When Elephants Wept and Gorillas danced

Kiwis are not just New Zealanders. They are the a rare and unique breed of bird. And a few weeks ago after heavy rain in the South Island, a kiwi’s nest was threatened by floods pouring through its enclosure. The male and female kiwi had been conscientiously nursing their egg, a precious one, since they are an endangered species.

As the water began surge through, threatening to wash their nest and egg away, the male kiwi sprang into action. He seized twigs and grass and any materials he could find to stuff under the nest to raise it above water level. Outside, conservation staff began digging drainage too.

What this told me is that that kiwi father understood the principles of engineering.  Knowing that by levering his nest up with whatever he could find, he could try to save his offspring. He did.

The week before, I had seen some amazing pictures in an English newspaper. Two gorillas who had been born in a zoo and had grown up together, were parted, when the elder was sent to another zoo for a breeding programme. After three years, coming to the conclusion that the giant black gorilla was infertile, the zoo decided to send him back to join his brother, who during this time had been shuttled off to another zoo.

The pictures were of their re-union. Recognising each other straight away, they ran to each other, making sounds, hugging each other, rolling on the ground together in ecstasy, and dancing with joy.

What this told me is that separating animals and shunting them around to zoos and breeding programmes is as cruel as it was to break up slave families and sell mothers away from their children, and split up fathers and brothers in the days before Abolition. I read many years ago of a woman who decided to make feta cheese, and began breeding a small flock of sheep. As each generation was born, mothers, grannies, great grannies and children all remained in their family groups, and when she banged on the pail each day to gather them in for milking, they came in their family groups.

And yet we take lambs and calves from their mothers all the time, and foals from their mothers to race them as yearlings before their bones have matured, which is why so many young racehorses come to grief. Horses are not fully grown for six to seven years. Treating animals with no regard to their rights is called speciesism, a term coined by Australian philosopher and animal campaigner Peter Singer. He likens it to sexism, and racism.

In March this year, legendary conservationist Lawrence Anthony died in Africa. He was known as ‘The Elephant Whisperer’. He had learned to calm and heal traumatized elephants who were sent to Thula Thula where he lived. The first herd arrived enraged from the death of a mother and her calf. The fifteen year old son of the dead mother charged him and his rangers, trumpeting his rage, his mother and baby sister having been shot in front of his eyes; a heartbreakingly brave teenager, defending his herd.

The traumatised elephants were herded into an enclosure to keep them safe until they were calm enough to move out into the reserve. The huge matriarch gathered her clan, and charged the electric fence, getting an 8,000-volt. She stepped back, and with the family in tow strode round the entire perimeter, checking for vibrations from the electric current. That night, the herd somehow found the generator, trampled it, pulled out the concrete embedded posts like matchsticks, and headed out, in danger from waiting poachers with guns at the ready.

Recaptured, Anthony knew it was only a matter of time before they escaped again. He talked to Nana the huge matriarch, telling her they would be killed if they broke out again. He feared he would be killed too, if he didn’t make a connection with them before they charged him. Momentarily he did feel a spark of connection with Nana, and then decided that the only way he could help them was to live with them and get to know them. And this was the start of many troubled elephants being brought to him for healing.

When Anthony died, there were two elephant herds in the reserve. They hadn’t visited Anthony’s house for eighteen months. But when he died in March, both herds made their way to his house. It would have taken them about twelve hours to make the journey, one herd arriving the day after, and the second a day later. The two herds hung around the house for two days, grieving, and then made their way back into the bush.

Feminist and Fulbright scholar Rabbi Leila Gal Berner is reported as saying… ‘If ever there were a time, when we can truly sense the wondrous ‘interconnectedness of all beings’ it is when we reflect on the elephants of Thula. A man’s heart stops, and hundreds of elephant’s hearts are grieving. This man’s oh-so abundantly loving heart offered healing to these elephants, and now, they came to pay loving homage to their friend.’

Some years ago another herd of elephants descended on a herd of antelopes who’d been penned up preparatory to being transplanted to another part of Africa. The rangers saw this herd of elephants bearing down on them and thought they’d come to kill the antelopes. What they did was trample down the enclosure so that the antelopes could escape.

I find all these stories of animals unbearably moving, because they all illustrate intelligence, emotional depths, and extra consciousnesses that man doesn’t possess. We say we are superior because we can reason – didn’t the kiwi reason – because we are self conscious – has that been a blessing or a curse – because we can use tools – but many animals can, as research is now showing us – because we have souls- why are we so sure that animals don’t?

Maybe American writer Henry Beston, who wrote the classic ‘The Outermost House’, put it best when he wrote: ‘We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate in having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err, and greatly err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they live finished and complete, gifted with extension of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren; they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.’

It seems to me that it’s man who has the splendour of the earth, and animals who have the travail. Maybe, as more and more of us care about them, that will change.


Food for Threadbare Gourmets

The old chap’s 83rd birthday, and some of the family for lunch to celebrate. I made it an easy one, roast chicken breasts for them, stuffed with sausage meat and sage, and wrapped in bacon – all free range and organic. The usual, a big dish for people to help themselves – roasted parsnips, onions, potatoes boiled in their skins, and then slightly crushed with plenty of butter, spring carrots and Brussels sprouts, plus the famous mushrooms in cream, parsley and garlic instead of gravy. Pudding was easy, using the same oven, and on another shelf, I baked some apples, cored and stuffed with spoonfuls of Christmas mincemeat, placed in a dish with cream and whisky poured over. This juice is heavenly. Serve the apples with crème fraiche or ice cream and a little shortbread biscuit. It was good with coffee served at the same time.


