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!)

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

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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!

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.

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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.

 

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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?

 

 

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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?”

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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?”

 

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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

Hi friends!

 

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

 

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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

 

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“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.

 

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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!

 

 

15 TED Talks to watch if you care about Elephants

 

TED talks are my favorite videos on YouTube besides funny animal videos. I guess TED talks are my favorite videos to watch when I want to feel productive. Because I just started a new law job (yay!) that is super writing-focused and has a billable hour requirement, I am spending a LOT of time in an office.. at a desk.. staring at a computer monitor. To stay somewhat sane, I have (a) brought a cactus into the office, whom I have named Four Ninety-Nine for reasons you’ll probably figure out on your own; (b) displayed a few pieces of my own art to remind me of other things I like to do (See cover photo); and (c) started working my way through every TED talk in existence.

 

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Four Ninety-Nine

 

*Note:  My absolute favorite talk of all time is Elizabeth Gilbert’s, entitled “Your Elusive Creative Genius.” It is honest and candid, but presented seamlessly and covers a fascinating array of topics- from the author being afraid of seaweed (same, girl – mushrooms) to the Greek origins of the idea of a creative genius. It is truly a work of art and half of the views are mine……… OKAY FINE I am going to play it while I write the rest of this post.

 

Anyway, I’ve compiled 15 talks that talk about elephants, conservation, or related issues that I think are still presented in an awesome way. (There are some talks out there that I think have the right message, but are boring.)

 

Now I can’t write because I keep going back to the youtube tab to watch Elizabeth Gilbert… BRB.

 

one hour later

 

Alright so here are the 15 talks that made my list, in no particular order and with unhelpful insights attached to each. Enjoy!

 

Caitlin O’Connell-Rodwell – “Family Structure of Elephants

This lady has researched elephants for 20 years, so her two videos are like cliff notes on how elephants live their lives. Basically, elephants are just like us and have big personalities – go figure.

Caitlin O’Connell-Rodwell – “The Secret Lives of Elephants

When elephants feel threatened, sometimes they point their butts at you and “sniff” over their shoulders.. so cute. 

 

Andrew Stewart – “Are Elephants Worth Saving?

Apparently we can fit more people into Fenway Park than there are Asian elephants left on earth… what. I like his perspective on human/elephant conflict: he observes that the people living in elephant range countries have the same right to protect themselves from elephants as we do to protect ourselves from, say, bears. And so, conservationists need to do better taking into consideration the needs of the human inhabitants of range countries. I also like his reminder that elephants are a super keystone species in that they support whole ecosystems.  He says if you are going to pick ONE species to save, elephants are the best candidate. Save elephants → save land → save plants → save other species. He also reminds us that America is the second largest ivory market behind China. Come on!

 

Dr. Susan Canney – “Punch Above Your Weight: Mali Elephant Project

She talks about supporting and growing an elephant conservation project in a place affected by war… with a dope accent.

 

Patrick Freeman – “Elephant Rumbles

AH this guy loves elephants so much! He studies them but also makes poetry about them. This is an artistic piece followed by a quick reminder at the end to not buy ivory. I love it. 

 

Alex Gendler – “Why Elephants Never Forget

A cute and informative lesson on elephants, how they can have PTSD and why their memories are good. Note the manipulative elephant eyebrow raise at 2:48.

 

Brad Spanbauer – “A World Without Elephants

A great talk but honestly I am just excited to finally know how to pronounce the word “baobab.” Apparently it sounds like “bay-oh-bab.” I’ve been guessing, usually saying “bow-bab” the three or so times per year I use the word. Not relevant.

 

Josh Plotnik – “How Can Elephants Inspire Children to Think Critically?

