Anantara Blogs Elephant Tails

The Wrong Light

By John Roberts
11 July 2017 00:53:00

It is not often you’ll see me plugging a movie in these pages but I’ll do it now.

I do it not because I’m a producer of this one (in a Kickstarter kind of way); not because I introduced one of these ladies to elephants, unknowing of this story and after the story had happened; not really even because since I’ve been messing around with elephants up here I have seen this as a far bigger issue, not only the abuse of the ladies, girls & boys in question but the ‘industry’ that has grown up around their ‘rescue’ - with some genuine organisations; some good ones that, nonetheless, cause harm by seeking to enforce their values onto the children, have them grow up separate from the people who are their people and; of course, the outright frauds of which this movie highlights one of several I have tripped over down the years.

I do it because every time I read these stories I am reminded - much less seriously, what can be more serious than a child’s life? - of the elephant rescue industry and the parallels.

Only John could take a story as serious, as sad, as this and think, “hey, it’s all about meeeeee!”.

But, you see, in any business where donation money is to be made from providing life improvements for things people care about, children/elephants, continued donations often require new stories and the temptation, for some it seems, is to embellish or make up stories.

Every elephant, no matter where acquired from must be a “rescue”, its previous life must have been hell, its conditions now unimaginably better.

You hear some questionable things down the years: perfectly healthy elephants bought for vast donated sums only to be presented as beasts in need of urgent care; missions to the Thai/Myanmar border because “I’ve got a donation for another rescue, I need to produce an elephant”; blind elephants being bought for more than a similar, sighted elephant because “every sanctuary needs a blind elephant”.

I could go on, but I won’t.  Of course, in most cases, the seller takes the massive money given and buys another elephant to look after in exactly the conditions the buyer gets busy terming as abusive for their donor.

We had a case here.  An elephant with us for 2 1/2 years; you’ve seen our place or you’ve read about our work, nowhere is perfect and we certainly do not claim it, but we certainly provide veterinary care, fodder, enrichment, other elephant quality time and a natural environment.  This particular elephant was a bit tough, we remember, because they were one of the cases where we had to daily pressure the mahout to get the free roaming happening, to ensure the exercise is done.

But that’s the downside of not buying elephants, when mahout and owner is not predisposed to follow our way of doing things it requires pressure from us to get it done - we can’t just replace the mahout and keep going - so we cajole, shame, fine where necessary to make it happen.

At a certain point, as they sometimes do, the mahout told us he was bored of all the nagging, he didn’t get into mahouting to have to exercise, to have to watch his elephant socialising in the grassland (we won’t go into why he did go into being a mahout) and he was leaving with his elephant.

The allotted day arrived, the ele left, I didn’t attend because I never do.  Marriages yes, funerals no; welcome parties yes, farewells no - just a ‘me’ thing.

Three months later the elephant turns up on Facebook, I won’t share the quotes to protect the innocent but let's just say ‘telling tales of drunkenness and cruelty’ doesn’t touch it - and all piled on ‘the last camp’.  Now, technically, we weren’t the last camp, the elephant was elsewhere for three months - it so happens because we have a network we know where, what happened and who arranged it (not us).  

But the elephant still pops up in Facebook from time to time with a lot of “for the first time in its life it is getting vet care/love/proper food/exercise” you name it, if you are the person who donated to take this elephant from us, you believe that we never provided - I’m thick skinned by now but the team, the guys who daily went and shook the mahout from his bed and forced him to help them provide this, they get a look of murder in their eyes once they’ve dried their tears.

Now, watch “The Wrong Light”, it is powerful stuff about a much more serious problem, but if you have emotion left at the end, think a little of elephants and how the business of ‘rescue’ can work.

The Wrong Light opens in NYC Friday July 14th at Cinema Village and in LA July 21st at Laemmle's Monica Film Center

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Flirting with charming two-ton beauties and playing with jumbo babies, our Elephant Guru's blog introduces our colourful cast of gentle giants.

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