Posts Tagged ‘Elephant Voices’

Reflections on the 2012 Genesis Awards and the Elephant Summit

Friday, March 30th, 2012

This past week, I had the opportunity to meet many animal lovers at the 2012 Genesis Awards in Los Angeles and the 2012 Summit for Elephants at the Oakland Zoo.

The 2012 Genesis Awards were very exciting since “The Eyes of Thailand” won an ACE Documentary Film Award from the Humane Society of the United States. It was wonderful to meet everyone at the Humane Society, the other award winners, and also other people dedicating their lives to be a voice for the animals.

There were a LOT of speeches over the two-day event, but the two quotes that stood out the most to me were actually responses that we can all use when someone asks, “Why are you working so hard to help the animals when people are [hurt/ starving/ unemployed/ homeless/ etc.]?”

The first response is: Compassion is a muscle. It needs to be exercised.

The second is: Where there is animal neglect, there is child neglect. Where there is animal abuse, there is domestic violence. When we help the lives of non-human animals, we help the lives of the humans around them.

People have asked me the “Why animals?” question less and less over the years–perhaps because they realized after 4.5 years that I’ve cast my lot with the elephants–but it really helped to hear the Humane Society and its awardees make the connections, and it gave me hope that we can make significant gains to protect animals and end cruelty, just in time to attend the Elephant Summit.

The 2012 Summit for Elephants took a two-year break, so it was great to reconnect with all our “Ele-Friends” from 2010 and see what they’ve been up to. Here are some highlights:

  1. Jan Creamer and Tim Phillips from Animal Defenders International (ADI) discussed how Bolivia, Bosnia and now Greece were able to ban all animals in circuses and “entertainment”, in hopes that other countries, including the US, will also join the ban (See more at Break the Chain below).
  2. Kartick Satyanarayan and Geeta Seshamani of Wildlife SOS India gave everyone a quick overview of the issues facing Asian Elephants, particularly once they are considered “captive” by their respective governments, and how they are working within India’s systems to phase out all elephants in captivity and establish “Elephant Haven” as a model self-sustaining elephant sanctuary.
  3. Catherine Doyle of In Defense of Animals (IDA) talked about the importance of re-examining our relationships with non-human animals and using that as a springboard to discuss how animal abuse in circuses goes against our “community values”.
  4. Delicianna Winders of PETA discussed how we can legally go after circuses and reminded us that “the only humane circus is a circus without animals”.
  5. Matt Rossell of ADI announced recent successes of the “Break the Chain” campaign to support TEAPA, the Traveling Exotic Animals Protection Act (H.R. 3359)–which I encourage every “Ele-Friend” to check out.
  6. Katie Maneeley of Animal Agency discussed the importance of creating a collective effort between disparate groups and using the media to combat the big money behind circuses.

I was also pleased to hear Maneeley make the connections between animal abuse and child abuse, particularly when Ringling Bros. gave free circus tickets to a shelter for women and children survivors of domestic violence. She offered the shelter director an alternative, saying that since the women and children in their facility were survivors of violence, they probably knew how hard it is to see another being abused and coerced. The shelter agreed and they went to the movies, instead, thanks to free ticket vouchers from PETA.

Motivation for keeping up the fight. Even in a room full of 100s, even 1,000s, of animal welfare supporters, it’s hard not to get discouraged about all the work before us. However, I believe Catherine Doyle said it best at the Elephant Summit:

“Saving one elephant may not change the world, but you change the world for that elephant.”

By supporting, “The Eyes of Thailand” documentary, you aren’t just supporting Motala and Mosha, the two elephants featured in the film; you are also supporting FAE’s Elephant Hospital, to ensure that it can continue to treat elephants at no charge to the elephant owners for years to come.

However, you are also doing more than that. By sharing our Facebook posts, Tweets, newsletters and the link to our website, you are also helping us start a global conversation about how we can protect Asian and African Elephants in their natural habitats, as well as their captive environments.

