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.

And thwack-thwack-thwack, 
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.


  1. We are NOT well, definitely not! and why cull an already dwindling herd? I'm feeling gashed and wounded and heartbroken after your poem.

  2. I think the animals have been telling us "we are not well", for a long time now. Why don't we listen?


  3. How sad to see those lovely creatures being killed ~ Indeed we are not well if the other creatures in this planet are not well too ~ Thanks for sharing this meaningful post Sherry ~

  4. if this is not Hell what is?...so heartbreaking....

  5. It is the human over population that desperately needs culling

    1. Starting with the ones who murdered the elephants

  6. "I am well if you are well, so we are well." These words say so much about the horror being done to elephants and other wild creatures, but also about the way in which humanity has been approaching the world... and itself.

  7. Sometimes I'm ashamed to be human.

  8. This is truly heartbreaking. Thanks Sherry for your poetic exposé

    Much love...

  9. ah. too many bipeds with steel wings.

    we will be brought down by the small (anti-biotics are essentially useless now), but not before we've taken out the other large beings.

    I can't say we don't deserve the same indiscriminate culling. ~


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