Elephants in India: 3 easy tips for how we can help by Chelsea


Asian elephants greeting each other by inter-twining their trunks By jinterwas - [1], CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22849407 Asian elephants greeting each other by inter-twining their trunks, by jinterwas – [1], CC BY 2.0

It’s simple to be cynical. When I travel, it’s easy to regard those different from me derisively. When I point at others, as the old saw goes however, the majority of my fingers point back at me.Living in the prosperous United States as I do, it’s tempting to ignore how our politics hurt ourselves and other countries. If it was ever possible to do — now amid our police brutality of innocent people, during these perilous times of COVID19 — how can anyone overlook how intertwined and interdependent everyone everywhere is?

Blogging has gifted me the unexpected delight of a number of followers from India, a huge country I’ve yet to visit, but obviously multi-faceted and amazing in countless ways. For one thing, they’re home to the amazingly evolved creatures called elephants!

Globetrotter Chelsea, a native of Northern England, is based out of Barcelona, Spain. On Chelsea’s blog, along with epicurean insights, she offers her unique take on various lands. Here’s a slice of her visit to NW India and her insights about how we can all become part of the solution when it comes to helping animals. The main organization she discusses, Wildlife SOS, is an award-winning charity founded by and administered by Indians…

Blogger/traveler Chelsea was profoundly moved by her visit to India. Blogger/traveler Chelsea was profoundly moved by her visit to India.

Elephants in India: 3 simple ways to help by Chelsea

It was my love of nature and animals that led me to Wildlife SOS India. Today I’d like to tell you all about the encouraging work of this fantastic conservation non-profit, particularly with regard to elephants, how COVID-19 has affected wildlife, what you can do to help, including other organizations.

What’s Wildlife SOS?

It’s a conservation non-profit set up in 1995 to protect and conserve India’s natural heritage, forest, and biodiversity. It is currently one of the largest Wildlife Organisations in South Asia. Its main missions are:

  • Conservation and protection of wild populations and habitat.
  • Rescue of injured and displaced wildlife, and to look after the welfare of captive populations.
  • Research into better protecting and caring for wildlife.

WSOS leads a massive variety of projects: battling illegal animal trading and poaching, advocating for wildlife within the legal and legislative systems, mitigation of human-wildlife conflict, and organising awareness workshops, to name just a few.

And the projects are just as diverse as the huge variety of animals they rescue every year ranging from snakes illegally captured by snake ‘charmers’, peacocks poisoned by pesticide, sloth bears forced to ‘dance’ for entertainment, and elephants enduring a life of cruelty in the tourism industry.

Love elephants? Read on!

Although WSOS is internationally known for its pivotal role in eradicating the practice of dancing bears, they are becoming increasingly well-known for their rescue and rehabilitation of elephants.

Their Elephant Conservation and Care Centre was created in 2010 to rehabilitate severely abused and exploited elephants, and nowadays houses over 25, many of which were rescued from a lifetime in captivity where they were forced to beg on behalf of their abusive owners, work as temple elephants, perform in circuses and give rides to tourists, among countless other atrocities.

Elephants in captivity face a life of cruelty and abuse, starting with being poached from the wild as babies, isolated from other elephants, and beaten until they can be coerced to do anything. (Note from da-AL: the video link that follows is truly upsetting.) The taming’ method for an elephant usually goes like this: baby elephants are kept in a small cage similar to those used in intensive pig farming, and they are tied up with ropes so they can’t move. The elephant will then be subject to repeated beatings with nails, sticks, chains, and bullhooks. In a process lasting several weeks, the animal is starved of food and water while enduring sleep-deprivation, until they submit to their owners, who can then use them for financial gain.

This cruel practice is aptly called phajaan or “breaking of the spirit”.

All captive elephants will go through at least some form of this vicious ritual. Next time you see an elephant used to give rides or appearing in a film, the signs of abuse will be easy to spot. Shredded ears where they have been torn by bullhooks, nasty skin conditions, lacerations all over their body, and tears in their eyes are all indications of abuse. It’s simple really — no wild elephant would voluntarily paint pictures, perform in the circus or let people ride them.

Only a creature that has had its spirit crushed through abject torture would submit to such unnatural behaviour. While in Europe, you’d be hard-pressed to still find a circus with real elephants, it is estimated that there are approximately 2,700 captive elephants all around Asia that are still actively subjected to some form of exploitation.

