Tuesday, December 15, 2015
We Are Not Well
In the Sangwa, the elephant family
moves serenely across the floodplains,
rumbling contentedly to each other,
grazing overhanging branches,
stopping occasionally to reach their trunks
into wells they've dug to access the water there.
Suddenly, they all turn,
trunks raised high like periscopes, sniffing danger.
As the thwack-thwack-thwack of the helicopter
clears the nearby ridge,
the big grey beasts begin to run and scream in fear.
The shots ring out.
It is a government sponsored cull,
warfare on elephant families,
large and small mothers, grandmothers, babies
running, falling, dying in great pain,
lifeblood seeping into the hot sand.
the noisy machine lifts up and away,
work done for the day, ledgers ticked off,
numbers counted and recorded:
Say the names: Jabula. Miss Piggy.
Friday. Mufambo. 250 beings in all.
a "necessary cull" for some misguided reason,
by those who don't allow themselves
to think or feel the genocide.
Those who do not stand
and watch the traumatized survivors,
standing over the bodies of their slain family,
trunks whiffing in distress over
the eyes, the ears, the orifices,
trying to sniff if any life is left.
Who do not return to watch them
standing for days over the bodies, mourning.
Who do not see them finally walking away,
with the shooting etched forever in their memories,
stark and bloody as any mass shooting always is,
to be as grievously mourned.
In Shona, there is a ritual greeting, when you meet:
"How are you?"
"I am well."
"I am well if you are well, so we are well."
Things are not well in the land of dying elephants,
so we are not well.
I just finished reading Katy Payne's Silent Thunder: In the Presence of Elephants, about her years of research, tracking and coming to know well groups of elephants in the Shona. Katy was studying their infrasonic communication over distances. In this book, the reader comes to know the elephants well, along with Katy, so when a bureaucracy-ordered culling occurs, "to protect habitat", towards the end of the book, it is almost as devastating to the reader as it was to the writer.
Katy discusses how, due to poaching, the elephant population diminished from 1.3 million to 500,000, as of the writing of this book, back in 1998.
Wikipedia states there were between three and five million African elephants as recently as the 1930's and 1940's - the population was halved between 1980 and 1990, due to trophy hunting and poaching. It is now estimated to be somewhere between 400,000 and 600,000, but only 20% of elephant range is protected.
Central Africa lost 64% of its elephant population in just three years, 100,000 being lost to poaching between 2010 and 2012, according to a study reported by National Geographic, stating one in every twelve elephants was killed by poachers. The relentless poaching threatens the survival of elephants in Africa. Elephants are also endangered through habitat loss, having lost over 50% of their range.
A Great Elephant Census is currently underway to estimate population, but it is clear elephants are under threat of extinction. Thankfully, four countries - Botswana, Namibia, Gabon and Uganda, are acting as safe haven for elephants, according to the Great Elephant Census.
Because of a mix of human desperation, poverty and greed, elephants are as desperate these days as any other refugee, fleeing terror, seeking safety for their families.