The Elephant Mirror
So why do we care so much about elephants?
Clearly, in ecological terms they are a keystone species, playing an important role changing the environment and maintaining the biodiversity of ecosystems. On the savannahs of Africa, they feed on trees and bushes, helping to maintain up the grasslands that support other animals. In the forest they create gaps in thevegetation, allowing a diverse number of plants and other organisms to grow. During dry seasons and in dry areas they dig with their tusks for water, opening up watering holes that other species – from bees to baboons – can access. Most of the plant matter they eat passes through them, and their dung is full of seeds that grow into new vegetation. Some species of trees rely solely on elephants to spread their seeds.
But it’s much more than that: elephants are highly intelligent, with complex emotional lives. They are multi dimensional creatures. We are drawn to them because they are so like us.
Maria and I have spent countless happy hours watching elephants, both in the wild and in captivity. It has been like looking into a mirror. Each elephant has a distinct character and personality. They are not perfect. Like us they are hard wired to develop hierarchies and they too engage is politics and power struggles. Among groups of elephants, we have witnessed intrigue, jealousy, bullying and victimizing. But we have also seen great kindness and cooperation, and their families are the most important thing in the world for them. We’ve witnessed loyalty and tenderness and deep abiding bonds. Yes, elephants do grieve their dead. They often exhibit a sense of humour. They are naughty and teasing. And baby elephants – so loved and protected by their mothers and aunties – are possibly the happiest (and most spoilt) babies on this planet.
From elephants Maria and I have learned that humans are no different to other animals. We are not at the top of a pinnacle and superior to all other species. Instead, we are part of a huge delicate web and all our actions have repercussions for all other living things.
On World Elephant Day we celebrate these remarkable creatures. We pledge to continue our efforts to help improve their lives, both in the wild and in captivity. In few weeks we will be walking 100 miles across the Serengeti in Tanzania, raising funds for local anti poaching efforts – to date we have raised over $100,000 for this vital work. We support initiatives to introduce humane training and handling methods for captive elephants.
And we are ever grateful for all the opportunities we have had to be close to these giants. Let’s make sure they prosper – the world would be a sad place without them.