It’s easy to forget that there are wild places out there sometimes. I mean, when you live in a concrete jungle like Sydney, wild is what you see at King’s Cross on a Friday night in the wee hours, not the kind of wild you get when you’re out in the middle of the bush surrounded by impalas and the odd honey badger. My wee boy Solo turns two in a month’s time, and that’s significant, because for the first time since he was born I think he’s old enough (and I’m confident enough to leave him) to venture out on a Solo-free, solo adventure in the jungle… Does that make sense? (Trust us to give our son a potentially confusing name…!) What I’m trying to say is that India is calling. And – it’s time to dip my feet back in the wild.
For the last couple of years in between nappy changes, bedtime stories and snuggles, Animal Works, the not for profit organisation that artist Nafisa and I started the month that Solo was born (November 2009) has been growing at a similarly rapid pace as my son has. We’ve raised over $20,000 since we started, mainly through the sale of Nafisa’s elephant art (which is still selling) and the elephant adoption program for the orphans in Assam, run by our illustrious volunteer, Meli Souter. We’re still small as an organisation, but that works for us, because we get to see and feel the impacts on species and peoples’ lives that we make in the field. Connections like that work best in small organisations, I’ve found, so for now, we plan to stay that way.
So, in November, Nafisa and I will be heading back to Assam, this time to visit the orphaned elephants that I first met at the Wildlife Trust of India’s CWRC back in 2007. They were just babies then, but now they are living a relatively wild life in their new home, Manas National Park, following a successful rehabilitation and introduction to the area in January.
And we’ll be checking out Animal Works’ new project run by the Assam Haathi Project (“haathi” means elephant in Assamese) focusing on chillies. I always reckoned chillies would work to deter Asian elephants just as well as their African counterparts, advice I gave the Assamese Minister of Environment back in 2007, so it’s fantastic to hear that this group is having success growing chillies in Assam, using them to deter elephants and earning people good incomes as a result. We’re heading over to see how it’s going.
It’s human-elephant conflict season in Assam now due to the rice harvest drawing in elephants from the dwindling forest, so expect to see plenty of news stories for the next couple of months about elephants causing havoc, killing people and being killed by us too. It seems to me that these stories are becoming more and more prevalent, and less confined to a season; last year there were dozens of stories of elephants being hit by trains (one in which an entire herd was killed), electrocuted in low hanging power lines and poisoned.
Personally, I’m a bit sick and tired of all the bad news we always seem to hear about wildlife trying to survive in Asia, which is why we’ll be focusing in this trip on the excellent work being done by people who haven’t given up and still have hope. And if you ever need an example of what can be achieved, consider the stories of our elephant orphans, some of whom have survived when brought in to the centre at only a few months old, then built a new family of unrelated young elephants, and finally made it back to the wild, always under the care of dedicated staff. New orphans are always coming into the centre for rehabilitation, and not all of them make it, but those that do are living examples of what a supportive environment can achieve. Take Phillip Dev (right), one of the newest arrivals, who survived falling into a ravine and then lost his mother when she fell in too after going in after him. He’s doing well now, a shining example of courage against the odds.
You can get involved to help the elephants in India – and score yourself a fantastic piece of art too. This month we’re running an exclusive competition to help raise funds for the orphans in India. The prize is a framed African elephant artwork by Nafisa (left) worth $1500. To enter it’s just $10 a ticket, and only 100 will be sold in total. That means you have a one in a hundred chance of winning – very, very good odds. Enter here. To date 24 tickets have sold, so that’s 76 to go til we draw the winner! Good luck!