Such abuse is particularly sad when we consider that elephants are among the most intelligent of all land mammals. Elephants exhibit renowned cognitive skills and share many behavioural traits with humans. These sensitive souls exhibit grief, altruism, compassion, cooperation, self-awareness and have excellent memories. They remember other elephants and humans they had met briefly decades previously, and they will certainly never forget the anguish they endured all their captive lives.

As visitors to the Agra Elephant Conservation and Care Centre, it was heartwarming to see elephants which had endured a lifetime of cruelty finally be able to spend their days in peace, enjoying long relaxing mud baths, receiving a nutritious diet and veterinary care, as well as enjoying a daily stroll in the open fields with their friends.

Some phony ‘sanctuaries’ are more like petting zoos and little other than dressed-up tourist traps where the mistreatment of animals is commonplace (here’s how to spot one). In total contrast, at Wildlife SOS’s rescue centre in Agra, only small groups of visitors are allowed to come on a prearranged visit, and no touching of or direct interaction with the elephants is permitted. Elephants are in no way made to perform for visitors, and riding is, of course, banned. Although these elephants would not be able to survive in the wild again following decades of captivity, they are well cared for and live as natural a life as possible in the centre.

Indian elephant bull in musth in Bandipur National Park , by Yathin S Krishnappa - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24916395 Indian elephant bull in musth in Bandipur National Park, by Yathin S Krishnappa – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

How to visit Wildlife SOS

I was deeply impacted by the life-changing work Wildlife SOS is carrying out and would wholeheartedly recommend that anyone visiting Agra should carve out a firm place in their itinerary to visit both WSOS centres in Agra to see the projects first-hand. We hired a driver and visited the Taj Mahal, the Agra Bear Rescue Facility and Elephant Conservation Centre all in one day, with time to get the 5pm train back to Delhi, so it’s definitely possible to have this eye-opening experience on a day trip!

For more information, check out Wildlife SOS’s website to find out more about how to visit the Elephant Conservation and Care Center. Make sure to get in touch in advance by sending an email to visit@wildlifesos.org to organise a customised visit. It’ll be the highlight of your trip to Agra!

Refuse to Ride Elephants sign by Chelsea. Photo by Chelsea.

How has COVID-19 affected Wildlife?

The current COVID-19 crisis is making its effects felt universally and is forcing us to reexamine our relationship with wildlife and nature.

Now confined to their homes, people are increasingly realising the benefits and importance of spending time in nature, notoriously polluted cities like New Delhi are enjoying some of their first blue-sky days in a long time, and wild animals have been venturing into urban city centres now devoid of the usual throngs of people and heaving traffic. Wild boars have even been spotted taking a stroll around the metropolis of Barcelona!

Another silver lining of the current pandemic is that it has shone the spotlight on the illegal global wildlife trade. There is more awareness than ever of the risks that exotic animal markets pose to human health and increasing pressure to close them down for good.

At the same time, wildlife tourism is being severely impacted by restricted international travel. On the one hand, this is good news – the lack of tourists will be a relief to elephants who are otherwise forced to give rides all day. On the other hand, rescue centres like Wildlife SOS will not be able to welcome visitors whose entrance fees go towards the animals’ upkeep.

Ultimately, whether it comes as a blessing or a curse, COVID-19 has come as a wake-up call, and one thing is certain: we need to seriously rethink how we treat the natural and animal world around us.

3 Easy Ways Everyone can help — Wildlife SOS and beyond… 

  1. Visit the WSOS site for everything from how to spread awareness, fundraise, volunteer, and sponsor an animal, to opportunities to assist children in Kalandar. In addition to learning more about their groundbreaking conservation work, visit their bear and elephant facilities in Agra, if you’re in Bangalore, South India.
  2. Here’s a WSOS link if you’d like to sign a petition to ban riding elephants, to ban the use of animals for medicine and food, this one to protect India’s wildlife from open wells, and this one to outlaw the use of elephants for tourists to ride.
  3. Donate elsewhere: every little helps, especially now during the COVID-19 crisis with food shortages looming.

My visit to the elephant centre left me emotional, and a lot of tears went into writing this article. The way humans treat their fellow living creatures is disheartening, to say the least. We call people ‘animals’ when they act aggressively, brutishly, and uncivilised, but really, animals don’t hold a candle to the depths of fiendishness us humans are capable of on a regular basis. In fact, it’s animals who time and time again surprise us with their altruism and affection towards humans. Here are examples of our wonderful dolphin friends!

But I’m also optimistic. Yes, there is still an enormous amount of needless animal cruelty going on today all over the world in the name of entertainment, medicine, food, or whatever other reason you can find a justification for, but there are also beacons of hope like Wildlife SOS.