Thank you for joining us and we look forward to sharing some BIG film announcements very soon.


Windy Borman, Director/Producer, “The Eyes of Thailand”

The Ugly Truth about Elephant Rides

Friday, September 10th, 2010

ElephantVoices, a non-profit organization whose goals are to advance the study of elephant cognition, communication and social behavior, and to promote the scientifically sound and ethical management and care of elephants, posted the following article on their blog on September 9, 2010:

Have you ever thought that an elephant back safari must be the best and most exciting experience of all? That riding on one of these magnificent animals would be a unique adventure – believing that they are well suited for this kind of human entertainment?

The brutal truth is that most elephants are trained for elephant back rides or safaris through a practise no elephant owner will talk about. The elephants’ spirits are broken through unbelievably gruesome methods, while they are tied up or chained in a pen where they cannot move. With the help of systematic torture over days and weeks, often without water or food, an elephant learns that he or she has to obey human control. Later, at work, many mahouts use the bullhooks frequently to feel certain that the elephant does not annoy their customers, and stay in line. Beatings, wounds, painful body marks and blood is often seen even by the very tourists who are paying a high price to have the “experience of a lifetime”. The video below is from Burma, but the same type of procedure continues to be used in parts of Thailand. In Thailand this sad and highly abusive tradition is often called Phajaan.

The majority of elephants found in circuses and zoos were captured from the wild – the same goes for trekking elephants. The practice continues today, and with the growing number of tourists and many ignorant travel agencies and tour operators, the life and well being of hundreds of elephants both in Asia and in Africa is at stake….

One way you can help is by signing “A Petition to The Flight Centre Encouraging Corporate Responsibility“. Travel agencies that include elephant back rides and entertainment in their programs should be told that this is unacceptable. We believe that most tourists would stay far away if they knew what kind of treatment elephant goes through before they are ready for work. There are good places in Thailand where you can experience elephants close up, but you should never get on their back! The worst kind of brutality lays behind many other types of elephant entertainment, too, read more here on ElephantVoices and via online initiatives like Elemotion.

But the best way you can help is to convince friends who are considering going on an elephant ride or trek that they shouldn’t. If enough tourists stop expecting/demanding to ride elephants when they visit Southeast Asia, then the elephant owners will stop offering rides.  It’s a simple Supply-and-Demand relationship.

To find our more about ElephantVoices, or to see one example of phajaan filmed by Timothy Gorski, please visit their web site. Thank you.

-Windy Borman

Director/Producer The Eyes of Thailand

Elephants protected, Ivory ban upheld

Thursday, March 25th, 2010
CITIES CoP15. (Photo Credit: ElephantVoices)

CITIES CoP15. (Photo Credit: ElephantVoices)

March 25, 2010–Like many of our fellow elephant supporters, we’ve watched and read the updates coming out of the Convention on International Trading in Endangered Species (CITIES) in Doha this month.  Today we are happy to report that the requests from Tanzania and Zambia to down list their elephants populations from Appendix I to II and to begin to trade in ivory were both rejected.

We’ve followed the Facebook updates from ElephantVoices since the conference began on March 13, 2010 and they report:

Tanzania and Zambia amended their proposals when they realized that they might lose the vote, but despite well orchestrated interventions by supporting parties they did not succeed in achieving the two-thirds majority required. We firmly believe that down listing and ‘one-off’ sales would have further stimulated the market for ivory, and led to more killing of elephants. They did succeed in getting another vote in the plenary session today, Thursday 25th, but the victory for elephants was upheld.

This success is largely due to the extraordinary collaborations between the African Elephant Coalition (AEC, with 23 African Elephant range states as members) and the informal group Kenya Elephant Forum (KEF), which includes key stakeholders in Kenya (Save the Elephants, Amboseli Trust for Elephants, Kenya Wildlife Service, Youth for Conservation, ElephantVoices and others) co-ordinated by Pat Awori.

