Sort By Month
Episode 10 of The Eco Tourist, my web series documenting a 3 week volunteer conservation trip to Thailand where my travel partner and I work with the endangered Asian elephant.
Told from the perspective of two Hollywood-based high raw vegans working in the film/television industry, in this tenth episode, you’ll see some very healthy and hilarious behaviors of Asian elephants. If the zoo, circus, sanctuary or trekking camp you are considering attending does not provide the opportunity for their elephants to exhibit these natural instincts, then find another. Find a true sanctuary where the elephants are free to:
1. scratch all day! 2. rumble, trumpet, squawk and communicate with other elephants 3. dust themselves with loose dirt 4. forage for wild plant food 5. roll in mud pits! 6. touch constantly and socialize with other elephants continually 7. raise the youngsters with familial discipline 8. be free from poking, stabbing and beating with the bull hook
These elephants at the Elephant Nature Park in Thailand (a real elephant sanctuary) are free to exhibit all these natural behaviors and are obviously healthy elephants. Just take a look:
Read about the difference between most circus, zoo and trekking elephants vs. HEALTHY elephants in sanctuaries in my award-winning column, Clean and Green Every Day, in EcoHearth online magazine here: Circus Elephants Life and Exposing Cole Bros Circus Elephant Cover Up.
Episode 6 of The Eco Tourist web series is LIVE! I never thought I’d be called to protest – I mean; rally – in Thailand, but as I mentioned in episode 5, to save an endangered species, you have to address the social, cultural, environmental AND political issues as well. We’ll here’s my chance to walk my talk!
This rally at the Governor’s Mansion in Chiang Mai, Thailand was a quite unexpected opportunity that presented itself during my volunteer position at the Elephant Nature Park. With support from international protesters, this video is in multiple languages, including Dutch, Israeli, Mandarine, French, Thai, Finnish and Scottish (which SOUNDS like another language, that’s for sure!). Enjoy episode 6 of The Eco Tourist:
In episode 4 of The Eco Tourist, my travel partner and I arrive at The Elephant Nature Park, where we will volunteer with this endangered species. But on our arrival day, a special treat – we get close to a baby elephant.
She’s the reason I went back. There is a girl in her twenties with eyelashes and spirit for days. Her amber eyes have seen things she has no fear of today. She is the happiest elephant I know precisely because she knows how bad it can be. And this is not it.
This is definitely not it.
The first time I volunteered here I was a student. I was a student of the gentle giants and I was a student of wo/mankind. I learned all the horrible things we can do. I learned all the awe inspiring things we can do. I watched the orphaned families all, reform new with other elephants rescued, rehabilitated and retired. I watched these massive beings take extra care to not step on any darting dogs at their feet. I watched them touch each other in movements than can only be described as caressing. And I knew, when I saw the family with two young children have an afternoon in the mud pit I had just broke back and dug out the day before, that there are great emotions in those great beings and I’m certain the capacity for joy be directly proportional to the size of a being’s heart. The elephant surrogate family unanimously lived a bliss that were it sun shine would have blinded the naked eye. I’ve never seen such magnitude of rapture outside this group of elephants, going as a family for a flop, slide, spray and wrestle in the mud pit.
To me, the elephant represents joy.
Like Medo; the elephant I have taken the time to watch and sit near. She does not flop in mud pits. Her hind body is crippled from the full accumulation of maladies this endangered species experiences in the real culture of Thailand, with logging illegal and tourism the gross national product, the layers of our human interference with this majestic species are many. Medo has seen them all. And when I touch her side and feel her warmth – I feel her breathe and feel a subconscious “thank you” issue forth from my lips regarding her life. She is alive. Thank you for Medo’s life.
She survived and now, too, she sees another layer of what humans are capable of. If we are an advanced species, it is demonstrated not in the research laboratories, the antique pews, or the 3D special effects, but in the acts of humanity I am living now. I am the impressive human that did not harm, ride or injure the Asian elephant when I visited Thailand. Count me energetically as One. One of the advanced in our species.
