After a back breaking day of cutting corn in the fields, I escape from another cold shower and stumble to my raised bamboo hut to nestle a mosquito net around my mattress, per chance to sleep.
The moon has been full waning every nite, illuminating the conservation property and my screenless windows. Occasional trumpeting, crunching or squeaking of our rescued elephants dances through the jackfruit trees. Invariably, our semi-wild dogs go into pack howling every few hours, waking every sleeping being within miles.
I started actually listening to the dogs’ barking one nite – not as a sleep irritation, but as a conversation. The more I listened, the better I began to decipher their seeming ruckus into valuable communication. I hear a distant dog bark, possibly alerting everyone that movement has been detected near her territory. I hear three dogs to the East respond in acknowledgment of the situation, possibly communicating backup support or confirmation that their territory is in watch as well. It spreads this way throughout the park and for 15 minutes all dog voices take turns offering, responding, alerting and listening – I actually hear the conversation.
Howling and barking is such a natural part of their dog lives that I no longer wish to “shut them up” so I can sleep. Empathy has replaced resistance to their furor – I relate to my deep need to communicate with those of my own species. If someone tried to stop people from conversing with one another, we’d suffer individually as well as a group. Communication is one of our instinctual urges – so is it for these dogs. If there was ever any debate left in my personal mind over the injustice of how most animals are taken as “pets”, let it be resolved now as I observe the dog’s need to form “gangs”, to run free all day every day, to dig holes in the earth and seek a human out only occasionally as a potential source of easy food. Only a few of these dogs will even stop to be scratched by a human – we just don’t really register on their dog priority scale.
My respect for all animals expands during my volunteer position at the Elephant Nature Park in Thailand. This park is a refuge not just for the magnificent, endangered Asian elephant, but also for dogs, cats and water buffalo. Recently, the park saved a baby Asian black bear whom now resides in a towering tree, with a raised climbing hut and a bathing pool underneath. In Burma, these baby bears are caught and stuffed into tiny cages. Their front paws are cut off and their stomach bile is drained for the rest of their crippled and confined lives for sale for use in Traditional Chinese Medicine. This bear was rescued and the park believes they have located two more baby bears for rescue from a similar fate. Rescues of this sort are always accommodated – somehow – and the additional two baby bears will give the first baby the chance to form social companionship and possibly a family bond, over time.
The Elephant Nature Park’s refugees are not limited to four legged animals, either. Burma’s political climate has been one of literal genocide for years. Burmese refugees flee to Thailand and occasionally the Thai military does scrapes of the Northern jungle villages to detain and export the immigrants, however I often see the Thai people offer support systems for refugees out of compassion for Burma’s strife. It is a complicated situation which I can never pretend to fully understand, but getting to meet the Burmese refugees, now employed as elephant mahouts here at the park, has raised my consciousness and compassion to this complex reality. Some of the mahouts had to fight their drafted brothers in civil war. Some mahouts have watched their whole family be killed in front of them. Some fled to Thailand with their families for protection. Many have the scars of a genocidal political climate and need as much patience and rehabilitative love as the elephants they are caring for.
Everywhere I turn at the Elephant Nature Park, I see lives being saved. I see elephants whose spines will not be broken under the weight of trekking tourists. I see dogs whom will not be caged at the end of a 5 foot leash. I see bears whose paws will not be cut off in the name of medicine. I see humans whom will not face execution in front of their families.
As well, I see myself and all the places I must grow to accommodate these new realizations. After experiencing this, I can not remain the same. As children we lived with hope – the belief that anything could and might happen at any time. For some; bit by bit, and for others; all at once, hope is taken away. Possibility is crushed, freedom is limited, cages are built and the child inside dies – our spirits become severed. It is the precious gem of hope that is being returned when we speak of being saved. All our lives – dog, human, elephant – are being saved at the Elephant Nature Park. Hope returns.
We swam in a swirling sea of smoke from our water hookah at the Bangkok restaurant. Real Egyptians populated the surrounding tables, laughing slightly too loud for the casual atmosphere. He dismissed himself to the bathroom and almost instantaneously an Eastern European woman materialized in his place. “Is he a Japanese American mix?” Suspiciously; “Yes.” “I knew it! That’s the perfect mix. I want to have his babies. They will be so beautiful.”