For more information about Elephant Voices, please visit their website and become a fan of their Facebook Page.

We’ll continue to keep you posted on how this and other elephant news effects Asian Elephants, particularly the Friends of the Asian Elephant (FAE) Elephant Hospital featured in The Eyes of Thailand.

-Windy Borman

Director & Producer, The Eyes of Thailand

P.S. Documentaries are expensive undertakings.  Please help us continue our work on the film–and be a voice for Asian Elephants–by making a tax-deductible donation to The Eyes of Thailand through the film’s fiscal sponsor, the San Francisco Film Society.  Click on “Donate Now” here and it will take you to the secure online donation page for the SFFS.  Thank you so much!

China’s demand for ivory influences CITIES’s ban

Wednesday, February 10th, 2010


Last week I found a link to an article about China’s ivory trade written by James Pomfret and Tom Kirkwood, dated November 9, 2009.  The authors write:

A passion for ivory ornaments such as these is what helped decimate African and Asian elephant populations until a 1989 ban on ivory trade. Today, China’s economic rise, and along with it a seemingly insatiable appetite for status symbols by its nouveau riche, has spurred demand for African ivory…

In a 2007 report, the U.N.-backed CITES, the global wildlife trade watchdog, said China faced a “major challenge” as it continues to be the “most important country globally as a destination for illicit ivory,” exacerbated in part by China’s spreading influence and ties in Africa.

Chinese nationals have been arrested and convicted for ivory smuggling in Africa and organized crime gangs are also involved in bringing large quantities of illicit ivory into China, according to the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency.

In a controversial bid to stem illegal poaching, CITES allowed a 62-tonne batch of elephant tusks to be imported legally into China last year. The ivory stockpiles were bought by Chinese traders at auctions.

At the time, Allan Thornton, of the Environmental Investigation Agency, expressed concern the sale would fuel a massive appetite for ivory in China. “In a country of 1.3 billion people, demand for ivory from just a fraction of one per cent of the population is colossal,” he told the Telegraph newspaper.

Ivory has been banned since 1989 after decades of poaching in which Africa’s elephant population was halved with only around 600,000 remaining by 1997, according to conservation groups.  Nonetheless, as the 20-year ban is about to expire, there is a growing sentiment within CITIES that, “The elephant as a species is no way in danger.”

“If the demand is supplied by legal origin ivory, then that should begin to close the doors for the criminals,” said John Sellar, a senior enforcement officer for CITES in Geneva.

He added the two-decade long ivory ban had helped stabilize overall elephant numbers, with only scattered local populations under any real serious threat from poachers in countries such as Chad and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

While only around 4,000 wild tigers remain worldwide, he noted, in Botswana alone there are more than 130,000 wild elephants.

Read more:

ElephantVoices wrote on its Facebook Page “Any sensible person would ask CITIES what is going to happen to Botswana’s elephant population once China finishes off of Central Africa?”

I would add: What will happen to Thailand’s elephants–or those of other Southeast Asian countries–if the ivory ban is lifted?

-Windy Borman

Producer, Director and Writer, The Eyes of Thailand

9 Ways to Help Elephants

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

Dr. Joyce Poole, the Co-Founder of ElephantVoices, has compiled a list of 8 things everyone can do to help elephants:

  1. Spread the Word
  2. Don’t Visit Circuses that Exhibit Elephants
  3. Don’t go on an Elephant-Back Safari or Trek
  4. Be an Eco-tourist
  5. Don’t Wear Ivory
  6. Support Elephant Conservation Efforts
  7. Support Efforts to Improve the Lives of Elephants in Zoos
  8. Ensure that your Local Zoo does not Import Elephants from the Wild

And I’ll add #9: Support the elephant conservation documentary, The Eyes of Thailand, with a tax-deductible donation to the film by clicking here.  It will take you to the secure online donation page for the film’s fiscal sponsor, the San Francisco Film Society.

For more information, please visit the ElephantVoices website.

