Monday, February 22, 2010

Excuse Me Sir, Could You Please Hand Me that Soap Box?

I had always been somewhat secure in my assumption that man held sway over animals, until I stood directly next to a herd of Asian elephants at the Elephant Nature Park in the far northern jungles of Thailand. Nothing is more humbling than being in the presence of such strong and majestic creatures who desire only to be free of human abuse and live out their lives peacefully. I have hunted various forms of wildlife since I was a young boy, but I have only recently learned to respect the power and beauty held within all forms of nature. I understand now that every living creature deserves to be protected from unexcusable abuse and annihilation. I don't care if you are a gun-toting hunter or a hemp wearing tree-hugger, people must have respect for the living beings that they track or protect.

As you have read in previous blogs, I do not subscribe to any single religion, but I adhere to the protocalls demanded depending on my location. This is not a form of submission, but rather a form of respect. Unfortunately, life is full of contradictions and sometimes they can not be ignored. The co-inhabitation of people and Asian elephants within Southeast Asia is one of those issues that I simply cannot turn my back on. Elephants have been revered by a wide variety of cultures over many centuries for their strength of body and spirit. They share complex human characteristics that intertwine a longing for peaceful living with a fierce desire to protect their loved ones. They have hearts, minds, bodies, and in the opinion of this writer, souls. So why am I even writing this?

Because, damnit, people just can't leave things well enough alone. The nature preserve that we visited shared an incredible video documenting the "breaking" of an elephant's will that is practiced by almost every elephant handler in Asia. The "breaking" consists of forcefully incarcerating a young elephant in chained confinements that leave the creature immobile and unable to resist. Male villagers, led by a local shaman, then proceed to beat, whip, and stab the elephant for days with bamboo sticks reinforced with rusty nails. The concept is simple and all to familiar...kill the spirit of the elephant and force it to concede control to its human master. My initial reaction to witnessing such an atrocity was one of anger and a desire to enforce vigilanty justice upon the elephants captors, but after some brief reflection I realized that the true root of the problem was ignorance. These villagers had captured and tamed elephants using the only tactics that they assumed were available. The black magic of the shaman was assumed to be the power that captured the animals soul, not the sticks with nails imbedded within them. In addition to ignorance of the people themselves, I believe the lack of action by the government is equally to blame. Animals in Southeast Asia are mistreated and exploited every day for one reason: profitability. Whether it is an elephant that is bred into a life of walking along exruciatingly painful city streets or a chained up monkey trained to accept bananas from paying customers desiring a photo, it is all done to appease tourists. I stated before that ignorance causes many of the World's issues to become worse, so I will take a few minutes of my time to educate those of you who have a desire to visit Asia.

I have grown tired to the point of exhaustion of seeing unpunished crimes against humanity and nature. I have seen innocent animals neglected and abused simply because they are not considered to have any worth outside of their use to humans. I have seen children younger than my nephews try to manage beautiful smiles as they sell souvenirs (and sometimes their own bodies) to benefit others. My lecture is short, my message is simple, but the lesson is excruciatingly difficult to put into practice. Do not, by any means, support the exploitation of the innocent. I know this is especially hard when you are staring into the face of a begging child or the eyes of a frightened animal. I have given a lot of my own money to these ventures with the intent to assist, only to find out later that I have fed a machine the cyclically takes advantage of those without a voice. The battle for social and natural justice is extremely long and uphill, but it begins with one informed person's ability to simply say "no". That has been the first difficult step that Mariana and I have taken, but we are hopeful that our new knowledge will lead us to more legitimate avenues of assistance for those who need it most.

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