In fact, I worked my ass of for the Asian elephant instead. I scooped poop the size of bowling balls no kidding. I painted dried mud bricks, now a permaculture volunteer house. I loaded logs for the eles’ all nite fires. I scooped out a mud pit. I planted jackfruit and avocado trees on newly-acquired land that is protected and being turned from cabbage fields back into a wild Thai jungle with abundant fruit-bearing trees, perchance someday it may support the dietary and creative needs of a family of five pachyderms. That’s the intention anyway: privatize jungle land, but not to farm or clear for “development”. What the elephants need is more jungle.
What we all need is more jungle.
We can do this. It’s as easy as planting a tree and putting money into the hands of organizations with so much heart, their capacity for compassion is proportional.
Medo’s best friend forever is Mae Lana. Mae Lana used to be a little defensive and protective, I think, because she is 80% blind. Yes, she used to be a bit frightening at times. I liked to hang out with Medo, but in order to do so, I had to put up with her best girlfriend, Mae Lana.
Since my first volunteer experience, an older man in musht has appeared on the scene and Mae Lana’s attitude has changed completely. She is happier and almost giddy. She still can’t see a damn thing, but it is nice to be allowed proximity to Medo this time. I can observe … and feel … and appreciate the little surrogate family of three they’ve become. Elephants, like humans, have complex relationships and there is nothing more beautiful than seeing gigantic orphans form a family. They really love each other; elephants. Again; like humans. Everywhere I look, I see people wanting to communicate with other humans and live with certain ones and look at pictures of others. People love people. I know this now that I know how elephants love elephants. Elephant relationships are so complex, I learned about my own relationships from them. That’s a big lesson.
Even though some will never venture to see the native Asian elephant walking free, they still benefit from this ancient, wise, and wild vital energy existing on earth. I may not get to touch or feed an elephant every day, but the elephant energy walks this earth and all our lives are better for it. We must do what we can now, when the time is right. Now is when we have a place where our contributions matter . If you want to restore your faith in life and feel powerful and effective, save an elephant. If you want to believe something matters, believe in this.http://elephantnaturefoundation.org http://elephantvoices.org http://www.serengetiusa.com/ http://pawsweb.org http://www.helpelephants.com/
After an evening of explaining to a party of hundreds of fly Latin Americans why their usual trance music programming had been interrupted by 4 women taking off clothing on stage, I removed what was left of my costume and loaded out of The Lalas venue with intentions for home.
I was supposed to go to bed early tonite. To come straight back and catch up on sleep. But that’s just not how my evening goes.
After laughing with friends in the back of a car with the windows rolled up – you know why – the police officer was the right kind: just making sure I knew my lights were on. Of course I did, but how sweet. Thank you, Office-Sir. I really liked him.
I had intended on being in bed yesterhour but instead I keep thinking about things. Important things I keep trying to say to people, but I don’t know how. They ask me “how was Thailand?” and I can’t convey how life changing it really was. I’m changed spiritually. Sometimes I think somethings can only be written about. And then other things can only be felt.
Medo, the elephant. She is a very beautiful woman. She waves her ears more than other elephants, which every instinct I have tells me means she’s feeling light hearted and optimistic. I don’t know how I know these things, but sitting with the elephants gives you confidence in trusting what you know.
I touched her skin. Underneath, a powerful muscle, big enough to power an elephant, the size of my entire body – her shoulder muscle. I learned how to respect.
I touched her ear. It is thin and delicate and expressive. I can tell just by instinct that this part of her body must be caressed gently, it seems so sensitive.
I touched her nose tip, which is also her finger tip and it was wet and intelligent.
I sang her name and she looked at me with smiling auburn eyes and burlesque dancer eyelashes.
I touched her side and I cried. I touched it again and cried. Every time I touch the elephant’s rib cage – it is warm, even hot, and the being inside is alive. Very alive. And if I am patient and courageous, I can wait .. for .. it: she inhales. Wait, wait, wait: she exhales. Every three seconds her heart beats once. She breathes as if she follows the breath of the Earth itself. I apologize for all the humans who make mistakes – like me.
I do not look for a response. She doesn’t. She … just … breathes.
Whatever spiritual things I learned in Thailand, their effects created a woman whom wonders why, if I have so many ideas and techniques and scenes in my head, don’t I write a chapter instead of a blog next time. Looks like I found my protected place. Looks like I see my method of (not realizing) I was holding back. Feels like things, now exposed, can never stay the same.
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.