I remember reading this guy’s NPR interview when researching elephants in law school. This talk is cute and thoughtful. And, he did research at Emory! Huzzah

 

Johan du Toit – “An Idea for Humanity, from a considerate elephant

I really like this one. He says we should be more considerate and uses elephants as an example of how to do that. Apparently his little daughter was at a watering hole when a herd of elephants showed up to drink, and one elephant made the rest of them stand back while the little girl scrambled away from them. Like, they waited respectfully for her to finish her business even though that was totally their turf. So sweet. And, he says if all of humanity started behaving like the average American, we would need 4 earths to sustain that behavior. Ugh, truth hurts. 

 

George Monbiot – “Re-Wild the World

See for yourself.

 

Corneille Ewango – “Hero of the Congo Forest

This guy’s grandfather was a poacher, so he grew up helping poach endangered species. Now he works to combat poaching. He also mentions that a lot of materials we use, we don’t realize have a bad effect on the environment. Like, materials in our cell phones F up the congo. Humans are the worst how did we get to this point

 

Damien Mander – “Modern Warrior

Far and away the most quotable of all these talks. Also, this guy has “Search & Destroy” tattooed across his chest. He begins the talk powerfully, saying about animals, “Their suffering is my grief.” He also talks about humans suffering from speciesism and Peter Singer’s equal consideration of interests, which I got really into in law school. This guy is a super bad ass.

Damien Mander – “From Sniper to Rhino Conservationist

Starts off with a story of a baby rhino named Piglet CAN YOU EVEN

 

Geraldine Morelli – “Wildlife Conservation and the Art of Letting Go

In a brilliant French accent, she talks about two ways to love animals. The first type is really a fascination with animals where we put our interests first, and the second is wanting what is best for the animals. Take one guess which one is better for the animals. While working with monkeys she befriended one named Gizmo, and talked about having to “let go” when Gizmo was being assimilated back into the wild. And, I agree with her observation that now, we don’t need to watch animals in captivity. We have webcams like the ones in Kruger National Park to watch animals in real time. There is literally no excuse anymore to keep large species in captivity. 

 

Ron Kagan – “Animal Welfare and the Future of Zoos

He was director of the Detroit Zoo when they gave up their elephants because they weren’t thriving there. It was a bold step at a time when elephants brought a lot of money to zoos. He talks about this at 14:55. 

Through an internship a few years back, I got to go to Detroit and tour the zoo with him after hours. I remember getting choked up seeing an alligator in a really small enclosure, and even more upset watching the polar bears crawl around in the summer heat. While I’m proud of the zoo for taking steps to educate people about animals and elephants in particular, I just can’t get over the rest of the species that remain in captivity, in enclosures too small and unnatural for them to thrive.  Blah.

 

Hope you enjoyed these!

An Angry Letter and A Positive Update

Dear Readers,

Thank you for visiting again after my prolonged absence.

Sh*t is hitting the fan these days, and I would be remiss not to put in my 2 cents. There are no cute drawings in this post because I don’t feel like it.

In a disgustingly anthropocentric move this week, President Trump and his cronies began the reversal of Obama’s ivory ban. Whatever bogus science Safari Club International claims supports this decision, the symbolism, much like in every other despicable decision this administration has made, outweighs any argument in support.

Mr. Trump, Safari Club and NRA lobbyists, and Fish/Wildlife Service puppets:

  1. This decision normalizes the vile pleasure trophy hunters experience from traveling across the world to kill an already endangered species. FOR A TROPHY. And, I don’t know what your definition of hunting is, but having a safari guide drop a hunter off at a sleeping elephant or an elephant that will stand its ground to protect its herd so the hunter can shoot it is not hunting. It is murder. It is deplorable and heart-breaking.
  2. Have you seen a dead elephant, or do your sons just saw off the tail and tusks and carry on before the rest of the terrified herd returns? Do your sons get back on their private jet while the rest of the elephant herd mourns, in human fashion, the loss of the one your sons just murdered? Do your sons boast about their “kill” while the dead elephant’s insides slowly decompose, causing the skin of the elephant to look like used tissue paper, crinkled and thin, while its majestic soul seeps out of its deflated body. How does the evil of this, or of the murders of lions and rhinos, how does this not weigh on you? Where is your humanity? Did it get locked in a bank vault? Did you lose it in a bankruptcy proceeding? Maybe you were born without it.
  3. Where is your common sense? There is no room for “well-regulated” trophy hunting (it burns my fingers to even type this) when 100 elephants are being poached every day. How does hunting. an. ENDANGERED. SPECIES. HELP? How? Elephants are literally disappearing. And reversing a symbolic and effective ban on the body parts ripped from murdered elephants just so Trump’s sons can continue with their awful, bloody hobby – it is just shockingly brazen to me. I just can’t understand. I can’t. Safari Club’s cited experts are wrong, for a lot of reasons. The lies are so obvious, it’s unbelievable. 
  4. What a legacy you are leaving, Mr. Trump. The White House, with its complicated yet sacred history, is a zoo now. Filled with your incompetent loyalists angling for a tiny bit of power or 15 minutes of fame. What a legacy. Despite a business with locations all over the globe, you are appallingly out of touch with reality. And, despite having brokered a few deals since your messy regime came to power, you’ve done nothing good. You are not improving our lives. You are embarrassing. You’re racist and narcissistic. The half of America that voted for you, deserves you. Because you’ve always been that way. But elephants? Please, please leave them out of your path of destruction. Elephants are good. Elephants are one of the only reliably beautiful parts of nature left. Despite hardships caused by climate change, that myth you continue to try to dispel, elephants haven’t resorted to dirty tactics to save themselves. They are hoping, maybe, humans will come to their senses and save them, or at least stop murdering them.
  5. You are doing this so a couple of wealthy hunters can bring back an elephant tusk to the U.S. From two countries. You really think hunters will limit themselves to those two countries? No. Trophy hunters are no better than poachers. Anyone who would murder an elephant is obviously not keen on showing the slightest bit of human decency, so why would they follow your rules? Money and lordship over the animals is what drives them, and you.
  6. You are breaking the hearts of the millions of people who work, everyday, for modest pay (usually no pay, actually), to improve the lives of animals. We want nothing in return except for healthy populations of endangered species. No fame, no money, no power. But you, that’s what drives you. And you are killing everything good on this planet for a deal, for a dollar, for power. What a monster.
  7. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke is a disgrace, too. The world is falling to pieces and he’s installing hunting arcade games in the Department of the Interior. He’s also a scam artist but, taken in the context of the rest of Trump’s cabinet, that’s not really news.  
  8. The worst part is, this will never stop. You, Mr. Trump, are old, ill-informed, and unfortunately set in your ways. I expect nothing less from you than ugly, money-driven transactions, at the expense of good people, defenseless animals, and the environment.

 

This stinks. So, let’s talk, instead, about people that actually care what happens to the rest of the world, and not our humiliating monkey of a president. Wait, monkey is too generous. I am truly horrified, but moving on.

Steven Wise heads up the Non-human Rights Project, which files suits on behalf of non-human animals (originally primates) to free them from captivity or otherwise fight for body liberty, or rights on the personhood spectrum. Recently (and as suggested in my paper, hehe), this group of animals grew to include elephants. This week, perhaps serendipitously in contrast to the horror of a reversed ivory ban, the NhRP filed suit in Connecticut on behalf of three elephants living in a ramshackle zoo up there. Apparently the zoo has repeatedly failed inspections, and what the hell is an elephant doing in Connecticut, anyway?

Minnie, Beulah, and Karen were all born in the wild. Now, they give back rides to nasty little kids and they have untreated sores on their feet. Their zoo has, 50 times, proven to be an inadequate home for them. Yet, here they are. Because the zoo wants to make money. Any person with a sliver of sense would see the elephants belong in a sanctuary, but in the spirit of the times most of the people involved continue to be disappointing and worthless. Hopefully Mr. Wise’s arguments are strong enough to convince a judge in Connecticut that the way we view wildlife is messed up. Fingers crossed for this trio, because it will set a ground-breaking precedent to grant them the relief NhRP is seeking on their behalf.