As more people shun the use of animals for their own perceived gain, I like to think we can stride in the direction of a world with a little less suffering, and a lot more love and compassion.

Sending you sunshine and positivity, Chelsea!

Dear readers, please weigh in…  

COVID19 Gratitude?! Plus I’m working on my 1st podcast ever! by da-AL


Podcast photo of da-AL with K-D for Happiness Between Tails.
We’re hard at work on an upcoming podcast for you to enjoy!…

“Stay safe.” How many times a day do you hear that? During this COVID19 era, whether the conversation is for business or pleasure, the majority of mine end with someone telling me, “Stay safe.” Then I ask them to do the same.

Here in Los Angeles, weeks have turn into months. No complaints from me, proud of the liberal blueness of my state as I am. Assuming folks remind me to ‘stay safe’ at home with super-clean hands, for my part, I mean something different. Stay safe, dear reader — stay safely happy as well as healthy.

Now that we’re on the subject, how are you managing that? Me, I do my usual keeping busy. Let me preface that with: it’s easy for me. I am most definitely lucky, lucky, lucky. I’ve got food, shelter, and all my people are sound inside and out. That includes my four-legged furry little girl. And I live in an area where Spring has sprung amid a fabulously mild climate.

Recently I heard that sheltering has affected dogs (surely the menagerie of other beloved pets too) — in a good way! It turns out that at least one doggie needed vet-prescribed relaxation to recover from wagging their tail so much. Ah, the sheer bliss of having one’s person(s) home ‘round the clock, ‘round the week!

My heart goes out to everyone who struggles as a result of the pandemic. Thank you, all who are working away from home. You are my heroes.

But I feel guilty. You too? Because for as terrible as the situation is…

These are some of the gifts that I will miss when sheltering is over…

  1. I live within walking distance from a commuter airport, and my home has single-paned windows. Fewer flights mean I’ve been sleeping better and now I hear more birds in the daytime.
  2. Though I didn’t eat out much even before the sheltering, stocking up for two weeks at a time takes rethinking errands and cooking. That’s not so bad — I’m finding that shopping far less often leaves me more time to write, to walk, to do all kinds of things.
  3. Nature too is getting a ‘reboot.’ Fewer drivers result in cleaner air, more birds singing this spring-time, and less road-kill. It’s nice to look up to a night sky of more twinkling stars, fewer airplanes.
  4. It’s lovely to see neighbors I never knew. They ride their bikes past my window, their kids following like ducklings.
  5. More pets are out with their owners. On my strolls, dog in tow or not, it’s a relief to not worry about rush-hour traffic mowing us down.
  6. People are adopting more pets!
  7. My expenses are down. Since this started, I haven’t needed to put gas in my car.
  8. I have less laundry and buy fewer clothes I haven’t gotten my hair styled, and I definitely use fewer cosmetics.
  9. My rare drives are a breeze in the reduced traffic.
  10. Definitely, it would be great to see my friends and family in person soon. On the other hand, with all this extra time, we’re keeping in closer contact thanks to Zoom and FaceTiming. Moreover, visual visits require us to really pay attention to each other.
  11. When I had my annual physical, speaking with my doctor didn’t cost me a co-pay, as it was a phone visit.
  12. Without the commute to parties and my beloved yoga studio, I’m keeping fitter with fewer days of over-indulgence and the daily zoom workouts.
  13. My husband is whiling away his extra time by assuming much of the grocery shopping and cooking duties.
  14. For all anyone knows, I’ve got a mustache and mask-tan lines on face — but I won’t tell!

Apparently, I’m not the only one who feels this way. When I asked my Facebook friends, they had plenty they appreciated. I forgot to ask permission to name them, so I’ll paraphrase. Some are exercising to videos and glad for more time to cook, garden, create art, and to watch old and new favorite TV shows. Personally, I’m totally on the same page as the friend who’s binging on “Monk” shows. Even my local newspaper, The Long Beach Post News’ columnist Tim Grobaty, reports some good fallout from all the pollution slow-down.

Need some self-soothing boosts? Here are three f-r-e-e apps that help me — this one from Australia, this one through a company that also features free mind games, and this one that utilizes tapping.

