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By T. Rutter (photo courtesy PROTECT ALL WILDLIFE)

The international wildlife community is reeling this week as news spread that one of the last remaining giant “tuskers” (elephants whose massive tusks reach the ground) named Tolstoy has died. These once plentiful masters of the African savannah have been nearly driven to extinction from thousands to less than 25.

Along with a collective sigh of profound grief, a groundswell of seething, blistering, righteous anger burst forth from nearly everyone with a keyboard.

“I hope the #%*** who did this dies a painful death!” One outraged elephant lover typed (in all caps, no less).

When news came out later that Tolstoy succumbed to an infection brought about a spear wound most likely delivered by an outraged local farmer the vitriol ratcheted up times 11.

“F**king farmers!” “Hang the ***!”

I could go on, but you get the picture, the world, in short, is pissed.

But before we dust off our pitchforks, can we all just slow the heck down and think about this.

While I don’t know the particulars of who specifically speared beloved Tolstoy, I do know a thing or two about human wildlife conflict.

Imagine, just for a minute, you are a subsistence level farmer working a small plot of land in drought ravaged Kenya. Imagine you have a family, with children, livestock, a spouse. Envision what it would be like to spend a year of your life, carting water from a communal well, sometimes over five miles, to water your small plot of farmland in order to keep your family alive. Backbreaking work in the scorching equatorial sun day in and day out, no government assistance, no unemployment, no nothing, but the food you can grow with your own two hands.

How would you feel having your entire years’ worth of crops destroyed by a rampaging elephant in 20 minutes flat? We aren’t talking a little inconvenience here, we are talking a situation that could lead, literally, to death and starvation of you and your children.

How would you feel?

Take a minute to consider that the human population, slated to reach 8 billion by 2023. More people take more resources, more water and more land, it doesn’t take a math genius to see that we are headed for disaster.

We are left to consider how, exactly do we spend this overwhelming anger at the death of a rare and precious elephant.

I offer to you that we should take that anger, direct it to the fossil fuel industry, unbridled corporate greed and corrupt governments that are driving us into an unspeakable future of climate change and global wealth disparity that grows larger by the hour. Let’s not direct our hate to the poor farmer whose horrible act was the result of an unsustainable system where wealth accumulation is the only value worth achieving.

We, as individuals can only do so much, we can drive that hybrid car, support reforestation, but until we knock down the system of greed and learn to love and support the world’s poorest humans, our efforts will always fall short.

I, for one am not ready to roll over just yet, we may be headed for a revolution, but as always, the most meaningful first step an individual can make is one of compassion.

T. Rutter is Artist and Co Founder of Arte for Elephants and AFE Adventures, an art and travel business that raises funds to support community based conservation, girls education, and humane elephant sanctuaries through the sale of arts and travel. To date $70,000 has been raised.


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