Yes, he is that pretty. And yes, his babies are indeed beautiful. But I don’t think that is why many Thai people choose to address my travel partner rather than myself – even though it was I whom requested the directions, made the reservation, paid for the meal, almost got ran into. Why would many Thai people address the man when it is clearly the woman whom they are interacting with? Cultural differences.
Culture is the collective soul of a group of people based on climate, environment, religion, art, politics and every single thing that ever happened to their communal family since the begging of time. Culture is complex. And absolutely rich with human-ness. In an age where the machine, where the corporation, where the system sets out to dehumanize and devalue my human experience, culture is where I can find that precious pearl inside the the living being. Even when I do not get looked in eyes or spoken to directly, I wish to protect that culture. At the same time, I sure am thankful to be a woman whom calls Hollywood, CA, USA her home in the year 2010. There is no place I’d personally rather live as a woman alive today.
One of the cultural differences between Thailand and the United States is religion. The grand majority of Thai people practice Buddhism, while the average population in the United States calls themselves some sect of Christian. I am not Christian, personally, and don’t think of myself as living a Christian lifestyle, but visiting a Buddist culture, where the assumed Christian morals are notably absent, really wakes me up to how Christian my life is by default based on culture alone whether I like it or not.
For example, anthropomorphism (the attribution of human characteristics to a god, animal or object) is a valuable scientific practice that would earn a researcher dishonorable discharge from the scientific community in any Christian country. Even the scientific community does not recognize how religious they are, protecting the belief that man has dominion over other animals and therefore can kill, eat and experiment on them on the basis that they “have no feelings” while having never allowed research to be published that proved or disproved the consideration. Seems quite religious and not scientific at all.
In Thailand, however, the Buddhist religion generally embraces the emotional capacity of all beings, allowing an empathetic consideration for all life forms to be utlized in their sciences, culture and every day practices. I can see this cultural difference daily by the way people with little to eat share food with stray dogs and cats, rather than impounding them. In fact, it is considered exceptional karma to give care to other beings in need, including animals that are not pets. Vegetarianism is commonplace in Thai culture. Some Buddhist temples provide free vegetarian meals daily to the community. Chiang Mai, a city with a population of only 150,000 hosts a whopping 41 vegetarian restaurants.
One of which is the Free Bird Cafe. This Non Governmental Organization offers vegetarian/vegan Western and Thai food, a second hand clothing store, clean refillable drinking water source and an arts and crafts shop. 100% of all profit benefits the Thai Freedom House, a language and arts community center for indigenous tribe and Burmese refugee families in Northern Thailand. Talk about something that must be understood from the native culture’s perspective to understand it at all … culture is complicated. But food can be and often is our passageway in.
Free Bird Cafe, Chiang Mai, Thailand vegan dish Thai Freedom House refugee and indigenous students
Shout out to Mae Do the loveliest lady in Thailand!Shout out to the artist that did this on Alameda and 4th! Choose something to care about and don’t hold back none!
The fate of animals is of greater importance to me than the fear of appearing ridiculous; it is indissolubly connected with the fate of mankind. – Emile Zola
In my opinion, animal rights are a necessary component of environmentalism. We share this planet with millions of other species that have many of the same drives and desires as we do. They strive to live. They care for their young. They feel pleasure, fear and pain. If these were not enough reasons for us to treat them as subjects instead of objects, there are more. Ultimately, our fate is inseparable from theirs. As Chief Seattle—leader of the Suquamish and Duwamish Native American tribes—said in 1855, “Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.”
I mention all of this as a preface to telling you about a new film I’m proud to be in. Its imminent premiere is keeping me extremely busy, so I’ll rely a bit on quotes from its press release to tell you about it. The film is called Bold Native, and it’s “the first fiction film about the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), a non-centralized group of animal liberators and economic saboteurs that the FBI calls their top domestic terrorist priority.” I play the character I Rock who is the film’s comedic relief.
The plot line goes like this: “Charlie Cranehill (played by Joaquin Pastor), an ALF member wanted by the government for domestic terrorism, emerges from the underground to coordinate a nationwide action, while his CEO father (Randolph Mantooth, Emergency) tries to find him before the FBI does. Simultaneously, a young idealist campaigns for more humane treatment of farmed animals on behalf of a large nonprofit organization, and a woman from Charlie’s past threatens to undermine his plans.”
