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Saving the "Ice Elephants"

Climate is on the mind of everyone these days, as we humans struggle to survive and thrive in savagely changing weather patterns. From the lung freezing cold of North America to the animal melting heat of Australia, climate change is upon us and we need to react, rapidly and decisively to address it.

All these wild climatic swings and catastrophes got me thinking, naturally, about wild animals, their environment and adaptation.

Every species- tiny plants and insects, apex predators and humans, is a masterwork of adaptation. Just look at camels, and succulents, succeeding in their arid environments, or species that thrive in the deepest regions of the sea without sunlight or oxygen. So many wild and wonderful creatures and plants have evolved over eons to not only survive in extreme environments, but to succeed and reproduce!

This of course, includes the largest of nature’s land-based masterpieces, the elephant.

Wild Elephant in Uganda (Photo D. Rutter Arte for Elephants)

Elephants, around the world have developed amazing ways of coping within their unique ecosystems. African elephants can feel and “read” vibrations through their feet, they understand and communicate complex water finding migration routes to their families. On the other side of the world, pygmy elephants in the jungles of Indonesia have grown smaller, thrive in rainforests and have a language so complex it gives us humans a run for our money.

But what happens to all of this sublimely crafted adaptation, when elephants are plucked from their natural environment, carted off to zoos or circuses around the world and expected to exist in an environment as strange as if you or I were snatched up by space aliens? What happens then?

Lucy in her barn- (photo courtesy of LEAP)

From Western circuses to Chinese zoos- elephants are trapped, living the most unnatural lives imaginable. Take Poor Lucy, Edmonton’s lone Asian elephant- routinely bullhooked into a garage sized barn for months on end while the Edmonton snow piles up and the wind chill dips to double digits below freezing.

How about Billy, the solitary Asian Bull elephant at the Los Angeles zoo? Here is a magnificent species born to enjoy a complex, challenging life, to roam over miles of jungle, to spend a huge percentage of his time browsing on plants and trees (most of the foliage in Billy’s enclosure, court records show, is hot wired, one touch and he is zapped!).

Billy at the LA Zoo (photo courtesy Elephant Guardians of Los Angeles)

Can we begin imagine how horrible life is for these elephants?

Fortunately, and not a moment too soon, the world is waking up to the travesty of taking these fantastic, intelligent animals, out of their natural environments and sticking them into displays for our enjoyment. More and more tourists are questioning the notion that lives of animals need to be sacrificed at the alters of our “education/entertainment/economy”.

The more we humans, make ethical choices (visiting a local park rather than a zoo or circus) the more we can honor and understand just how lucky we are to share this wild world with these precious beings.

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