A trumpet for compassion on World Elephant Day

Indian elephant bull in musth in Bandipur National Park (Photo under Wiki Commons license)

JR Cajilig / OeconoMedia

It must be their size. They are gentle despite their size. It must be their anatomical eccentricities. It must be the biology behind these eccentricities.

I’ve never been sure how my fondness for elephants started, but three things are happening today: “World Elephant Day;” 55 elephants are slaughtered every day in Africa; and there are less than 40,000 of these animals left in Asia.

I grew up, like many young Filipinos then, going out to circuses and zoos. It was only there that I could see an actual, and the only elephant, in the Philippines.

The day I finally saw one in the flesh could easily be the happiest in my light-up-shoes-and-jumpers era until we, the children, all fast-forwarded into adulthood, getting wiser by the day, learning and regretting about these whims and blissful ignorance, one of which is Mali, the elephant in the Philippine zoo.

Elephants are not endemic to the Philippines. Mali, the superstar of our capital’s zoological park, was a present from Sri Lanka.

Since 1977, she has been living within the concrete limits and on cemented grounds of her enclosure in the company of her own loneliness.

Elephants are social animals and travelers by nature. Mali has been deprived of all these.

Animals deserve freedom, but we humans are so used to racial superiority that we never accept the truth that we are not the only ones who have skin that bleeds and a heart that beats.

We grow up finding amusement in the unusual, but the animals in the circus don’t get on unicycles with ruffles around their necks on their own. They don’t leap into burning hoops just for fun. They don’t hold brushes and paint a picture because they need money. They don’t carry people on their backs and circle the same paths every day. They don’t tremble to whips, to bullhooks, or to a human finger.

We may not be the biggest movers of change in the cause for animals, but we can ignite change in our simplest decisions. Never arrange for an elephant ride in your next Southeast Asian trip. The 46 likes on your #travelgoals entry on Instagram do not save the elephants from 46 pierces of the bullhook.

Always opt for a nature-friendly experience and for sustainable tourism. Do not support the poaching industry. Do not patronize ivory (elephant tusk) products.

Boycott films that star live, captive elephants. Sign petitions on your mobile phones; “Free Mali” on WorldElephantDay.org.

There is too much attention on elephants now, but it’s for the betterment of all wildlife captured for human entertainment. If there’s wildlife in captivity, turn your back from it.

Lastly, spread the word. It’s about time you put social media to good use. We can keep our children and grandchildren from having another dodo in the books.

I learned compassion not from my own race but from the wild, which does not choose what breathing body deserves more.

It is neither the elephants, being gentle giants, nor their unique anatomy that make today worth the special mention. The real elephant in the room is lack of compassion for all.

Happy World Elephant Day. Happy Compassion For All Day. 

World Elephant Day is an international annual event on August 12, dedicated to the preservation and protection of the world’s elephants.

Vicente Cajilig Jr. was born on the island of Tablas in Romblon but grew up with his eyes diverted to the mountains and heart toward wildlife. A big pop culture fan, “JR” is a former contributor to a popular online magazine in the Manila.