The Re-Focus on Elephants project sets out to gather information from all sides of the elephant conservation issue.  From experts to enthusiastic amateurs, tourists, owners and mahouts, all voices will be sought out, all answers considered.  A guiding philosophy of this project is derived from Aristotle: to be able to entertain an idea without accepting it.  No one of us cannot pretend that people who behave in ways toward elephants that we perceive to be harmful or immoral do not exist; we cannot imagine that they will quietly go away because we perceive our moral high-ground to be of greater altitude than theirs.  Every one of us has a part in the solution.

An set of questions has been drafted covering topics of

  • captive vs wild elephants
  • domesticed vs captive
  • re-release of captive elephants to the wild
  • management in captivity and the basic needs of elephants
  • elephant riding
  • training techniques and repercussions on physical and psychological state
  • government policies
  • the current role of conservationists, tourists, lawmakers and mahouts
  • the possible role of conservationists, tourists, lawmakers and mahouts

All sides of the elephant conservation argument are ultimately valid in one way or another.  But is arguing the right attitude to enter into this with?  The elephants don’t have time for our debates; their time is rapidly running out.  The judgements on our part of “good guy” and “bad guy” are arbitrary and, in the end, of little use to an elephant.  When it comes down to it, we all share a common goal: we want elephants to continue to be around.

Why do we still applaud so loudly the little victories and attractive personalities while behind us the elephant sinks further into the quicksand, waving its trunk politely and saying, “Hey! Rememeber me?” Do we really just want to feel we are part of something positive, but not be willing to look honestly at whether that is actually the case or not? ~ “Elephant Dreaming

The Re-Focus Interview closes with three questions:

1. In an ideal world, what solution would you have for elephants?

2. In the real world today, is this solution possible?

3. So, what should we put our energies into fighting for to improve the lives of elephants today?

The answer to question 1 is most often: an end to captivity and freedom for all elephants in the wild.  The answer question 2 is most often: no.  So, what is the ethical, moral and practical answer to question 3?

When working with a horse you must first set a final goal, making your every action work towards that specific outcome, while at the same time discarding any notion or concept of a final goal.  In this way, there are no judgements of “right” or “wrong”, only the ever present mantra, “how can my next action make this horse feel better than he does now?”

Taking in all opinions, listening to all impassioned speeches, finding the common ground where we can create a compromise that best respects the rights of elephants and humans, can provide immediate, actionable answers.  The solutions may not be perfect, but they will be perfect for an imperfect situation.  Each implemented solution will change one thing, offering up a new baseline on which we can build ever better solutions.

It is our responsibility to elephants to bring the them back into focus and place them squarely in the center of the conversation; it is the first step on a road of many miles.

Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing…the phrase each other doesn’t make any sense. ~ Rumi