poop out seeds that grow into new grass, bushes, and trees. Incredible.

The State of the Elephant

Elephants are in big trouble.

There are technically three species of elephants – the African savanna elephant, the African forest elephant, and the Asian elephant. For our purposes, this site will group the forest and savanna elephants together.

The African elephant population was estimated at approximately 26 million in the 1500s – down to a staggering 600,000 in 1989. Estimates range from 400,000 – 700,000 African elephants, and between 35,000 – 40,000 wild Asian elephants today. These numbers are so low already, and elephants are dying every day.

Dr. Mark Chase heads up the Great Elephant Census, which was funded by Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft. This project is meant to show where elephants live. According to the Economist, this is the “most extensive count of a wild species ever attempted.” It’s sad but really, really cool.

Diminishing populations are due to three main factors, the biggest and most horrifying factor being poaching for ivory and meat. Second, elephants are being pushed out of their natural habitat by exploding human populations (exploding humans?!). This means elephants and humans are coming into contact more often. For example, elephants are eating villagers’ crops, which may be the villagers’ only sources of income. Diminishing resources means that one species will suffer as the other thrives.

The third big threat to elephants is their use in entertainment, including their capture and sale to zoos, circuses, and the tourism industry.

  • While circuses are starting to give up their elephants due to public pressure, zoos are still keeping elephants in captivity.
  • While some zoos claim to promote research and conservation, they actually have the opposite effect. Shameless plug, I discuss this topic in my paper.   
  • Entertainment includes trophy hunting of elephants. Elephant trophy hunting is disgusting, especially since the elephant species has been threatened/endangered for such a long time.
  • Also, regarding tourism, elephant back rides might not be the innocent elephant bonding experience we all hoped. See this article and also this article. Stay woke, everyone.

What We’re Doing (Wrong)

Thankfully, there are countless organizations that aim to protect and conserve the elephant species. There are also parks, reserves, and sanctuaries where elephants are legally protected. There are international and national laws and regulations banning the trade of ivory, and efforts to stop poaching are increasing every day. Even for elephants in captivity, at least in the U.S., local, state, and federal laws and regulations allegedly promote elephant welfare and conservation.

So, why are elephants still disappearing?

Two big reasons.

Market for Ivory

Poaching is already illegal, so no ivory ban is going to stop it. If there is a market for ivory, then you bet someone is going to cash in. The trade is most alive in China, where animal welfare is sort of lagging, as well as in Japan and Thailand. And some ivory consumers claim to “not know” where the ivory actually comes from. Apparently more than one consumer here and here thought ivory “grew back like a fingernail.” Why would it be so valuable? What? Is this pers…. I can’t.

Human-Elephant Conflict

Because of diminishing resources and increasing contact between elephants and humans in African countries, some villagers view elephants as nuisances and don’t care if the species survives. This contributes to the lack of cooperation and continued poaching of elephants.

How We Can Do Better

There are so. many. ways. We can do better globally, nationally, and individually.

Globally

International bodies should crack down on poaching, but that is expensive and requires cooperation among countries. Logistically, we need better surveillance, cooperation, and evidence-gathering, for poachers to be brought to justice.

Additionally, because human-elephant conflict is most intense where the economy stinks, conservation efforts should target these economies. If we invest in the economies and people of these villages and countries, we can stop their dependence on the crops or livestock that elephants may threaten. But we have to change our strategy.

In the US

The US and other countries where elephants are not a native species should ban the import of elephants altogether unless the elephants are headed, as a very last resort, to a sanctuary. An *actual sanctuary, not a Ringling Brothers Fake Sanctuary. But, in reality, that should never be necessary. There is no reason for elephants to come to the US, and the dollars that are spent bringing them here would go much further funding conservation efforts in their native countries.

Individually

We can change the way we think about elephants and other large species. If we take on the perspective of an elephant, or tiger, or giraffe; if we are aware of their needs and their similarities to us; then we will naturally recoil at the site of them in captivity. We should cringe at the exploitation of intelligent animals in which circuses engage. We should be furious that zoo elephants have less than an acre to inhabit, when they are known to walk 30 miles a day in the wild.

We should do the following:

  • Support a worldwide ivory ban;
  • Refuse to visit circuses that still exhibit animals;
  • Refuse to engage with tourist attractions abroad that feature elephants;
  • Refuse to visit zoos with large animal habitats;
  • Continue to publicly shame those that hunt elephants and other endangered species for sport (seriously?);
  • Put pressure on those groups that contribute to the exploitation of large species; and
  • If you have the resources, contribute in some way to the mission of organizations that work to conserve and protect this and other large species. I hope to have a page with a comprehensive list of these organizations soon.

When my passion for elephants was budding, I read Lawrence Anthony’s book, The Elephant Whisperer. In it, Mr. Anthony says “Perhaps the most important lesson I learned is that there are no walls between humans and elephants except those that we put up ourselves, and that until we allow not only elephants, but all living creatures their place in the sun, we can never be whole ourselves.” Practicing compassion is essential for healthy relationships among humans, and when compassion and human decency fail, the law should intervene.

Thanks so much for reading. Stay tuned for a World Elephant Day Bonus Post Surprise. Then, I’ll be posting again next Thursday!