With less than a month to go before Craig and I embark on our adventure to Thailand, which includes a week volunteering at ENP, I wanted to write a follow-up post to unravel what has proven to be a very convoluted sequence of events, and find out whatever became of the confiscated animals and the criminal charges. I was also curious if either of the sanctuaries had experienced any further harassment from the DNP. On occasion I’ve seen snippets of news about the legal developments for WFFT, and by all accounts both sanctuaries continue to work tirelessly to rescue animals from lives of abuse while campaigning for the rights of animals both domestic and wild, but I wanted to get a clearer understanding of what has happened over the past year-and-a-half, where all the legal issues stand today, and what is in store for the future of the sanctuaries and for the animals they fight to protect. I’d like to give a big thank you to Nicole Vooijs, WFFT’s Marketing Director, and Lek Chailert, founder of ENP and Save Elephant Foundation, for responding to my questions as I tried to fill in the blanks of this complicated story.
“It’s no good being angry and passive. You have to be angry and active.”
Co-Founder and President, Big Life Foundation
A little over a year ago as Craig and I were sitting in an airplane and, literally, lifting off the ground once again saying goodbye to our beloved Africa, I reached the end of the outstanding memoir Love, Life, and Elephants: An African Love Story, by Dame Daphne Sheldrick. Sad to see it come to an end, I extended the read by perusing the “Acknowledgements” and discovered that the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT) had a US organization called the US Friends of the DSWT. Craig and I were already supporters of the wonderful work DSWT does rescuing and raising orphaned elephants and then re-releasing them into the wild, with our adopted elephant Barsilinga and rhino Solio, so I made a mental note to look this group up when we returned home.
Time passed as we reluctantly adjusted back to our everyday lives. As a means to deal with my post-Africa blues I decided to look up the US Friends of DSWT, wondering if maybe there was some way we could do some volunteer work and continue to grow our connection and love of Africa and its wildlife. It didn’t take long before I discovered that Wendie Wendt, Vice-President and Director of Fundraising, lived right here in Seattle. I proceeded to do some more research, thinking that a connection now seemed inevitable, and went on to discover that while Ms. Wendt was no longer with the Trust, she had become the Executive Director of Big Life Foundation, another organization that Craig and I were already supporters of. After a couple of emails and a meeting over coffee, Craig and I found ourselves on the Big Life Fundraising Committee, immersing ourselves in some new territory and learning quite a few things along the way about fundraising for an NGO and, specifically, gearing up for a fundraiser Big Life would be holding in Seattle.
His was officially called Selati Male No. 2, but to me his name will always be Hank. Sometimes written in uppercase, often with an exclamation point. HANK! It was a nom de plume I gave him after Kim and I visited Sabi Sands in 2011 and first laid eyes on No. 2 and his three Selati Coalition brethren (similarly named Selati Males No. 1, 3, and 4).
Language bearers, Photographers, Diary makers,
You with your memory are dead, frozen,
Lost in a present that never stops passing.
Here lives the incantation of matter,
A language forever.
Like a flame burning away the darkness,
Life is flesh on bone convulsing above the ground.
-E. Elias Merhige
Born around the beginning of 2008 to different litters in the Southern Pride, the Selatis (sometimes also referred to as the Southern Coalition) were originally five strong when they came of age. All muscle and ambition, in April 2011 they were given both the figurative and literal slap on the nose by the mighty Mapogo Coalition. The Mapogos controlled a vast swath of land in Sabi Sands and were to be feared with good reason. It is estimated that they were single-handedly responsible for killing over sixty lions during their reign, and they certainly weren’t going to let some young turks bully them off their patch. After a scuffle that would see the Mapogo’s Pretty Boy injured, the Selatis were eventually sent roaring off into the night with the Mapogos claiming victory.
Nestled between the city’s Convention Centre and its historic Gastown District is Pacific Central Station. From there it’s a short walk to the downtown hotels, where we checked in and dropped off luggage before heading back out for the day. Near the Vancouver Art Gallery we found ourselves caught up in a march protesting the United States’ recent saber rattling about bombing Syria over that country’s use of chemical weapons on its civilian population. Like the arguments for and (mostly) against, the makeup of the crowd was equally diverse and it was an unexpected pleasure to know that others elsewhere felt the same as we did regarding the situation.
Back down at the harbor, we turned left and headed northwest towards Stanley Park for a long but enjoyable sunny afternoon circumnavigating the park via its seawall path. You can rent bikes to pedal your way around, but for us it was a one-step-at-a-time adventure. Working our way counterclockwise, we stopped off at the Rose Gardens, paused again at the Totem Poles, and took a siesta near the “Girl in a Wet Suit” statue while watching a trio of sea otters munching on an ocean treat. On the far side of the park we rested again, this time on the lawns of the Teahouse while looking west across Burrard Inlet. There was a wedding taking place while we were there and it provided for some interesting people watching; however, we’d discover later that we weren’t the only ones watching the event as a thief, apparently casing the event at the same time we were there, stole the photographer’s camera equipment. Thankfully, the jerk was eventually caught.