ElephantVoices‘ mission is to inspire wonder in the intelligence, complexity and voices of elephants, and to secure a kinder future for them through research and the sharing of knowledge.  Their goals are to advance the study of elephant cognition, communication and social behavior, and to promote the scientifically sound and ethical management and care of elephants.

Dr. Joyce Poole.  Photo by ElephantVoices.

Dr. Joyce Poole. Photo by ElephantVoices.

Joyce Poole has a Ph.D. in elephant behavior from Cambridge University, and has studied the social behavior and communication of elephants for over thirty years, dedicating her life to their conservation and welfare. Her contributions to science include the discovery of musth in male African elephants, the description of the contextual use of elephant vocalizations, including those below the level of human hearing, and the discovery of vocal imitation.

-Windy Borman

Producer, Writer and Director, The Eyes of Thailand

Coco Hall’s “Elephant Girl”, Part 3

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

Coco Hall has been an animal activist since 1991 cocohall_picture1when she spent six weeks on the Sea Shepard crew. She has been focused on elephants for seven years, working to release the seven elephants at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, supporting elephant sanctuaries such as PAWS in San Andreas CA, and as a Board Member of Joyce Poole’s ElephantVoices. She has been a political artist for twenty years, covering environmental and animal rights themes with her multi-media sculptures. She coauthored and drew her first graphic novel, Ignoring Binky, published in 2001 by Checkmate Press under the nome de plume Beverly Red.

Elephant Girl is a graphic novel based on the life of Calle the elephant, who was euthanized by the San Francisco Zoo in 2004. Intertwined with her story is that of a young girl who lives a parallel life. Both kidnapped in India as children, smuggled to the United States, they find themselves prey of an unimaginably foreign world. The tale rises upon the girl’s determination to break both their chains and return to India.

The Eyes of Thailand blog posted Parts 1 and 2 on November 9 and 16, respectively.  Part 3 of 3 appears below…

Elephant Girl AFTERWORD (cont.)

By Coco Hall

The 1980s witnessed the price of ivory reach $100 per pound. Rural farmers and herders could make more selling the tusks of one elephant than by 12 years of hard labor. And that is not to mention the numerous wars supported by the ivory spoils of fallen elephants. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in 1990 slowed the decimation of elephants, but since all countries have not supported the ivory ban, the killing continues.

Except for most Asian females, elephants’ incisor teeth are tusks, which grow throughout their lives. Poachers target the elephant with the largest tusks, i.e. the mature leaders. Without the guidance and accumulated knowledge of such elders, both female and male herds become leaderless juveniles.

The fabric of both human and elephant societies depends on parents teaching their offspring how to behave, modeling proper behavior, and handing down knowledge necessary for survival. Studies of animals and human genocide survivors show that early trauma can have permanent psycho-physiological effects on brain and behavior including a susceptibility to PTSD and a tendency to violence in adulthood. Elephant groups or individuals become “rogue”, destroying farms, settlements, and even killing people.

“Elephant Breakdown”, G.A. Bradshaw, Allan N. Schore, Janine L. Brown, Joyce H. Poole, Cynthia J. Moss, Nature. Vol. 433, 2/24/05

These escalating conflicts with humans in both Asia and Africa are one of the main adversities we face in saving the species.

Most of the 500 captive elephants currently in North America live in zoos, circuses, wildlife parks (which are essentially zoos), and breeding farms. As few as thirty (30) live in true sanctuaries where they are not publicly exhibited or coerced in any way. Unlike zoos, even with well meaning and kind keepers, sanctuaries provide the space and autonomy elephants need to enjoy a healthy life. For an elephant, with its vast natural habitat and complex social network, life in a circus is no different than imprisonment. Daily physical and verbal abuse is the norm. Trainers in circuses routinely beat elephants with a bullhook, a metal instrument similar to a fireplace poker. Ringling Brothers circus forces their elephants to perform daily for 48 to 50 weeks a year. When not performing, they are kept chained as many as 22 hours a day, standing in their own excrement on wet floors, similar to those which cut short Calle’s life. They go without bathing, mud wallowing, socializing, and every other normal elephant activity so that we may sit in the bleachers cheering their forced participation, completing the same unnatural tricks which are the whole of their repeated days.

