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Today in My History

2000:  I'm Mad
2001:  Back in the Groove
2002:  Molly
2003:  After I Leave...
2004:  Family Ties
2005:  Day of Rest
I Can't Believe I Ate the Whole Thing
2007: Auto Text and Macros
2008:  Stop the Slaughter
2009:  The Family Vacation
2010:  Sunday Stealing
Another Day, Another Flight

Bitter Hack
Updated: 5/18

Books Read in 2012
 Updated: 5/22
"The Elephant Whisperer"

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Santa Barbara, April 2012


Wrinkled, old and wise
O, ponderous pachyderm
Won’t you be my friend?


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mail to Walt


23 May 2012

About a year ago, I wrote about my love of elephants.  The entry was prompted by seeing Like Water for Elephants and falling in love with its star, Rosie.  I am "into" elephants again, with the book I just finished, and am inspired once again to talk about the ponderous pachyderms.

I may have seen elephants in zoos as a small child, but the first interaction up close and personal with an elephant that I remember was at the circus.   Circuses were held at the Cow Palace in San Francisco and before or after the show, you could walk "backstage" to see the animals.  I remember that I had a bag of peanuts and was able to feed the elephant peanuts...and when the peanuts were gone, I fed the elephant the bag (which she also ate with delight). 

My second close interaction with elephants is the subject of the Video of the Day (which is a video taken of a screen showing a home movie--the sound is of all of us watching the movie).  It was August of 1968, when Ned was about a year old, and the circus was coming to Oakland.  Char and I decided to take the kids down to the train and watch the animals being unloaded, which was great fun.  Then we put the kids in the cars and drove to the Oakland Colisseum to watch the animal parade arrive there.  Char and I found a good spot to stand with all the kids and watch the parading animals arrive.  Too late we realized that all that was separating us from the Big Cats (in cages) was a thin tent wall.  We would have moved, but it was too late.  The elephants were coming straight for us.  They passed within a couple of feet of us and as one passed by, her handler warned us "watch out--she kicks." 

It was an early adventure in a lifetime of adventures with Charlotte!   And it was Ned's first time on TV, as the local news filmed him riding in the backpack while the animals were coming off the train.

I've always been fascinated by elephants, moreso the more I learn about them.  From National Geographic specials, I learned about elephant societies and from those movies and tons of movies on You Tube, I've seen how the elephant families work together, play together, solve problems together, and grieve together.

(Parenthetically, I think back to my days in school, where I was taught that what separated humans from animals was our ability to think rationally and to use tools.  Later observation of so many species of animals shows how wrong, and downright egotistical, that is!  In many cases, the animals are smarter than we are!)

It would be decades before I understood the plight of elephants in circuses and zoos, to learn about the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee and begin to follow their stories, send a donation when I could, and to root for animals that the group was working so hard to rescue from unspeakable conditions so they could live out their lives in peace and comfort.

It was through one of the nature specials that I learned about the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Kenya, which rescues orphaned elephants and raises them to be introduced back into the wild.  I have just started reading the autobiography of Daphne Sheldrick, who founded the foundation many years ago and who still, at age 78, runs the place. Peggy visited there several years ago (outsiders are permitted to see the babies for one hour a day...check this cute video I found) and Walt's sister and her husband were there last year, when helping to inaugurate a new well for a village in Kenya.  I know I will never get there now, but it had long been my dream to go.

While reading Sheldrick's book, I came across another one which sounded interesting, "The Elephant Whisperer," by Lawrence Anthony.   Anthony owns a game preserve in central Zululand, in South Africa.  He was just developing it when someone made him an offer he couldn't refuse:  9 rogue elephants that he could either have for free or that would be killed because nobody else wanted them.  Against his better judgement, he agreed to take them, and thus starts the story of his struggles with them, his becoming accepted by the herd as an OK guy to have around, if at a safe distance, the trumphs and tragedies that take place over many years, and mostly just learning more about these magnificent animals and other animals in the reserve as well).

This book read more gripping than a novel.  When I woke up at 4 a.m., unable to sleep, I thought I would read for a bit and next thing I knew I was finishing the book at 8 a.m. (so asI write this I am a bit groggy!)

Anthony's passion for saving the elephants--and all the animals on his reserve--speaks loudly through every chapter.  He explores their ability to communicate through rumblings in their stomachs at frequencies below human hearing, which can be detected by herds many miles apart.  He is so keen on keeping them wild animals, that all employees of the reserve were forbidden to make any direct contact with the herd and that he was the only one who was permitted to interact with them, his idea to bond with the matriarch, Nana, as a way of settling the herd in...and once that was done he, too, would leave them alone and reduce all communication.

Throughout the book there are instances that are amazing examples of elephant intelligence and understanding.  Nana saved Anthony's life at least twice.   When an elephant baby was born crippled and after many days watching the herd trying to get her to her feet, Anthony was able to communicate his desire to help and, with a bit of trickery, was able to take the baby to his home and get her medical attention.

I am fascinated by animal communication and the more I read books like this, the more I realize how very little we know about the world around us. 

Read this passage about plant life, for example...

Here in this ancient woodland, the acacia tree not only understands it's under attack when browsed by an antelope or giraffe, it quickly injects tannin into its leaves, making them taste bitter.

Dumb plants indeed!

Every time I read a book like this, I look at the dogs and wonder what they think, what they understand, and why if a herd of elephants can learn how to interact with humans, a little Chihuahua can't to relieve herself outside...where nature intends for her to go!!!



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