On the last two games drives we went on while staying at Elephant Plains as part of our belated honeymoon, we were treated twice to the sight of a full pride of lions. One male, two lionesses, and eight adorable cubs whose ages were split equally between about three- and eight-months. I instinctively eeowwed at one of the younger cubs, who perked up at the sound and who I half thought would come bouncing into our truck (so we could, of course, take it home with us). Not sure which pride they were, Kim turned to me and said, “I’m calling them the Honeymoon Pride!”
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It is my opinion that these males are the most beautiful cats in the world. With this beauty comes complex stories of pride, love, deceit, anger, tension, control, peace and every other conceivable emotion – they wear these emotions on their faces in the forms of cuts and bruises.
Had Adam Bannister been in the truck with us that day leading the drive, he would’ve told us that the male belonged to one of four lions that make up the mighty Majingilane Coalition, and that the two females and eight cubs belonged to his favorite group of lions in Sabi Sands, the Tsalala Pride. Adam is revered in various lion circles, not only for his passion, ability, and affable personality while a Ranger at Londolozi Game Reserve, but also for his photographic and writing skills. Londolozi’s must-read blog wouldn’t be what it is without his contributions and dedication to sharing the stories of the lions and leopards, elephants and alligators, and cheetahs and other wild characters that call the Sabi Sands home. The culmination of his time as ranger, photographer, and writer is superbly captured in The Lions of Londolozi, an iBook (iPad only) that focuses on his ardent love affair with the aforementioned Tsalala Pride.
Always an adventurer and never content to sit still in one place for too long, earlier this year Adam left Londolozi to travel halfway around the world to Brazil’s Pantanal wetlands – the world’s largest – joining Projeto Onçafari to study the wild jaguar population there and help habituate them to safari vehicles as part of a conservation effort to grow an ecotourism industry similar to what’s been done in the Sabi Sands. “We are, in essence, adding ‘value’ to the cat,” he tells me. “It is hoped that this will encourage the ranch owners to look after the jaguar and not shoot to kill.” I was able to catch up with Adam as he hopped back and forth between Africa and South America, and, for more reasons than I dare list, feel both fortunate and proud in being able to share a little of his story.
Edited to add: Every year our apple tree gives us more fruit than we could possibly turn into apple pie or other tasty foods, so this year we decided to donate our extra apples to City Fruit, a Seattle-based non-profit who, among other good things, harvests edible fruit from urban trees in Seattle neighborhoods that would otherwise go to waste. The fruit they collect is donated to local food banks and other organizations and distributed to low income residents as a way to help bring healthy food to the table.
Many of the clients who receive our fruit are immigrants living in SE and SW Seattle. This July, the state’s Food Assistance Program for Legal Immigrants cut benefits in half – cuts that will make it even more difficult for an estimated 30,000 people to access healthy food. In light of this, fresh local fruit becomes even more important.
If you live in the Seattle area and have a fruit tree whose bounty goes unused, check out City Fruit and consider donating your extra so other families can similarly enjoy a healthy urban harvest.
Much of what we’ve talked about this evening, and much of what we’ve talked about at previous meetings, is really from the Zoo’s perspective. I would think that one of the most powerful ways to further [the Zoo’s mission statement regarding] education is by not losing sight of the fact that we are also talking about particular animals at the Zoo currently in an exhibit that is arguably inadequate.
-Annette Laico (Woodland Park Zoo Elephant Task Force Member).
I’d first like to offer Task Force member Annette Laico a warm and sincere thank you for again reminding all in attendance at the most recent public Task Force meeting that the proceedings should not lose sight that its purpose, first and foremost, must be about the health and welfare of Watoto, Bamboo, and Chai, and “the true reality of [those] three individuals,” as Laico so eloquently put it; regardless how often others on the panel, along with Woodland Park Zoo, try to steer the conversation away from that fact.
“We still have a situation that is less than ideal for three particular elephants, and potentially others into the future,” said Laico. “We can’t lost sight of that.”
For those of us in Seattle, getting to Willows Inn is pretty easy yet it still involves advanced planning because it’s a two-to-three hour drive and reservations are booked months in advance. On the drive north there’s an opportunity to take the scenic Chuckanut Drive on the way to Bellingham and then a whopping six minute ferry ride to Lummi Island. I’ve read tales of people making the journey, having dinner and then heading back to Seattle that very night, but that’s definitely not the way to do it. It’s worth staying overnight at the inn so you don’t have to skimp on the drinks or feel rushed by the ferry schedule. That being said, it’s still an easier commute than going through airport security to fly there from another part of the country or the world, despite the fact that The New York Times claimed it was one of the ten restaurants in the world worth a plane ride to dine at. A bold statement, and one that we needed to explore for ourselves – no plane ride required.
While many zoos do an excellent job of caring for wild animals and contributing to their conservation, there are some species, like elephants, which will always be unsuited to zoo environments.