Bold Native is something special because vegetarians, environmentalists and activists often get only documentaries supporting our points of view. Bold Native is a scripted film—with well-known actors moving a powerful storyline. This kind of art can affect change on a deeper level than many documentaries because often viewers relate to well-acted characters more personally than factual image sequences.
And Bold Native isn’t just a film about animal compassion; it is a film that lives animal compassion. For example, we had an entirely vegan set and rescue animals were often there during filming. In fact, one of Bold Native’s rescues, Jumper the piglet, appears as himself in the film! The entire production company is vegan and Open Road Films gave preferential treatment in casting to “vegetarians, vegans and others with intimate knowledge of ‘the subject.’”
Bold Native has a cast of 60 including many cameos like “veteran activist Peter Young, who served two years in federal prison for releasing thousands of mink from fur farms; actor/activist Chris DeRose, founder of Last Chance for Animals; pioneering animal rights lawyers Shannon Keith and Odette Wilkins; famed first amendment lawyer Louis Sirkin; John Feldmann, lead singer of the seminal pop-punk band Goldfinger; rapper MC Supernatural; and television stars Dianna Agron (Glee) and Whitney Mixter (Showtime’s The Real L Word).”
As the press release explains, the film “reflects a growing cultural debate about the use of animals for food, clothing, entertainment and scientific research. The Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) of 2006 enabled the prosecution of activists as terrorists if their actions result in economic damage to corporations in animal industries like factory farms, slaughterhouses, research labs or fur farms. In addition to narrative storytelling, the film incorporates undercover footage from labs, farms and real-life animal liberations for stunning realism.”
Here are some quotes from the filmmakers…
Writer/director Denis Hennelly: “Bold Native is first and foremost an adventure story about people who risk their freedom for the lives of the innocent and defenseless, and while it’s a film about a serious subject, it’s also a celebration of life, so it has a sense of humor and playfulness that people don’t expect.”
Producer Casey Suchan: “The animal-rights movement is often called the newest social-justice movement and is unique both in seeking to endow rights to sentient beings currently classified as property, and in terms of government targeting, indicting and imprisoning activists, even for involvement in above-ground, constitutionally protected protest activity. The ALF does break the law, but they outright forbid any action that might cause harm to humans or nonhumans—a track record unmatched by even the FBI itself.”
Producer Mary Pat Bentel: “This film was motivated by real events that are happening right now. Billions of animals are at this very moment living and dying under horrific (but) legal circumstances. Our country and planet need to confront the question of animal use and exploitation. And this timely picture prompts us to do just that.”
The release schedule for Bold Native is as follows: “[It] will screen for activists and high-profile Hollywood supporters in a red-carpet premiere June 16 at the historic Majestic Crest Theater in Westwood. An encore screening featuring live music and guest speakers will be held outdoors at the Mark Taper Amphitheater at TreePeople in Beverly Hills’ Coldwater Canyon Park on June 18. The premiere events kick off an independently booked West Coast tour as part of Bold Native’s hybrid distribution strategy. Screenings are set for June 24 in Portland at the Let Live Foundation 2010 Animal Rights Conference; June 29 in Seattle at the Northwest Film Forum; and Washington DC July 16 at the Animal Rights 2010 National Conference.”
If you’d like to see Bold Native come to your town, write the producers from their website below. This is exactly the type of film you have the power to bring to you. Of course, I hope you come join me on my first theatrical red carpet this week in Los Angeles! If you see the film atany of its currently scheduled screenings, please let me know what you think by adding your review in the comments below this post.
Cirque du Soliel spawned a circus revival when it hit the Vegas strip—aerialists, hand balancers, acrobats and clowns now populate not only the big top but music concerts, MTV videos and commercials as well. Yet a circus is authentic only if we are dazzled by a death-defying knife-throwing act. Jack Dagger and I keep this original circus art alive and will be doing so this Thursday on the Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien!
