Animal Writes
From 9 January 2005 Issue

DawnWatch: New York Times Story on  [abused] Elephant Use in Tsunami Clean-up

The Friday, January 7, New York Times, covers the use of elephants in the Tsunami clean-up effort in an article, by James Brooke, headed "Thais Use Heavy Equipment: Elephants Help Recover Bodies." (Pg A13)

It tells us:

"Thais have long revered elephants as a national symbol. Now, the task of cleaning up in the aftermath of the deadly tsunami has, at least temporarily, brought elephants out of technological retirement."

They are used to shift debris and to locate and transport bodies.

The story includes the tale of the elephants, giving tourist rides, who (inadvertently) saved the lives of those tourists:

"Here in Khao Luk, people are talking about how eight elephants from a local tourist ride may have saved the lives of a dozen European tourists. After the earthquake, the elephants started trumpeting oddly. Then, shortly before the first tsunami hit, the story goes, they bolted for high ground, charging through jungle, with frightened tourists clinging desperately to their baskets on top. Down below, the waves were crashing through the resorts, wiping villas cleanly off their foundations, wrapping pickup trucks around utility poles, wedging a motorboat into a second-floor balcony and sending hundreds of tourists running, too late, for the high ground."

For those who did not receive or read through all of the Tsunami update I sent out Wednesday, I will share some of it here. I wrote:

"Even more ironic are stories of captive elephants in the Tsunami region, carrying tourists to safety or helping in the clean-up. In Thailand, baby elephants to be employed in the tourist industry are dragged from their mothers and have their spirits broken in a practice called Phaajaan. They are held in pens for three days and tortured. Many die. Each elephant's mother is chained nearby so that the baby learns that when he screams, his mother cannot or will not come to help -- he learns that he is utterly at the mercy of humans. You can see horrifying footage, or a slide show, of Phaajaan at Last year, PETA asked tourists to boycott Thailand to protest the practice. While talk of a boycott no longer seems appropriate, stories of elephants helping humans give us an opportunity to talk about what humans in Thailand do to elephants, and, of course, what we support if we ride elephants while traveling, or go to see Asian elephants at circuses."

The appearance of this story in the nationally and Internationally distributed New York Times gives us a chance to speak for that species that has been so abused by our own. You can read the whole story on line at:
l and send a letter to the New York Times at [email protected]
Always include your full name, address, and daytime phone number when sending a letter to the editor. Shorter letters are more likely to be published. I am always happy to edit letters.

Since I am again suggesting that in the face of this disaster, which has killed so many people, we take on the somewhat awkward task of making sure that the world does not completely forget about the animals, I will include here the last paragraph from my Tsunami alert:

It is natural to feel helpless in the face of such a disaster. Those of us who cannot go to the disaster sites to help, can donate; funds help. (Vegetarian food relief: ) And we can write letters to the editor, appealing to the world's heightened state of compassion, and reminding people that there is daily massive suffering that generally doesn't make the news, and which humans have the power to stop. Since those in animal abuse industries like to portray animal advocates as misanthropes, it is important to remember, in such letters, to express the sympathy for the human victims -- sympathy that we might just take for granted. There is a line to be walked, pointing out the ironies in some of the animal stories without appearing to have little concern for people. It is worth walking -- our letters are worthwhile. They don't bring the same immediate gratification as handing out food or providing shelter. But whether read by the public, or by news editors, they make sure that the plight of non humans is part of the public dialogue. They give a voice to those who suffer year round and who rely on a small group of committed people to speak on their behalf.

An update since that Wednesday alert: I shared the story of the rescue of one trapped dolphin and the apparent death of another. It has not been in the news, but Jill Robinson, from Animals Asia, who was in Phuket this week, tells me she was told by others on the scene that "there may only have been one dolphin after all in the Tsunami made lake and that pictures showing two individual animals, may actually have been of one and the same dolphin, which had been reversed." A hopeful thought. But then every year thousands of dolphins still suffer and/or die at human hands.

Finally, I wanted to let people know that the superb website, Animals' Voice, has a terrific page devoted to the Tsunami disaster, giving information on relief agencies and much of the latest animal related news: 

Yours and the animals',
Karen Dawn

(DawnWatch is an animal advocacy media watch that looks at animal issues in the media and facilitates one-click responses to the relevant media outlets. You can learn more about it, and sign up for alerts at  To unsubscribe, go to  If you forward or reprint DawnWatch alerts, please do so unedited -- leave DawnWatch in the title and include this tag line.)

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