 

Finally, a few nights ago I attended a talk by Pat Awori at IFAW’s D.C. office. Ms. Awori grew up in  Kenya and is now a career conservationist there. It was interesting to get the perspective of someone native to the area. She spoke about confusion over land-use and the need for economic investment to spur conservation efforts within the Maasai community. She was engaging and honest. And her life’s work is being slapped in the face by rich white men and their children. I. Literally. Can. Not.

 

Sign the petitions below and be on the lookout for the public comment period regarding the regulatory change. It should be opening soon.

 

Petition Site

White House Petition

Change.org

Another Change.org

 

Sweet dreams everyone except the entire administration, Safari Club International, and the NRA. You guys suck.

 

Laws Affecting Elephant Conservation Part 3 of 3: State Law

Hello! Welcome to Overview of Current Laws that Affect Elephants Part III of III: State Laws. 

Revisit Part 1

Revisit Part 2

I really can’t with state and local law but here we go.

 

First, Animal Legal Defense Fund puts out a report ranking states in terms of their animal protection laws. Understandably, these laws are geared more toward small animal (pet) welfare. It is pretty insightful – a lot of the laws you probably wouldn’t even think about. Some states provide mental health evaluations for animal abusers. That’s pretty cool!

 

The top five states were

  1. Illinois
  2. Oregon
  3. Maine
  4. California
  5. Rhode Island

 

The bottom five states were

  1. North Dakota
  2. Utah
  3. Wyoming
  4. Iowa
  5. Kentucky

 

So…… okay.

 

Every state has some animal protection law. States regulate abuse of pets, sometimes abuse of farm animals, and exotic pets. This is because exotic pets (think: crazy birds, tigers, and monkeys) are dangerous, and often people that buy these animals don’t know what the heck they are doing. Also, a lot of states have wildlife native to the state, so they have to regulate that, too. Elephants don’t fall into any one of these categories – no one wants a pet elephant, no one farms elephants, and elephants aren’t native to any part of the US. They are only here as part of a zoo, sanctuary, circus, or in ivory form.

 

lolelephantquote

 

It’s rare to come across specific protections for elephants. Some states have taken the step to ban the ivory trade within the state, making exceptions for super old items, items with very little ivory in them, musical instruments with little ivory, and inherited items. Anyway, here are some laws I’ve come across that pertain to elephants.

 

 

Alabama: ?

  • You can’t game-hunt an elephant in Alabama, so don’t even try.

 

Alaska: N/A

  • You need a separate permit to exhibit an elephant, which in turn requires three things: (1) intent to exhibit the elephant commercially; (2) facilities to maintain elephant under “positive control” and “humane conditions;” and (3) insurance. I don’t think this is a big issue in Alaska. They are more worried about mammoth ivory, which experts say is very distinguishable from elephant ivory. #SavetheWoollyMammoth

 

California: Super Yay

  • First, California is pretty progressive when it comes to animal welfare. Well, activism in general (hippies!).
  • California banned ivory sales in 2015. This action closed the loopholes in an ivory ban that was already in place in the state. 
  • Second, it makes abusing an elephant its own misdemeanor. That’s pretty specific. 
  • Banned the use of bullhooks and other “training” devices on elephants. 

 

Florida: Boo

  • Florida has a specific statute for elephant ownership and care. Pro: it prohibits keeping an elephant as a pet. That’s good? Con: It allows for elephant rides, mobile elephant exhibits, and other sad things. Furthermore, any elephant taking part in this nonsense has to be “tethered,” i.e. chained, or enclosed by an electric fence when not being exploited.
  • Plus, the caging requirements made a stupid exception to the required “daily untethered movement,” saying the elephant can be tethered at all times for “security or breeding purposes.” That’s a really broad exception. Only after 14 straight days does the captor have to get a veterinarian’s note. Ridiculous. I can’t talk about Florida anymore.