It’s extra special to see a real knife-thrower perform. In this regard, Jack Dagger is truly one of a kind. And to top off this rare performance on NBC, Jack Dagger and I will be performing our deadly “Cucumber Cut.” After Jack throws knives with Conan, he will slice a cucumber in half off of my arm (hopefully without injuring me in the process) as the grand finale. This stunt is something you won’t see on the Vegas strip.
As you might remember, only two weeks ago I was featured on Showtime’s Live Nude Comedy, cracking a flower out of my shaking assistant’s mouth with my 5-foot bullwhip. The danger and thrills just don’t stop! Support your favorite cruelty-free/non-animal circus act and watch Jack Dagger and me this Thursday!
My favorite thing about volunteering at the Elephant Nature Park in Thailand’s village countryside was nite time.
My room was a hut and it was made of bamboo. Surely volunteers like myself had built it no more than two years ago. I know because we volunteers were replacing fence constructed of the same bamboo as part of our work/stay. The monsoon season, which we all surrendered sloppily into, really speeds up the life process. Things never dry out and the spider that considered my hut his (and was probably right), was larger than my outstretched hand and housed uncomfortably close no matter where in the room.
My hut was the best. It stood on poles to slow the floor’s rot on the always-wet ground. It had two windows (rather than the other rooms’ one) – neither of which had screens or anything factory-made or expensive like that.
So it was me, Arachno-dude, and within 50 feet, just outside of my two windows; eleven elephants all nite long.
What does an elephant do at nite? They chomp big time on the corn stalks we cut in the fields for 5 hours a day (face to the earth / back to the sky). They chomp three at a time for hours, sounding like boards snapping and bones cracking, but no … they are vegetarian like me. Wait … they are raw vegan like me. Elephants eat 300 pounds of raw vegan food every day. I wonder where they get their protein from?
Elephant calves play at nite. They hug and tug one another. They practice gentle sparring. And sometimes they get startled by the unseen, like any baby would – maybe a mouse runs behind their feet or something – and they chirp like big birds, kinda squawking and causing a nervous commotion. Until the auntie blasts one resounding trumpet. And they shut up real quick like. When an elephant momma speaks …
You can’t see elephants at nite. I don’t know how they do it, but the largest land mammal on earth really can just disappear kinda become invisible. Like a shadow – no, a black hole. Any light that would be in the area of a nite elephant is sucked in towards it with no hope of escaping. The elephant is Whatisdark and the only way you know an elephant is there is a kind of vibration in the air and a few gentle sounds. I listened to them all nite long.
Now, in Hollywood, I close my windows and turn on the fan and sometimes even wear ear plugs I’m not kidding because if the smallest change in air pressure doesn’t wake this insomnia-inclined light-sleeper up, then the Hollywood helicopters will.
But I didn’t wear ear plugs here. I didn’t cover my ears with anything more than a mosquito net. Instead, the sounds of the elephants no matter what they were tasking lulled me into an in between world. They drop the grass on the ground, I fall to the ground. They sigh, I am exhaled as moisture into the air. They snore, one long, everlasting lung full of air and I believe I can hear the earth sleeping. Yes, even elephants sleep. I know they do.
Unless one was inclined to listen all nite, one may never know. For only 4 hours every nite, the sleeping sounds do inebriate. And I was alone, lulled and listening one nite, and I had to see it to prove it. So I wandered without flashlight as close as I could – maybe ten feet away – and I saw what I needed to see: elephants really do lie down to sleep when they feel safe.
And they snore an elephant’s snore – the sound of everything all right in the world.
I’m a changed woman.
I mean, I am always changing, but some changes are more meaningful than others.
Life changing. Perspective changing. Spirit changing. Soul changing. The elephants can’t help it.
Without even seeing them, you sense them. 6 tons of isolated consciousness, breathing, focusing, feeling … on the grandest scale of all. Elephants exert a gravitational pull they are so massive. Like little Earths on Earth. Even sleeping over 100 yards away, their presence comforts. A forced meditation for all that surround them. A lesson in patience just to contemplate them. A lesson in gentle relations. A lesson in finely directed intelligence.
To be near an elephant, these things are unavoidable. They change anyone who comes into close, compassionate contact with them. They change the world we walk on. Even children whom have never seen an elephant in real life, I am convinced, are affected by elephants living somewhere on this Earth. It is my goal to make sure this endangered species exists in this world.
This world is a better place with elephants in it.