EAI is Live!

A huge thank you to all  who have already discovered the EAI site and contributed towards our exciting programs. For those  who are not yet aware…………

The Elephant Aid International site has launched. After months of site development, this masterpiece has gone live. Check it out – you’ll learn about EAI’s mission and innovative projects to improve elephant welfare. We have two amazing elephant welfare supporters to thank for this stunning creation. The content is current and fresh and the design reflects the caliber of EAI’s webmaster and communications coordinator; their work is unsurpassed. Please visit the site and see for yourself what I am talking about: a beautiful site introducing an organization destined to do amazing work. Come join us! http://www.elephantaidinternational.org/

continuing my work

Since my return from Asia in July I have found myself deeply involved in elephant welfare activity here in the US. These past few months have been a whirlwind of activity, flying cross country, participating in Animal Control officer training, providing elephant expertise to city officials, and inspecting the conditions of elephants traveling in the circus. This activity is a perfect fit for me, a continuation of the work I have done for the past fifteen years. The difference is that I am traveling much more and have an opportunity to help a greater number of elephants, in new ways.

While at the Sanctuary I was aware of how sheltered I had become, one level removed from the daily suffering of the majority of elephants living in captivity. My effort to help and rescue elephants to sanctuary was made more bearable by my daily observation of the elephants who were living a sanctuary life.

Now I am back on the frontlines again, immersed in the lives of elephants who are chained by two legs, provided water only at intervals determined by their overseers, forced to perform behaviors on command that in some cases cause great physical pain, as they are transported around the country in trailers and railroad cars for the majority of their lives. Denied autonomy, freedom of choice and their culture.

With so much science to support an elephant’s need for space, compatible companionship and autonomy, it is difficult to comprehend how this modern day slavery continues. The image of elephants chained on asphalt parking lots, watered from 50-gallon plastic barrels, paraded down city streets trunk-to-tail, is a powerful testament to the degree in which elephants are an exploited commodity.

I am grateful for the opportunity to apply my knowledge and experience to improving elephant welfare both here and in Asia. Only through continued education will government officials and the public come to understand just how detrimental traditional captive life is for elephants.

Our Dear Lottie Has Passed Away

October 10

Loyal, dependable, calm, an unconditional friend to all; Lottie was a loving sister and the matriarchal energy to all of the divas. She blessed everyone with her wisdom, always cooperative and engaged. Her patience with Minnie was magic. At times when Minnie would work herself into a pushing frenzy on fences or other elephants, Lottie would calm her down with a silent gentle trunk touch.

When night time temperatures forced Lottie inside she would rumble repeatedly until Minnie finally joined her in the warm barn. Minnie would  stay inside long enough to grab some food and swallow a few trunkfuls of water before dashing out of the rubber flap door. Racing down the hill to the moon lit habitat, Minnie would plunge into the pond, dragging a log from the muddy bottom. Or dash across the pasture, kicking up clumps of grass with her toe nails like a golfers divots in the manicured lawns of a golf course.

Lottie would remain inside benefiting from the “me” time, getting pets and dried cranberries, her favorite treat. Lottie would stand completely still except to gently guide my hand up to her tusk socket. She had very short, almost nonexistent tushes. She loved to get me to massage the inside of the tusk socket. Her eye lids would flutter and she would let out a low rumble. If the massage stopped her eyes would pop open and again she would softly reach out for my hand and guide it back to the tusk socket. A kinder, gentler elephant you will never meet.

Lottie’s estimated birth year is 1963. Since moving to the Sanctuary at 12pm CT, January 31, 2006, Lottie was the picture of sound health. She had healthy feet, a good appetite, and always remained at her optimum weight. She drank well, stayed physically active and was extremely calm. Mostly she was Minnie’s best friend. These two had a powerfully loving relationship.

Although Lottie seldom engaged in physical play with Minnie, she was never far from her friend.

They grazed, bathed and slept side by side. Sometimes in the early afternoon Minnie would wander away from Lottie as she slept. If Lottie woke and could not see Minnie the drama would unfold. Lottie would let out a loud squeak and then another, raising her head in an anxious posture looking around for Minnie, who would respond with a throaty bellow. When the two finally heard the other they would break into a run, full speed ahead, screaming at the top of their lungs. When they were finally reunited Minnie would spin circles around Lottie whose eyes would twinkle as she chirped and squealed in delight. Trunk touches all over, followed by powerful trumpets and then relaxed sighs, and the greeting was complete.

