Burma and the road to humanity

Every year on August 12th we celebrate World Elephant Day. It is a date on which we should all pause and reflect on how we define our humanity. To each of us, that definition might be different for we all define ourselves and judge ourselves based on a moral code and social norms that we choose to individually subscribe to. Though there are differences around the world that divide us, one thing that should unite us is our love, care and compassion for all animals and especially elephants – a majestic keystone species on the brink of extinction. But sadly, not everyone is united in the love of animals and as a result there are animals, like the elephant, who need our help for that moral code that should guide all of us sometimes fails to deter our fellow human from inflicting cruelty on those who are defenseless against man. World Elephant Day should serve as a reminder of the struggle that we face to protect this keystone and majestic animal from those who have chosen to silence their moral code and our ability to win this epic struggle is the ultimate tipping point to defining our humanity.

But today provides more than just the opportunity to reflect on the plight of the elephant, but also to thank those who have committed their lives to ending this epic struggle. The number of individuals and organizations around the world who serve as the bulwark against the evil that drives people to inflict unspeakable cruelty against these magnificent creatures seems limitless - and though sadly they toil in many cases in obscurity, there are victories that prove that their struggles are making a difference. But the victories aren’t just those derived from individuals, organizations and NGOs. Sometimes, the victory is achieved by the action of a government and there is no better example than what is currently unfolding in Myanmar (formerly known as Burma).

As Mahatma Gandhi once stated, “the greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” As the founder and President of The Elephant Project, I was honored to have met this last June with individuals from the highest levels of Myanmar’s government down to the mahouts who wake up every morning to the sight of these majestic animals. At every level, the belief and desire in protecting these iconic animals, both those in the wild and those under the care of the government, was absolute. There is no greater example than their commitment to the continued care of the approximately 3,000 government owned timber elephants and the thousands of mahouts and their families who care for them every day – a situation that was created when the government chose to end the devastation of their forests caused by excessive logging - putting these elephants and their mahouts out of work. Many governments, especially those faced with tremendous economic and political challenges like Myanmar, would have simply walked away from any commitment to continue to help these elephants and the people who care for them, but they didn’t. To the contrary, the government has continued their support and are being proactive in ensuring the long-term viability of the elephants that reside within this beautiful and mystical nation. The Elephant Project is proud to be working with the government to implement innovative solutions to end the challenges these elephants face.

On this important day, we should take solace in the fact that despite the immense challenges of protecting elephants globally from extinction, there is hope that the bulwark is growing stronger as evidenced by what is happening in Myanmar – a country at the precipice of a frontier of uncertainties. But the fact that the government and its diverse population of 51 million have chosen to walk side-by-side with the elephants as it writes the newest chapter in its quest to free itself from their current struggles and ghosts of the past, is a testament to their humanity and the greatness of their nation. That is just one example of the progress being made through the selfless acts of so many. Let’s use today to not only raise the trumpets of alarm in this epic struggle, but to also thank those who give us hope that soon those trumpets will be sounding in celebration and not to give notice that the evil that resides in some of our fellow humans has yet to be extinguished by the moral code that defines humanity. 

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