People are grateful for…

  1. Time to enjoy flowers.
  2. Along a beach on Lake Huron, Canada, the sky is breathtaking… clean, clear days and inky nights with exuberant stars.
  3. I’m using less gas, and I love how gasoline prices have dropped.
  4. Less traffic is excellent for motorcycling.
  5. Now I have time to practice meditation.
  6. Now there are a lot of swans at my park.
  7. I’ve got more time to garden. The clean air and bright sun are lovely on my walks with my dogs.
  8. I’ve taught myself new line dances as I practice in my kitchen!
  9. As a baking enthusiast, I’m taking cakes to friends stuck at home.
  10. I don’t like that I still have to go to work, but it’s nice to see others spending more time with their children.
  11. This is giving everyone a chance to reevaluate their priorities.
  12. My cat has more time to sit on me.
  13. My blood pressure is way down.
  14. I’m feeling more relaxed and healthier than I have in years.

What’ll you miss once the pandemic is over? Are there any gifts you’re determined to maintain?

More of Happiness Between Tails posts regarding the current crisis are here and here and here and here and here and here and here.

Now about my first podcast — I’m hard at work on it! It’ll be ready for your listening pleasure soon!

AIDS Before it Had a Name: Grace within Tragedy by da-AL


“Hope for the Future,” an earlier post by my good friend David Hunt, got me to remembering AIDS during the early 1980s. At that time, it was a mystery so dark that scientists had yet to name it. It took a while for experts to figure out how it was contracted. All anyone knew for sure was that it was deadly, most of all to gay men at their physical primes.

People in other countries called it an American disease. They talked of screening us before allowing us to visit. Some argued that gays should be segregated. Conspiracy theories abounded.

During then, I reported news for KPFK, a non-profit radio station based out of North Hollywood. At the same time, I paid my rent thanks to a ‘real’ job, while I attended college part-time and interned at CNN.

David was news editor for a lesbian and gay show at KPFK, called IMRU. Today IMRU is syndicated. It proudly boasts itself as, “The nation’s longest running Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex Radio News Magazine.”

Despite my workload, David’s civil rights stories seemed far more imperative than anything I was already reporting on. After enough pestering, sometimes he allowed me to help him with his projects.

IMRU 1982There we are in the back row, David Hunt to my right. To my left, the man with the devilish grin and muscled good looks is a fellow radio host.

David Fradkin’s entertainment career began as a kid on the TV show, Romper Room. He was smart, multi-talented, and totally fun. To this day, it’s still hard to believe that AIDS took him only some years later.

David Fradkin 1982David Hunt’s post describes Robert Bland, one of the valiant first to battle AIDS. Thinking of Robert makes my eyes mist up, as much for him as for his mother. During his final months, she moved into his small apartment to nurse him through the horrible, messy, gut-wrenching end.

David Hunt 1982Months later, she appeared at my workplace. It was a car rental counter in one of Los Angeles International Airport’s terminals. Flights unloaded customers, some of them nice. A lot were drunk businessmen who would holler when their cars were five minutes late, or threaten to slug each other over who was next in line.
Employees were closely policed. During quiet times, we were prohibited from reading, socializing, and talking on the phone.

The despair in his mother’s eyes sheered away my trepidations about risking my job. I set out an extra stool for her. She stayed for my entire eight-hour shift, desperate to talk to anyone who had known her son.

Eventually, David and I opened a video production company. Later in his post, he refers to some of the HIV infected kids we featured in a video, along with professionals from Children’s Hospital Los Angeles on AIDS. HIV is the virus that lowers the immune system. AIDS is the final stages. We interviewed scores of patients, professionals, and volunteers. Every single one fought hard to conquer AIDS. One was a woman whose husband, a drug user, had died of it. She lovingly cared for him until his last breath. He had infected her and their infant.

Another mother adopted two small children, a boy and a girl, whose biological mothers had died of AIDS. Both kids were charmers, a shy girl with pink ribbons in her hair, and a rambunctious boy with a fierce hug.  The new mom sobbed inconsolably through many nights. Lest her husband miss work from lack of sleep, he took up residence on their couch.

Back then, blood donations weren’t screened. A young boy we interviewed had hemophilia. He was infected as a result of a blood transfusion. His parents feared that people at his school would be awful to him. Was it health and social challenges that matured him beyond his real age of about twelve? That made him and his family so caring and wise?

Fortunately, AIDS research has made great strides. It’s become rare for kids to die of it. Still, it remains a tragedy. At such times, grace is most evident. I was fortunate to meet those early AIDS fighters, each of them full of wanting to live, to love, and to give.

David Hunt’s blog
More on the early days of AIDS
KPFK
IMRU
More on the difference between HIV and AIDS
Children’s Hospital Los Angeles
Libraries still carry the video
Classroom lesson plan we wrote for the video
Ways to end AIDS