Without hesitation they would resume their grazing as if no emotional display of affection had taken place. But if you were close by, you would feel the air permeated with love. Then they would wander off again on another adventure. They lived for each other’s company.

Lottie had a silly side, reserved but silly. One time when my winter hat had gone missing during a 10pm feed, Lottie was later seen sporting it fashionably on her back. It was hardly recognizable, a bit worse for wear but still an attractive accessory, at least Lottie thought so. It hardly resembled a hat at all as Lottie had chewed it, pulled it apart at the seams and ground it into the dirt before finally tossing it onto her back.

Mostly Lottie will be remembered for her nurturing nature and deep affection for Queenie and Minnie.

After Queenie passed away two years ago Lottie and Minnie grieved desperately. The two grew even closer and helped each other through their loss. Now Minnie has a heart-breaking challenge ahead of her. She and Lottie had been together for four decades, this separation will be difficult. Hopefully Minnie will be able to face her loss with an open heart and not put on the “tough guy” act that was her mode of operation in the past. If Minnie puts up a wall to the pain and acts as if she is not hurting, recovery will be that much more difficult for her. We have to trust that Minnie will be able to allow Debbie and Ronnie back into her life so they can help her through this difficult time.

Among Friends

Last November Kix and Barbara Brooks graciously hosted a Sanctuary fundraiser at their home in Nashville. The guests were treated to a fabulous party with delicious food, fun and a live performance by Kix Brooks and friends.

When it was time to auction off the exquisite art pieces and trips to places like Telluride and the Sanctuary, Kix stepped up to the auctioneer challenge, and what fun it was! Everyone was in stitches and the bids kept going higher.

Kix got serious when the Sanctuary VIP tour was on the auction block. Obviously he planned to make this a big ticket auction item. The crowd broke into a roar when Kix offered up his tour bus to the “highest bidder” for the trip from Nashville to Hohenwald. But when he said he would be joining the group, the room broke out in yelps and whistles. Kix made it clear that this VIP tour would be like no other. Then he announced that I would be accompanying the group as well, to give them the entire story of the Sanctuary while in route. The auction was a huge success! Kix and Barbara out did themselves, raising a significant amount of money for the Sanctuary. Their generosity and efforts were sincerely appreciated.

Many months later Kix and Barbara and friends scheduled their VIP tour for September 22. I was invited to join them to share information about elephants, the story of my life with Tarra, and the creation of the Sanctuary. Imagine having 90 minutes to share information about my obsession while cruising in Kix Brooke’s tour bus from Nashville to Hohenwald. We had a fabulous time!

When we arrived at our destination at the city parking lot in Hohenwald, I wished everyone a memorable tour of my beloved Sanctuary.  Group photos were taken, thanks and goodbyes were exchanged, with hugs all around. There was electricity in the air. The group was anxious to tour the Sanctuary. The exchange of glances confirmed that they had already been touched by elephants, even before entering the sacred grounds.

As I left I asked them for a favor. “If during your tour, Tarra makes an appearance, and you’ll know her because she will have a feisty dog at her feet, please tell her I love her.” The smiles and knowing glances told me they planned to fulfill my request.

Flora’s Documentry

October 1

“One Lucky Elephant,” a documentary about Flora’s life, was included in the 2010 Woodstock Film Festival this week. The film highlights the tragedy that plagues elephants in the entertainment industry.

Like so many elephants living in captivity, Flora lost everything when her family was culled in the wilds of Africa. She came to America as an orphaned infant and was immediately inducted into the circus. After years of performing, Flora began to show signs of emotional disconnection and aggression, which was later determined to be symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. On her 21st birthday she retired to the Sanctuary.

Many viewers of “One Lucky Elephant” are left in a quandary about David not being allowed to see Flora. Unfortunately, David’s reappearance in Flora’s life could trigger another PTSD episode. Putting Flora’s wellbeing first means that such a gamble should be avoided.

This film demonstrates the lifelong effect trauma has on such a highly intelligent and exceedingly social animal.