Food for Thought

A friend sent me this poem, and I offer it to all my fellow bloggers:

“..a poet/writer is someone

Who can pour light into a spoon

And then raise it

To nourish your parched holy mouth’

Hafez  1315 -1390   Renowned Persian lyric poet


Filed under animals/pets, cookery/recipes, environment, environment, food, great days, life and death, love, philosophy, poetry, spiritual, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, wild life

35 responses to “When Elephants Wept and Gorillas danced

  1. Val, what a great post! I, too, find all these stories of animals unbearably moving. Too often there are those who just do not consider that animals also have feelings. . .deep embedded feelings filled with emotion too powerful for us humans to sometimes understand. Thank you for sharing such wonderful accounts from our animal kingdom.


    • Sharla, thank you for your lovely comments, I think this is one of the attributes of bloggers – we do all seem to care about the rest of Creation.
      For some extraordinary reason, I stumbled on your message in the spam queue – hope I press the right buttons to get this reply to yo!


  2. Valerie, what a profound article. Lawrence Anthony and those like him do possess that extra consciousness that most of us don’t have. To love nature and the animal world is one thing…to commune with it is different. Your luncheon sounds like a feast. The lucky birthday person to have such a fine meal and a healthy one, too.


    • thank you so much for your message. What moves me is the way animals commune with us, whether we’re conscious of it or not..
      just been watching a youtube video of a hand reared wild pig, who taught himself how to be the best farm dog possible – brilliant herding cattle!

      Yes, I think all the chaps enjoyed the lunch, thank you!


  3. I have lived around animals my whole life and I firmly believe that they can think. They may think or reason differently than people but I have seen them solve problems that are not typical or common for their species. Where does that come from?


    • Kate, thank you for commenting. Yes, I think they know far more than us… did you see that TV programme in UK when people were filmed leaving their offices in London, and their pets , three hours journey away, were filmed going to wait at the door at the same time as the owners were leaving the other end.


  4. Brilliant, Heartbreaking and unforgettable….thank you once again! love, Linda


    • Linda, thank you. I really appreciate your opinions, I read today in our local newspaper of a ten year old lion who’s been here for ten years being shipped off overseas in a breeding programme- so heartless. You’d think experts would recognise what people like you and I know…


  5. brilliant post, thank you, very enlightening, i will look on these animals with new light, i always have respect for them but to learn what you have told me here was brilliant thank you for writing this , have a great day xx


    • Thank you, Kizzlee for taking the time to comment… it’s good to know that others feel the same… it’s now believed that labradors, for example, can have an 1Q of a two or three year old child in our measurements. Would we dream of treating a two or three year old child the way we treat dogs? I hope not!


  6. We owe so much to our fellow inhabitants of earth! Thank you so much for sharing your reflections!


  7. I’m a volunteer for a cat and dog shelter…we see this also. The dogs come in emotional distraught…they hate being in the cages, eating and sleeping in their toilet. My oldest daughter and I take them daily for fun…we kiss them and talk to them and socialize them, one week we had 10 dogs to take care of, we talked to everyone, come love these dogs….at the end of week we had two left.

    Those two are damaged, one is deaf and one is hurt…we WILL find the right home for them…until then we will love them and love them.

    Animals know…it’s people who don’t.



    • How simply lovely that you do that. I’d noticed the odd reference in your posts, now I know. I’;m a dog nut too, having had fifteen or sixteen rescued dogs three at a time in the last thirty five years – I wrote about them in my post Top Dogs!
      So good to hear from you, knowing how busy you are!!!!


  8. Hi Valerie,
    I have nominated you for the one lovely blog award!
    Thank you for the kind comments made here at euzicasa.
    Thank you so much!


  9. In my world, since we are all One and each is a perfect expression of that One, there is no question or doubt that animals, too, are perfect expressions of Soul. These stories illustrate that beautifully. Thank you! xoM


  10. Valerie,

    This is a great post. Animals are wonderful and they do indeed have souls. I think they are far smarter than us humans, and probably use a lot more than 10% of their brains, which supposedly is all humans use. How can we suggest that we are superior?



    • Lovely to hear from you Sunni, and I so agree with every word you say. I think the story about the elephants bears out what you say about using our brains!
      And of course the gift of unconditional, unjudging love which animals give us is very rare among human beings who tend to measure and judge, and get angry with the people they love!


    • Sunni I have mistakenly deleted your latest post with the award and the bloggers you named… Would you be able to click on Like on one of my posts, so that I can reply to wordpress’s little notice with your blogs on it.
      Then I can get myself back into your blog… or do you know a better way? sorry to be so incompetent..


  11. Alice

    Life–a spoonful at a time. lovely.


  12. Ralph

    Hello Valerie. I’m sorry I haven’t visited your blog for a while. I have found this post very informative and I agree that all animals and birds are intelligent. I watch a local Spanish farmer come to feed his chickens and they get really excited and wait by the pen gate for him, clucking and running around in excitement. A bit like children when they hear the chimes of an ice cream van. Take care. Ralph x


  13. ‘Unbearably moving’… Valerie, that says it all…


  14. Amy

    Such a moving story of Anthony and the elephants… It just says people can be so cruel.


  15. This is a beautiful and touching post. Thank you for sharing the stories and reminding us that we are all interconnected, friends and stewards for the well being of one another.


    • Thank you so much for reading and commenting. I really appreciated your comments, it’s so good to know that there are many of us who feel the same, and can perhaps change the perception of the other kingdoms…


  16. Hi Valerie, this is the most beautiful post. I have read it to many of my family. You have increased my consciouness of animals. I have always loved animals but I now have an even deeper appreciation of their hearts. Bless you. Leanne


  17. Pingback: E is for Elephant « Emmie Mears

  18. Pingback: E is for Elephant | Emmie Mears

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