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Competition vs. Collaboration (Hint: One of these things will kill us)

Are you a winner?

MandaLao Elephant Rescue (Photo. D. Rutter)

In Western culture, particularly here in the US, we are raised from a very early age, to view competition as the ultimate human endeavor. Our entire society, economy, most of our emotional relationships (if we care to admit it) are riddled with or even based on the idea that in order to accomplish anything we need to compete for it and win it.

Think about it: from spelling bees in grade school and a place on the winning softball team, to vying for career advancement and seducing customers in a crowded market space. Visit a singles club on any given night and you’ll see big time competition in action in the arena of love and relationships.

Animal rescue is hardly immune from this omnipresent desire to compete. Years ago, when I had a lot less wrinkles, and my drive to rescue animals was in it’s infancy, I made a valiant attempt to volunteer with several kitten rescues in my home town. I had assumed, in my naiveté, that different groups of people, all with one goal in mind (to rescue kittens) would all be working together to achieve the same objective. Boy was I in for a rude awakening. Not only did disparate groups not have any desire to work with the other groups but they sure has heck didn’t want volunteers coming over to their rescue from another, (obviously lesser) rescue. Heaven forbid Kitten Rescue A would attract donors and siphon donations away from Kitten Rescue B.

Elephant rescue too has its share of competition. In places like India having a temple elephant chained at your temple can be an economic advantage, likewise European zoos, and renaissance fairs in the US tout their elephants to attract customers in a massive and inhumane game of, you guessed it, competition.

In the wild, as resources grow more and more scarce, elephants (and all wildlife) are increasingly engaged in a life or death competition with humans for resources, from land to water, and it’s only going to get worse as we continue to encroach on their space.

So. Much. Competition! OUCH~

We are so used to being inundated with the constant fervor of competition that when we see something or someone that steps out of the game it can, quite literally, rock our world!

Recently, Arte for Elephants was fortunate to attend “The Gray Event”, a fund raising gala for Elephant Nature Park, and it’s founder, Lek Chailert.

This event was filled by a veritable who's who of “elephant luminaries”. Scott Blais from Global Sanctuary, Philip Price from Saving Ganesh, Ed Stewart from PAWS, acclaimed Elephant Artist and Filmmaker, Matt Shapira (Roaming Elephant). Not to mention the guest of honor, Lek Chailert whose “lifting the veil of secrecy off of elephant training “has rocked the entire tourism world to it’s core, and many more!

Lek Chailert is one of the most recognizable individuals working in elephant rescue anywhere on earth. From humble beginnings Lek has nurtured and spread the formerly radical idea of humane elephant tourism into a thriving new paradigm for former working elephants of Thailand. It certainly hasn’t been easy. She’s dealt with, hostility and outright threats from neighboring riding camps, worried, that exposing the horrible truth will cut into the number of tourists willing to pay to ride an elephant that’s been beaten to within an inch of it’s life.

You’d think, what with all of these super rich donors, accolades and attention, Lek would use the an event like The Gray Event, to lock down contributions, present why her sanctuary, Elephant Nature Park, is the one to back, and "thank you very much for the checks".

Imagine then, how amazing and how wonderful it was that instead of doing that, Lek made it her personal mission to call attention to OTHER sanctuaries! Lek made a point of promoting Global Sanctuary for Elephants! She’s also been more than generous in posting online articles on Elephant Haven (EHEES) to her many thousands of avid followers.

By highlighting newer and different sanctuaries around the world, Lek may as well be waving a big neon sign that says "It's all about THE ELEPHANTS"!

That, my friends, is collaboration in action.

Imagine just for a moment, how much more we could accomplish if we sought to raise each other up, rather than tear each other down.

I firmly believe that the future of this planet and all of it’s lovely creatures, absolutely depends upon us rethinking this whole, competition model and evolving to a place of working together to find strong solutions to an increasing list of global nightmares.

The hour is late, brothers and sisters. It’s time to roll up our sleeves and get to work.


Arte for Elephants was founded in 2015 by artists Thyra and David Rutter as a way to generate funds for captive elephant rescue through the sale of art. Check out our Etsy shop to find out more!

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