For the Love of Elephants: Why I Am Marching on October 4

Now more than ever, the nonhuman beings who share the Earth with us have been entrusted to our care and urgently need our help. The extinction of the beings we love and cherish, the largest land animals on the Earth, is no longer a distant possibility but a looming reality.
10/03/2014 11:53 am ET Updated Dec 03, 2014

Healing and advocating for animals has been the theme of my life and continues to be what I spend most of my time doing. As far back as I can remember, they have been, and continue to be my beloved teachers, and a source of great wisdom.

Animals remind us that all beings who walk, stand, swim, crawl or fly are radiant, mysterious and unique expressions of life. Every species has it's own culture and unique ways of experiencing the world. Throughout history, elephants have fascinated us and continue to hold a special place in our hearts, perhaps because the more we learn about them, the more we realize our similarities...

  • They are long-lived, 60-75 years, and have an extended period of childhood during which deep loving bonds are formed within families and with friends.
  • We share similar emotions and just like us they feel love, anger, fear and grief.
  • Recent studies have shown elephants demonstrate mirror recognition, meaning they recognize themselves as individuals when looking in a mirror. Science offers self recognition as a determining factor in the ability to experience a spiritual life. Many people, including myself, have witnessed elephants recognizing and interacting with each other as unique individuals.
  • They are known to visit and honor the remains of deceased members of their families.

Because elephants along with other untamed animals are now suffering from many of the same struggles we face, such as dealing with damage to the environment, and stress, they are exhibiting the same physical symptoms. Back in 1966, over 2,000 elephants were sampled in Murchison Falls National Park in East Africa, and almost every mature elephant, (over 13 years of age) was found to be suffering stress-induced cardiovascular disease.

We imagine they will always be with us, a symbol of the astonishing beauty and majesty of nature, the soul and essence of Africa. But humanity has claimed dominion over and "conquered" the animals and the land. Open plains and lush habitats have been replaced by cities, roads, and walls. The great herds have been hunted, poached and crowded out to ever diminishing, unnatural boundaries.

In the early 1900s, when the first "white hunters" intruded to collect the heads of "game", no one imagined there could be an end to the vast paradise that was Africa. All seemed inexhaustible. One hundred years ago, there were millions of elephants in Africa, today there are roughly 200,000 elephants left and we are losing over 30,000 a year to poaching alone. The tragic reality is that we have conquered nothing at all.

Now more than ever, the nonhuman beings who share the Earth with us have been entrusted to our care and urgently need our help. The extinction of the beings we love and cherish, the largest land animals on the Earth, is no longer a distant possibility but a looming reality. It is too late to go back and redo what our presence has destroyed. The age-old balances are gone, the animals can no longer take care of themselves, no longer able to live in blissful ignorance of our presence and are suffering our abuse. The latest wave of poaching by terrorists is not only wiping out elephants and rhinos but creating national security risks. The money from poached animal parts is used to buy weapons to overtake unstable governments.

It is now clear that what we also have in common with elephants is our fate. What we do to animals and nature we do to ourselves. When animals are oppressed and exploited, their dignity denied and their lives deprived of meaning, it is as miserable for humans as it is for animals. When we destroy animal habitats, we destroy our own habitat as well. When our treatment of other living beings is dominated by cruelty and economic expediency, humans, too, are cruelly treated. When we can no longer see the hurt in a neglected animal's eyes we have become hard-hearted toward our own pain. Nature teaches us all life is intertwined, has meaning and purpose, none inferior to another or less perfect than another. We cannot exist without each other.

The grim truth that what we do to animals we do to ourselves has a joyful corollary: what we do for animals we do for ourselves. When we rescue animals we rescue ourselves. Human beings possess an astonishing capacity for compassion combined with the ability to recognize a problem, come up with a creative solution and implement it. But we have a choice whether or not to act. How we value all life forms and how we treat them are true measures of our humanity.

Everywhere I travel and teach I find extraordinary people making a difference, protecting and serving nature, creating positive change. Now all of us are called to act. Once the animals are gone, they will never return. Empowered by compassion in our hearts for our fellow beings, and the conscious awareness of how desperately they need our help, our only choice is to act.

Please, rise up and walk for the elephants and rhinos on October 4. Locations are posted on the site! www.marchforelephants.org

Do not forget them, speak the voice in your heart, and don't be afraid to make a lot of noise.