Jumbo the Elephant

A recent blurb in The Telegraph features a review of a documentary:

One could easily have imagined Attenborough and the Giant Elephant (BBC One), the bittersweet tale of the world’s first animal superstar – Jumbo the elephant, London Zoo’s foremost attraction in Victorian times – filling a prime-time slot in the Christmas or Boxing Day schedules. But perhaps it was deemed too sad. Too liable to dial down Yuletide high spirits with its archaeological examination of unintentional animal cruelty and the appalling ignorance of generations past.

I had never heard of Jumbo, but his story is rather tragic.  He was a superstar attraction, the first time many had ever seen an elephant.  He was beloved by children on both sides of the Atlantic.  

However, he was severely mistreated.  He was forced to perform and did not receive proper medical care.  His keeper then gave him alcohol to depress his violent outbursts.  He ended up dying in a horrid fashion – being hit in a train crash.

The only comfort is that perhaps Jumbo planted the early seeds of animal rights in people’s minds.  Seeing a live elephant made some care more about their welfare, and zoos have made positive changes since that time.  Many circuses have gone out of business or have stopped using animals in their shows.





Giving Tuesday

After Black Friday and Cyber Monday, it’s nice to have a day dedicated to charitable giving.  Each year in November, I use the tip money I receive through my job to donate to a cause that is meaningful to me and receives good reviews.

This year I chose the Guide Dog Foundation and Vet Dogs.  It is located in my home state, and I have bought holiday cards from them in the past.  They have sent me a quarterly newsletter and I have been so impressed by their dedication to the animals and their human companions.

Video: VetDogs, youtube

Last year I gave to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and I continue to foster an elephant there.  It is an amazing organization in Kenya, dedicated to rescuing elephants (and rhinos and giraffes).

Video: DSWT, youtube


Mob burns elephants

Sanctuary Wildlife Photography judged five thousand entries this year, and the top prize went to Biplab Hazra’s heartbreaking image of elephants being hurt by an angry mob in India.  Entitled “Hell is Here”, one can see a mother and calf trying to flee as firecrackers and fires surround them and even light their feet and tails.  Their pain and fear is obvious, and the wicked delight of the human mob is frightening to witness.

The photographer described his image in his official contest entry:

[The] calf screams in confusion and fear as the fire licks at her feet. Flaming tar balls and crackers fly through the air to a soundtrack of human laughter and shouts. In the Bankura district of West Bengal this sort of humiliation of pachyderms is routine, as it is in the other elephant-range states of Assam, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Tamil Nadu and more.

According to the Washington Post, India has sixty percent of the world’s Asian elephant population.  Yet, we know India is also the second most populous country on Earth and very well may overtake China this century.  This means that land and resources are scarce, and elephant-human conflict continues to increase.   Add in the problem of climate change, and available resources become even more valuable.  There is no easy solution to the problem, but Hazra believes the government is not trying very hard to think of solutions.

From the Washington Post:

“The ignorance and bloodlust of mobs that attack herds for fun, is compounded by the plight of those that actually suffer damage to land, life and property by wandering elephants and the utter indifference of the central and state government to recognize the crisis that is at hand,” Hazra wrote.


President Trump removes ban on hunting trophy imports

In yet another sign that President Trump wants to undo everything the Obama administration accomplished, he is removing protections for elephants.  His son Donald Jr. was also infamously photographed hunting elephants, so this may also be yet another desire to benefit his own family.  From the Washington Post:

The Trump administration announced Wednesday that the remains of elephants legally hunted in Zimbabwe and Zambia can now be imported to the United States as trophies, reversing a ban under former president Barack Obama.

African elephants are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has determined that large sums paid for permits to hunt the animals could actually help them “by putting much-needed revenue back into conservation,” according to an agency statement.

This claim that the money goes back to conservation is wrong.  The US has allowed other African countries like South Africa to send hunting trophies to the States because they have been able to prove that the money earned is spent wisely and not used to line corrupt officials’ pockets.  Zimbabwe and Zambia have not provided the necessary proof.  In fact, you only need to read about Zimbabwe’s current political crisis to know that corruption is a major and long standing problem there.  The idea that such a government would put the revenue from hunting trophies into conservation is laughable.  Not surpringly, Zimbabwe and Zambia have seen some of the greatest declines in elephant populations in Africa due to poaching, over-hunting, and environmental destruction.  In addition, Zimbabwe has sold elephants to places like China, hoping to raise quick cash without thinking about the long term ramifications of selling its natural wildlife and resources.  From Al-Jazeera:

Maternity leave for elephants?

