Today’s my mom’s birthday. And Abraham Lincoln’s. And…a sweet little friend of mine named Amelia: a little girl who happens to love elephants very much.
When Ted and I were in South Africa in 2012, little 1+ year old Amelia saw pictures of elephants in my Instagram feed, and her mom told me about her excitement.
I’d intended to write a story about the facility we visited and their elephant program, but after the day’s experience and the additional research Ted and I did about the system of elephant “rehabilitation” they purported to provide (and after the fruitless series of emails we exchanged with the operators, asking for more transparency in their operation), neither of us could in good conscience recommend the place.
I ended up writing a different post (The Questionable Ethics of Wildlife Tourism in South Africa), and later on in Asia we steered clear of animal-related tourism, including the famous Asian Elephant parks. We’d become awfully jaded, tired of petting zoos masquerading as medical centers, tired of tourists buying into the bull.
Yet, there was something undeniably amazing about standing next to those mighty animals that day in South Africa…
This year, I’m dedicating a little collection of elephant photos to Miss Amelia on her third birthday.
Just like an elephant, Amelia never forgets! She came with her mom and sister to visit Lucie and me a few weeks ago, and asked for a particular stuffed animal that she’d only seen once before, last summer, tucked away in an old cradle (it was Ted’s threadbare little childhood lambie that he saved for our Peach). I went and found it (in it’s new home, buried in the nursery closet until Lucie’s older) and brought it out for her to play with. Sure enough, that was the little Velveteen-Rabbit-esque animal she remembered…well worn, well loved.
I’m crossing my fingers and hoping Amelia will remember those early pictures of the elephants and enjoy today’s snapshots, too!
Walking with African elephants – note, again, please see The Questionable Ethics of Wildlife Tourism in South Africa for our more candid thoughts on places like these…
Leathery ears and crinkled skin…
Feeding on fruit slices…
Weathered and worn…
For as incredibly majestic as the animals were, the shameful bit of the experience was feeling like false pretenses were in play.
Perhaps with honest presentation of the facts, we would’ve more wholeheartedly enjoyed the visit with the impressive pachyderms and been willing to recommend it to others following in our footsteps along the Cape on their visits to South Africa.
As it stands, perhaps I can offer the next-best recommendation?
A visit to the Oregon Zoo!
If you’re going to support wildlife tourism, seek out reputable places.
I interned for a summer with the horticulture staff at the Oregon Zoo and got to see plenty of behind-the-scenes peeks at the animal care, and I’m looking forward to taking my little Lucie to the zoo when she’s old enough to enjoy it.
The Oregon Zoo was founded in 1888 and has “the most successful zoo elephant breeding program in the world.” Baby elephant Lily was born while we were in New Zealand and turned one last fall; this cute two minute video shows off her first 12 months of life. (Hope you love this, too, Amelia!)
Lastly, since we’re on the topic of babies and elephants…I’ll leave you with my favorite lullaby of the past year: a new cover of the old song Baby Mine, as originally seen on the classic elephant movie, Dumbo.
Happy Birthday, Amelia! (And mom! And Abraham Lincoln!)
And…six months from now (August 12th), happy World Elephant Day!
“World Elephant Day asks you to experience elephants in non-exploitive and sustainable environments where elephants can thrive under care and protection.”
Have you had a good (or bad) experience with captive wildlife? If you could stand next to an elephant in person and hold its trunk and pet its ears, would you?