 

Hawaii: Yay

  • Bans the sale of ivory 

 

Indiana: ?

  • Indiana mentions elephants in their Wildlife Protection Act, but I can’t really tell what’s going on. Elephants are mentioned only in the trophy hunting sections, but not as the subject of the hunting. 
  • I also don’t know about this ranch – what is going on in Indiana?
  • I honestly don’t understand. Someone help.

 

lol obama

 

  • petition to build a wall around indiana

 

New Jersey: Yay

  • Bans the sell of ivory 

 

New York: Yay!

  • New York has already banned ivory, and recently banned the use of elephants in “entertainment,” i.e. circuses and carnivals. Way to go NY, I loved you anyway. 

 

Ohio: Boo

  • Specifically allows for circuses and elephant back rides at the circuses as an exception to its “dangerous animal ban,” which would usually include elephants. Mmm.

 

Oregon: Yay

  • Bans the sale of ivory with a few exceptions. 

 

Rhode Island: Yay?

  • Banned the use of the bullhook and other weapons against elephants, including baseball bats. BASEBALL BATS. On an animal. Is everyone crazy? 

 

Tennessee: Let’s do more, TN!

  • Trained elephants can have contact with the public, and can be “tethered,” while other Class I species cannot. I don’t know. Maybe this is for the benefit of the Elephant Sanctuary in TN. 
  • Please don’t tether the elephants, everyone. Leave them alone.

 

Texas: ?

  • In Texas, if your elephant wanders off your property, your neighbors and/or the local police have to try to locate you. What in tarnation –
  • But this Dallas-based company exists that lets the public rent elephants for events in Texas. They also offer dwarf actors and “living tables,” and we’ll see if they respond to my email asking for information on how the elephants are taken care of.   This doesn’t have anything to do with Texas law…… YET.

 

Vermont: Almost!

  • An ivory ban didn’t quite make it, despite the awesome efforts of Ivory Free Vermont. In this interview, a representative of Ivory Free Vermont references Lawrence Anthony’s herd mourning his death.
  • Critics said the ban would only be a “drop in the bucket” in the ivory market since the real demand comes from China. Drops are how buckets get filled up! That’s how water works, people… I officially can’t with Vermont.

 

Washington: Yay

  • Total ivory ban, unless the ivory is proven to be at least 100 years old, or the item is less than 15% ivory. The “Save Animals Facing Extinction” Act also protects other species. This initiative got a LOT of support. 

 

That’s all I have for state law. Moving forward, I’ll be writing more about elephant traits, symbolism, and the philosophy behind conserving the species… with a little law sprinkled in, of course. Stay tuned and thank you for your support!

Elephants & the Law is re-branding – and a fun new word.

We are now The Elephant Advocate!

 

“Elephants & the Law,” while a great name, is a little bit limiting. There are some issues I’d like to write about that don’t fit into the “& the Law” description. “The Advocate” is already taken, so “Elephant Advocate” it is.

 

As always, I double-checked the definition of “advocate” before committing, because, you just never know. One of the “slang” synonyms of advocate is “libber.” A “libber” calls for the liberation of people or animals. I suppose it’s short for liberationist – Is liberationist a word? Google says yes. I toyed with the idea of re-branding to “the Libber,” but I don’t think I fit that description, and also the word sounds like “liver.”

 

libber.png

 

I have some interesting stuff coming for you guys soon. Thanks for your patience while we figure out what this blog should look like.

 

For now, here is an interesting article outlining what happens with dollars given to elephant charities. Educate yourselves!

 

Happy Thursday!

 

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

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?”

 

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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

 

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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!

 

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

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