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    Malaysian Travel Journal: Elephants are Cool!

    I'm not an animal lover. I've had pets that I've loved, but I've never referred to them as "my children." I don't eat much meat, but I'm not opposed to animals as food. Like most normal people, I balk at animal cruelty, but I balk more at people cruelty. And, when it comes down to it, I'd rather we spent our resources taking care of children than stray dogs and cats.

    But for some reason, I go absolutely crazy for wild animals. Trekking through the Sumatran jungle to see wild and semi-wild orangutans counts as one of the highlights of my life so far. A few months later, I trekked through another forest to get a look at the elusive and adorable tarsirs. And I can't even form cogent sentences about the beauty of fish and coral that I've discovered while snorkeling around the islands of Indonesia.

    So, it was with a child's sense of wonder and excitement that I set out for the Kuala Gandah Elephant Sanctuary. There are places in Malaysia where you can see Asian elephants in the wild--and believe me, I plan to park my ass up in a jungle treetop viewing platform overnight to get a look at them. Until then, a trip to the sanctuary was a good introduction into the world of Asian elephants.

    At the center, they take care of elephants that are being relocated from more populated areas of Asia into the remaining jungle as well as babies that have been orphaned. On the day I visited, they had 22 elephants in residence. For a couple of hours each afternoon, they trot out eight grown elephants and a couple babies. Guests get to feed them, which I did, and ride them, which I did not. They also get to go into the river and play with the babies while they bathe. I also skipped this part. I wanted to, but we didn't know that we had to call ahead. Only 150 people per day are allowed close contact.

    Before going, I had some reservations about elephants forced to perform tricks to amuse humans. But after my visit, while it still feels a bit wrong, I am glad they do it. The center is free, but donations are accepted. They are also necessary to sustain the work that is being done there. Do you have any idea how much an elephant eats every day? No? Well, let me tell you. A lot. An awful lot. That food costs money, so if a few of the elephants have to sing for their supper, so be it.

    The elephants that are part of the daily viewing are what they call "working elephants." Imagine that you are an elephant handler tasked with taking a wild elephant from a farm that used to be a junge somewhere in Thailand or Myanmar. If you don't capture and relocate the elephant, somebody is going to shoot it. But if do capture and relocate the elephant, he or she is going to be terribly frightened, not to mention more than a little pissed off.

    How do you stop the wild elephant from trampling you to death? You surround it with two mature working elephants who rumble their stomachs to calm the newcomer down. Then, you use the working elephants to lead a trek into the jungle where you will leave the wild elephants to make a new home.

    How cool is that?

    The elephant sanctuary is a couple hours from my new home and I will probably make another visit to play in the river with the babies. If there is anything that comes close to feeding my soul as well as interacting with kids every day, it's watching in amazement as wild animals do their thing.

    P.S. Today, while driving down the road that leads to my apartment, I saw in the distance what looked like two big, hairy dogs loping along. As i got closer, I realized there was something not quite dog-like about the way they were loping. Then, one ran across the road just in front of my car. I swear it was a freaking baboon! I live amongst baboons now. I'll ask again: How cool is that?

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    Elephants are cool. One of my favorites when I visit the zoo.  I refuse the denigrate baboons by comparing them to the citizens of the Sunshine State.

    You used to live in Indiana.

    And yet, today you're thrilled to be living amidst baboons.

    There's a moral to this story, and ATrope ain't a gonna like it. 

    P.S. That is cool!

    As soon as I saw the baboons, I knew there was a metaphor in there somewhere!

    I'm officially jealous...no, envious, I guess it is.  I hate it that I'll never get to meet a camel,or an elephant, or see a gorilla other than in a zoo. 

    And thanks for saying you're far more concerned about children-care than stray dog and cat care; me, too, and I've often wondered why the wealthy among us are more apt to contribute to pet rescue organizations. 