Laos’ elephant population has decreased fifty percent in thirty years.  A newly published study by the French Beauval Nature Association for Conservation and Research says the elephant population is dependent on the socio-economic practices of Laos.  If current trends continue, there will be no elephants in Laos by the end of the century.

Currently, most elephants in Laos are used for labor in the timber industry and the tourist industry.  Since elephants have a long gestation period and wean their young for two years, owners have not planned well for reproduction, citing short term economic concerns of lost work time.  Therefore, elephant owners either do not devote time to reproduction or they send a mother back to work too soon, jeapordizing both her and the baby’s health.

This has greatly contributed to loss of population.  In addition, since most of Laos’ elephants are now in captivity, the gene pool is getting smaller.  Certain males and females are chosen for breeding, disrupting natural selection.

The study shows the long term economic benefits of allowing elephants extended maternity leave from work.  It also encourages breeders to allow wild elephants to mate with captive ones, thus expanding the gene pool.

A suggestion by some researchers is for the government or corporations to compensate owners for elephant maternity leave.  This would allow the owners to treat elephants better without fearing loss of vital income for their family.   Along with conservation (halting the destruction of habitat), smart breeding practices and elephant maternity leave will help stabilize (or even increase) the elephant population in Laos.








Autumn in NY

The mid-Atlantic and Northeast are rightfully famous for their autumn colors.  Tour busses regularly go along our highways in October bringing “leaf peepers” with their cameras.  They visit the state parks, but miss out on the quiet local parks.

At the start of the month, before you go leaf peeping, get a pumpkin!


IMG_6385Even the tiny park by my house begins to lay out a welcome carpet of royal gold and red in mid-October.


The Erie Canal becomes a quiet place after the busy summer, but if you bring a warm hat and gloves, you can still enjoy taking to the water.


Hiking paths can be empty in the local parks, as people rush to the more famous sites to see the colors.

IMG_6386By the end of October, the bright reds hint the brief season is quickly coming to an end.


Until next year!


(photos are my own)



Fashion and human rights

In the last post, I used H&M as an example of a company that promotes itself as ethical but upon careful research, one finds that is not the case.  Working conditions are dangerous and children work long, tedious hours, missing out on an education.

So, what can you do?

Yes, you can raise awareness and you can write to the companies.  That certainly will not make matters worse, and may even help.

But, you can also get creative and find fashionable finds at consignment stores.  You can buy new items at ethical operations, such as novica.com,where you “meet” the artisan who makes your dress, sweater, skirt, shirt, jewelry,etc.  Novica is part of National Geographic, and has some really fascinating pieces.

You can go online to esty, and find unique jewelry and support the artisan.

You can check out yooxygen, a sustainable/ethical fashion project of designer seller Yoox.  https://www.yoox.com/us/project/yooxygen

You can invest in the mutual funds that are socially responsible (SRIs).  Wikipedia explains “Socially responsible investing (SRI), or social investment, also known as sustainable, socially conscious, ‘green’ or ethical investing, is any investment strategy which seeks to consider both financial return and social good to bring about a social change.”

You can trade clothes with friends.

You can learn to sew if you’re really ambitious and creative.

You can support women’s rights and education through sponsoring a child, donating money to groups like Camfed, or raising awareness.

You can donate your old but useable clothes to local community organizations like Volunteers of America, Vietnam Veterans of America, Goodwill, etc.

You can donate your old and unusable clothes to places like animal shelters which often use it for bedding.

After all, waste is a huge problem in fashion.  According to The Fashion Law, a Danish news program discovered:

According to TV2, which began investigating H&M in June, KARA/NOVEREN a waste disposal company in Denmark has incinerated over 60 tons of new, unworn apparel from H&M since 2013. These hundreds of thousands of garments consist of reusable/recyclable materials.

So, let us try to play a small but important part in combatting the wasteful, exploitative, and cruel aspects of fashion.