Falling in Love with Elephants
Guest post from Mary Jane O’Loughlin is the author of “Ruby and Baby… an Unlikely Friendship.” We are excited to share her story of how she fell in love with elephants with you! Enjoy.
Eight years ago I was emotionally ambushed … by elephants!
That event would cause my life to turn a corner. What waited around that corner was an incredible new adventure!
It began in May of 2008 when I took a safari in Kenya. It was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream to visit the animals I only knew through books and movies. I knew it would be an extraordinary experience. It was that and beyond.
How do you describe your first trip to Africa and your first time face to face with these incredible animals? There really are no words big enough or colorful enough or imaginative enough.
As for elephants, it is impossible. Being near them, in their world, is to be in another world. The Amboseli National Park in southern Kenya is known for its elephants. Thanks to Dr. Cynthia Moss and her team the Amboseli Trust monitors over 1400 elephants comprising 50+ families. She has followed and studied them for four decades. The most famous of the Amboseli elephants was Echo. It was she who led the ambush that changed my life forever.
On the first evening as the sun was setting behind us, I noticed movement along the tree line in the distance. It seemed as if the trees themselves were moving. Slowly the forms became clearer as they approached. As if by magic a large group of elephants of every age and size was walking towards us. It seemed to take forever for them to arrive yet they were upon us in just a few minutes. Soon we were completely surrounded by the beautiful Echo and her large family. For a few precious moments we basked quietly in their presence. With only the wind to interfere, we could hear the unmistakable low and soothing humming sound they make when talking to one another. As they slowly moved on, trunks and tails touched as each one was accounted for. Grown-ups watching out for little ones, teenagers stopping to play. They stayed close to one another as they ambled their way to their resting place for the night. A few minutes later the bulls arrived.
In the dictionary under “respect” there should be a photograph of a full grown bull elephant. I am quite sure I stood up straighter as the two passed by. I may have even saluted them! As they lumbered along towards our vehicle my heart stopped. It occurred to me, that each one of these impressive males was indeed larger and much more powerful than our vehicle. How wonderful!
If you have ever felt your heart fill up to bursting you know what that experience was like. It’s called falling in love. I couldn’t hold back the tears. All of Creations magnificence, gentle power and intelligence are wrapped up in this one animal. No need to do any research, look up statistics or talk to an expert. This was recognition on the deepest level; an instant connection to our Creator and all the beauty that is freely given to us on earth.
Those moments are as fresh in my mind today as they day they occurred.
It will never make sense to me how anyone could hurt them… for trophies, for money or for anything. They don’t do anything to us. They simply live. They enjoy their families by playing, eating and sleeping together. They have no natural enemies. Of course, when afraid or threatened they behave accordingly. How would you feel if someone entered your house uninvited? Whether it’s through taking their land, trophy hunting or the ivory trade, we seem determined to wipe them out.
There is an agreement in many camps that the wild African elephant has less than ten years left on the planet. This cannot be. I believe that if we allow our elephants to be destroyed we will suffer massively as a species. We will have taken pure innocence and corrupted it to please ourselves. And, all actions have consequences. The consequences may not be physical - at least not on this side of the Atlantic. However, an important part of our souls will be lost forever.
And yet, in spite of all that is working against our elephants, I have real hope for them. Being around elephants changed the direction of my life. In a matter of seconds I was reminded of what is most important. Now, I have the privilege and obligation to share my experiences on their behalf. Every time I discuss my book, the subject of their future comes up. Children and adults from all different backgrounds express their love and concern for elephants. Many have adopted a baby elephant from the David Sheldrick Trust or another worthy organization. Famous and not so famous people are using social media to keep elephants a priority. Local fundraising efforts are gathering friends and neighbors together. The word is out and we are on it! I am encouraged! But we must keep vigilant and keep spreading the word.
If an African safari is on your bucket list, move it to the top right now. Your tourist dollars help protect our wild elephants. Safari guides, hotel staff, drivers, park rangers are employed through the money spent when we visit them. And the elephants are safer. The days of “leaving them alone so they can be at peace” are over. Either we invade their space to take their picture or someone else will invade their space to take their tusks.
If such a trip is out of reach, connect with a wonderful organization like Elephantopia to learn how you can support elephants from your own back yard. Every ounce of effort helps.
We can win this for them.
For the love of elephants and all of God’s creatures,
Her book, Ruby and Baby…an unlikely friendship is now available at www.rubyandbaby.com. A portion of all book sales will be donated to the Amboseli Trust for Elephants in Kenya.
ALL PHOTOGRAPHS SHARED WITH PERMISSION FROM MARY JANE