    I was going to let the child versus pet false argument go until you commented on it stardust. This is a sore point for me because I hear it so often. That somehow because people are helping animals they are not helping people. (Perhaps that is not what you are saying with you statement. I am open to hearing what you mean if I have misunderstood.) First off, I think most people contribute to a variety of causes. It is possible to help elderly people, children, veterans, homeless individuals, and animals. There's enough love to go around. But we often find ourselves becoming more involved in certain causes because that is either where we feel we can be the most helpful or maybe something has happened that makes it a high priority for someone to help, such as when someone dies or has cancer in your family so you start to devote time to that cause. I am not meaning to sound patronizing because I am sure you are aware of this. But people need to remember that we have are roles that help us contribute to the world. If there is a disaster somewhere the Humane Society is going to go to help the displaced animals because that is what they have trained to do. They are not going to help rebuild houses and rebuild the cities because that is not their role. Instead the Red Cross and other organizations would provide that service, as they have been trained to do.

    Second point, the issue of animal welfare is easier to discuss and simpler than child welfare, which is probably why you hear so much about it. I find a stray animal on the side of the freeway or stranded on the freeway all the time. I stop, pick up the animal and take to a shelter or a place where they can get medical care. I have yet to find a stray child on a road or anywhere else (other than at a store or something where they have become lost) but if I do I will stop and help them. Yes, there are plenty of children in bad situations but it is not as obvious and if I wanted to deal with that I would need to go to school and change professions. It is just less complicated when dealing with animal welfare so I believe the conversations, due to their simplicity are more obvious and prominent.

    I will get off my soap box now and say that I think it is great that Orlando is in a place where she is able to experience such diversity. Take plenty of pictures and enjoy while you are there.

    Point taken, emerson. I didn't at all mean to impugn the humane society or the role it plays. And, just so you know I'm not entirely immune to the plight of animals, I found my last dog in a parking lot, about to run into traffic. I took him to the shelter and nobody claimed him after a week. So, he was mine.

    In your comment, you alluded to the fact that it is far less complicated to take care of damaged animals than it is to take care of damaged children. I think it's the indignation of strident Peta-type folks that gets to me sometimes. While I understand that everyone has a role to play and everyone has differing interests and causes, I think we don't do as well as we should as a society in setting our priorities. 

    As a vegetarian and someone very sympathetic to emerson's point, let me state that I think that PETA jumped the shark quite some time back. Maybe I just used to be more ignorant about them, but once upon a time I respected them. That stopped about the time of their "Got Beer" and advertisements about Rudy Giuliani's cancer (making a connection to milk consumption). I don't doubt that the milk industry has an unholy alliance with the FDA, but they crossed one two many lines for me.

    Before I go on I want to apologize for shifting the subject. I think your post is very nice and I love how you are sharing your adventures with everyone. I have learned some things about elephants that I did not know and that picture of the elephant enjoying a shower is very cute. There is something so graceful and calm about elephants. I envy your experience in getting to be close to them.

    I, too, find PETA to be a bit aggressive and not to my liking. I think they have some good points but I don't prefer their methods. (Although a friend once gave me one of their vegan cookbooks and it has some great recipes in it.) But I do believe that the issues they bring up are important.

    I think the reason that it is less complicated to take care of animals than children is because the abuse is more obvious. The animal rights movement is at an early stage still. It is easy to make an argument against the more apparent abuses against animals such as slaughter houses or dog fighting or destroying animal's natural habitats because of more development. It is harder to find a specific case of abuse against children, such as in the past (in the US) the argument against child labor, that could be sited as a clear violation of our principles. The abuse happens mainly behind closed doors. And even if people have suspicions it is often hard to do anything about it.

    It is a lot like the women's movement. At first what was being fought against was clear: the right to vote, to be financially independent, to run for and be able to hold office. There is still discrimination against women but it is more insidious now and harder to get a clear and distinct argument about discrimination. As an example, the pay inequality discussion that has been going on the last few years.

    So I think, no, I know many people care deeply about children and they help where they can but it is hard sometimes to get a clear grip on how to help when there are neglected children. Primarily because you often don't hear of it because it is kept secret. Although did you hear about the 4 year old who escaped a house to get help for her two little sisters from parent's who had them boarded up in a room? What a brave little girl! And only 4. I think that is an amazing story. And since it has been brought to light I am sure they will go to a home where they are cared for and loved. I sincerely hope so.

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