Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Elephant Appreciation Day

Every year, 22 September is a day for a big friend of ours.

We grew up learning our alphabets by beginning with "A for Apple" and so on. More often than not, "E" would be for "Elephant". From young, the elephants were introduced to us as big and friendly animals with unusual but useful long noses, which we later learned that they were called the trunks.

Today is "Elephant Appreciation Day". It feels right to rekindle our fond memories of this special friend on earth.
This special day was declared in 1996 by by WildHeart® Productions to celebrate the elephant because it

* is the largest land mammal of our era,
* is unique among mammals for its trunk,
* is the most noble of beasts on earth,
* is most undeservedly threatened with extinction,

* has been man's benefactor in numerous ways throughout history,
* is entertaining and amusing,
* is gentle and friendly,
* contributes to ecosystem development and maintenance,

and generally deserves to be appreciated and upheld as an example of courage, strength, self-reliance, patience, persistence, and general high quality of being.

My first sight of elephant was from junior picture books. No one could mistaken an elephant for something else. I do not know how to explain but I think you know why. You can't really define what is an elephant but you know it when you see one.

Perhaps it is their long noses. Perhaps it is their tiny eyes. Perhaps it is their giant ears. I do not know. All I know is that elephants do have very odd facial features which I would not describe as 'cute'. Somehow, they have a certain air of mystery and allure.

Yup, the elephants are just so unique.

My first love with elephant must have manifested through my love for Dumbo. It is an elephant character in one of the earlier Disney animated movies. I loved Dumbo story book, Dumbo movie and the Dumbo toy figurine I used to have. Fascinating how a baby elephant could fly by flapping his ears was enough to fill my tiny mind then.

Unless you live in the wild, the first time most of us get to see a real elephant must be either during a visit to the zoo or circus. I cannot remember where I took the first sight but all I can recall is that the first impression was a good one.

During a trip to the north of Thailand, I had a chance to ride on the elephants and go close to the magnificent animal. They appeared friendly and yet I was fearful of their sheer size. They appeared obedient and yet they seemed to have a mind of their own. They looked clumsy and yet they could maneuver themselves in the woods like all-terrain vehicles.

One thing I was quite sure: they were very intelligent.

During that trip, I was introduced to the 'usefulness' of elephants in the logging industry. Typically, the elephants are trained for 20 years before they begin their 35-year logging career. Then they would retire at 55 or 60. The elephants can live for 50 to 70 years.

Doesn't that sound familiar? We would graduate in our early twenties, work for about 30 to 40 years and retire at around 55 to 60. Just like them, we can live for 50 to 70 years.

While logging is the 'vocation' of the majority of the elephants in Thailand, some elephants found their 'jobs' in other fields. Some are in the entertainment industry performing dances or circus tricks. Some are in 'sports' such as 'elephant racing', 'elephant football' and 'elephant tug-of-war'.

Elephants are also used as 'vehicles' to carry people and goods over long distances. During the ancient time, elephants were used on battle fields, most notably in the 300-year war between Burma and Thailand.

In some cases, elephants are reduced to street beggars. They are trained to approach tourists and with a little curtsey, their owners hope to entice the amused visitors to part with their money.

The elephants are really special to the people of Thailand. It is no surprise that the white elephant has been used as an important symbol of royal power.

One of the unique characteristics of elephant is their huge tusks, which are actually their upper incisors. The elephants used their left and right tusks very much like how we use our left and right hands. Some elephants are 'right-handed' and others are 'left-handed'.

The tusk is also known as ivory, a well sought after material. It is the desire for elephant ivory that leads to overhunting, especially in Africa. The population of elephants in Asia and Africa is also threatened due to the loss of their habitats.

From the story of "The Blind Men and an Elephant", we were taught that people have different perspective of things. We have different ideas and we have different priorities. To many people, planning for the next holiday is far more important than counting how many elephants have died.

Many of us may not be able to do much about the threat of extinction faced by the elephants, but we definitely can help by not supporting the ivory trade. I cringe at the thought that someone takes the life of another human only to pull out his teeth with golden crown.

On "Elephant Appreciation Day", we all can do a little just to appreciate the fact that this special animal needs to be protected. The Singapore Zoo will also be celebrating this day of 'epic proportions'. Check out their programs.

Happy "Elephant Appreciation Day" to all the elephants which are still alive out there.

"Nature's great masterpiece, an elephant;
the only harmless great thing."

~John Donne~
(English Poet, 1572-1631)

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