Waking to the truth later can still bring great change

Written by Anonymous

I wish I can tell you that one look at an elephant at a zoo made me want a better life for all elephants. It did not start out that way for me I come from a culture that has held elephants captive for couple of thousand years. Ancient castles and temples were built using the strengths of elephants, even kings rode elephants to wars. When you grow up with something, it is easier to accept it as the norm.

I moved to United States from Sri Lanka when I was 17. As a child, and till recently, it never occurred to me that these majestic animals in captivity were in such horrible conditions, being treated so poorly and that they should not be there to begin with. I never paused to think how these beautiful souls came in to captivity or how they became so “tame” to walk in ritual Buddhist parades, perform ‘jobs’ and ‘entertain’ people.

I have always loved elephants and from my childhood in Sri Lanka, I have so many memories of them. When I was about 8 or 9, I remember visiting the elephant orphanage in Pinnawala, Sri Lanka. At that time, it was not setup as a “tourist” center. I remember all the elephant babies that came running to us and the mahout requesting us to leave in order to not anger the mother elephants. I remember early mornings, running to the window, to watch a mahout walk an elephant down a busy street that was not yet busy. I remember going to the Buddhist temple and quickly rushing through the prayers in order to go see the elephant that’s tied to a tree. Also, now I must admit that I have attended circuses, gone on elephants’ backs and watched elephant shows. None of these seemed abnormal to me.

I was completely blind to their suffering till this year. Few things happened that changed the way I view elephants. I read a book a by Jodi Picoult called “Leaving Time”. Here, she describes very beautifully the relationships among elephants, their emotions and behavior. Around the same time, a friend posted an article on Facebook about how elephants forced to give rides are treated. I was devastated. I started doing more research and the more I read, the more I realized that I have been completely ignorant. Now, I am constantly thinking of what I can do to make a difference.

My dream is to buy a large plot of land in Sri Lanka, set up a sanctuary for elephants that I hope to rescue from captivity. I realize this grand idea probably does not sound realistic to anyone else at many levels, but I strongly believe that if you put your heart and mind to something, you can accomplish it. For now, I am gathering information. I am reading as much as I can. I have looked at volunteering at the Elephant Nature Park or doing an internship via Kerulos Organization to get training. I want to make a difference and I know I can.

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