E is for Elephant

Two days ago, the new issue of National Geographic arrived at my home. On the cover? The title BLOOD IVORY, and a statistic: 25,000 elephants were killed illegally last year. In one instance, poachers attacked a herd of 300 and killed them all with AR-15’s and grenades — all to sell the ivory on the black market. And for what? To make religious icons. 

I don’t care which faith people profess or if they claim none — the mass murder of creatures for financial gain edifies no god at all. The black market ivory trade needs to stop, or these beautiful, intelligent animals will roam our earth no more.

This post is one from a while back, but I needed to share it again today.

When I was a child, we’d often play a game in school to help us learn to read. The teacher would tell us to find an animal with the first letter to match the first letter in our names. I ended up vexed for many reasons when we played that particular game. The first reason was that I could already read, and the second was because the letter E was quiet depressing for me.


Emu (Photo credit: Gabriel Kamener)

E is for Emu. Who ever heard of an emu anyway? What good are they, except that they’re not quite even as cool as an ostrich? Apparently emu oil is good for something, except terrible for the emu. That’s horrible and depressing. Why would I want to associate my name with the murder of a funny-looking bird? Ugh.

OMG, what IS it? Image via Wikipedia

E is for Echidna. Is it a hedgehog? Is it an anteater? It has spikes and a beak and what the hell is this thing supposed to be, anyway?! At least that’s what 7-year-old Emmie would have thought if she had known echidnas existed. As I write this, even the red squiggly line doesn’t know what an echidna is. See that, spiky beaky, anteatery thing? You don’t exist.

Three guesses whether I liked this or not. Image via Wikipedia

E is for Eel. Never mind that at this point in my existence, The Little Mermaid rained supreme and anything that resembled Flotsam and Jetsam would have been immediately blackballed from the realm of what I thought was cool. My rejection of eels for my animal happened at slimy and ew.

Why on earth couldn’t there be an animal I liked start with E? I convinced myself at the tender age of seven that my name sucked because I wasn’t like Jon Bailey who could be a jaguar, or Tiffany the tiger. I couldn’t be a dolphin or a lion or anything I remotely liked.

I eventually settled on elephant.

After probably a year of self pity. Elephants were gray. Wrinkly. Not aggressive. Whenever this game came up in class, I got progressively more mournful. I wanted to be a stalking jungle cat. Something dangerous and predatory and beautiful. And yet instead, little Emmie was forced to endure a litany of strange creatures. I’m not quite sure why I never thought about eagles — I think at the time they were as old and stuffy as the presidents with whom I usually saw them paired.

As I got older, something changed. I started learning more about the world and about the animals I shared it with. One day, I stumbled across a documentary or a National Geographic article about elephants.

Elephant Family

Just try and tell me this isn’t a family. Elephant Family (Photo credit: Curious Lizard)

Elephants have families they will defend to the death. They trek thousands of miles across Africa in search of water and bountiful food each year. They love their young, and they mourn their dead. Elephants remember the grave sites of their herd members, and they return to these places even when they’re out of their path. They have emotions.

Elephants are playful. Image via afw.org

Elephants play and frolic and like to swim. And as I grew older and began to visit zoos by myself, I discovered that elephants seem to like me. One at the Denver zoo used to reach out his trunk to me whenever I showed up. He’s point right at me in a crowd of people as if he wanted to shake my hand.

“Elephants like me,” I told my husband when we took his parents to the DC zoo. “You’ll see.” I could almost hear his thoughts. Mmm-hmmmmm….all right, Emmie.

When we arrived at the paddock, all the elephants were up at the feeding trough on the opposite side, about fifty meters away. The moment I reached the fence, one turned and walked right toward me. All fifty meters, directly toward me. I can’t find the picture right now, but I snapped a photo of this young bull walking in a bee-line to where I stood at the fence. Within moments, the rest of the elephants followed.

It’s probably just a fancy, a leftover whim of a child who needed an animal to match her name. But the more I learned of these creatures, the more beautiful they became. The more I related to them. The more their strangeness became wondrous. Beyond the favourite animals I harboured through my youth, it’s become my dream to meet an elephant in person. To get close enough to touch. To say hello.

So now at 27, I can proudly say I have an animal. I have an answer to the game.

What animal starts with E?

E. E is for Elephant.

Elephants are artists. Give an elephant paint and a canvas, and they make beautiful pictures.


About Emmie Mears

Saving the world from brooding, one self-actualized vampire at a time.

Posted on September 22, 2012, in life intervention, Salacious Saturday and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Great post! As a biologist, I can appreciate most of the creatures that inhabit this world of ours. Except maybe spiders… 8 friggin’ legs and fangs the size of Texas? Really necessary?? I think not! *shudder*

    Anyway, one thing many activists have started realizing is that when it comes to poaching, it is pretty much impossible to regulate and stop. As long as they can make more money killing the animals, it will NEVER stop. Seems like a hopeless battle doesn’t it? You can’t force someone to care for something or have empathy.

    Actually, very brilliant people in some countries decided to pay the same game as the poachers. They dove into their world and realized that it really IS all about money. They played the game by the poachers’ rules: they made it MORE profitable to leave the animals alive! So simple and yet so powerful…

    In a few countries, animals are beginning to make a comeback because the leaders of the countries AND animal photographers AND activists worked together WITH the poachers to make a different kind of living. Instead of making money selling a few bits of the carcass, they now make money a different way. The poachers now work to keep the animals alive, using their guns to keep out the few poachers that don’t like the new paradigm and to protect tourists from potentially dangerous animals.

    What a shift in their attitude! They keep the animals alive for tourists to enjoy. The poachers act as tour guides and protectors of the animals they used to kill by the hundreds and thousands! How awesome is THAT???? The skills they once used to hunt down and slaughter animals they now use to give tourists a glimpse into the secret life of animals that are secretive and hard to find. Many photographers also utilize the skills of the used-to-be-poachers to gain footage never seen before.

    It’s only a teeny dent in the problem as a whole but it offers a glimpse of hope. It doesn’t mean that these men truly care about the welfare of the animals but it’s a solution that works for everyone involved. Perhaps more countries will adopt this strategy and even more endangered and threatened animals will be brought back from the brink of extinction.


  2. Great story and great comment. Let’s hope the times are a-changing

  3. It brought as many tears to my eyes as it did the first time. Great post.

    I’ve been avoiding my National Geographic since it came because of the cover story. At the moment, I’m just not sure I can handle all the emotions that article will conjure in me.

    • I bawled like a little baby. Make sure you feel emotionally solid before you read it. The stats alone did me in.

      • Yikes. 😦

        Well, I’m a vegetarian (almost vegan!). It hurts me when all creatures are slaughter without need (I’m not saying everyone should stop eating meat – though that would be good – but that we are wasteful with our food, including meat, and that is no way to treat the remains of another creature that died so we can continue – to get fat), but what they do to elephants is truly horrific.

  4. Elephants somehow get right to the core of our being. The story of poachers being turned into protectors is brilliant, thanks for passing that on to us.

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