Ringling Brothers’ elephant-breeding farm in Florida claims it raises its performers, yet the industry resource on elephant births, deaths, and captures, shows that the majority of Ringling’s elephants were captured in the wild. In either case, babies are separated from their mothers causing physical, emotional, and psychological harm. Circuses claim that their performing elephants will motivate the protection of this endangered species, yet in 2000 alone, poachers killed 60 wild female elephants so that their babies could be captured and sold to the entertainment industry. Between the early 1960s and late 1980s, 368 baby African elephants were imported to the USA for zoos. One hundred and fifty-eight of those elephants are already dead.

Of those who have survived many are solitary—a life of torture to an elephant. For them, their wild ranging Asian or African landscapes are gone, replaced by what the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA) permits for elephant enclosures: as little as 40 by 45 feet—about the size of a three-car garage.

elephantgirlcover3Elephants and other captive animals are not the only prisoners and slaves on earth. There are 27 million human slaves in the world today, more than all the people stolen from Africa in the time of the transatlantic slave trace. In the 21st century, slaves cost so little they are utterly disposable. In Thailand, poor, rural parents commonly sell a little girl into prostitution or servitude for the price of a TV. Sound like a third world phenomenon? It is not. Slave prostitutes have been found in NYC, Seattle, LA, and even Berkeley.

Other slaves abound in sweatshops and third world agriculture. In India, the children of bonded farmers are born into “bondage”, inheriting their father’s insurmountable debt. It is on this tragic but common ground that the characters of Elephant Girl meet. Our protagonists were stolen from their homes, their families, their lives. Unfortunately our own telling cannot alter Calle’s history, but we hold out hope for those who remain enslaved.

Coco Hall


To purchase Elephant Girl, visit

To recommend other Guest Bloggers, please email

Coco Hall’s “Elephant Girl”, Part 1

Monday, November 9th, 2009

elephantgirlcover1I am pleased to welcome Coco Hall, author of Elephant Girl, to The Eyes of Thailand blog.

Elephant Girl is a graphic novel based on the life of Calle the elephant, who was euthanized by the San Francisco Zoo in 2004. Intertwined with her story is that of a young girl who lives a parallel life. Both kidnapped in India as children, smuggled to the United States, they find themselves prey of an unimaginably foreign world. The tale rises upon the girl’s determination to break both their chains and return to India.

Coco has agreed to release sections from the Afterword in Elephant Girl to The Eyes of Thailand blog. Part 1 appears below.

Elephant Girl AFTERWORD

By Coco Hall

Kala’s life in Elephant Girl is based on the true story of Calle the Asian elephant. Seized from her native India in infancy in 1968, she was brought to the United States and sold. A series of entertainment companies shuffled her from venue to venue: circuses, parking lots (giving rides to children), and even a Las Vegas show. By 1993 Calle’s life was despoiled with injuries and tuberculosis. She was traded for a younger elephant to the Los Angeles Zoo where she injured her keeper three years later. Elephant advocates petitioned for Calle’s release to an elephant sanctuary but the Los Angeles Zoo moved her to the San Francisco Zoo instead. After decades of standing on wet concrete she was suffering from osteomyelitis, an inflammation of the bone marrow and adjacent bone caused by chronic foot infections. The San Francisco Zoo euthanized Calle at the age of 37, half of what her life span in the wild could have been. Hers is the story of countless captive elephants in North America.

During a visit to the Performing Animal Welfare Society’s (PAWS) sanctuary in Galt, California, I spoke to another visitor, one of Calle’s former keepers. Calle, she said, was calm and easy to be around, though mischievous. She squeaked a lot. Her favorite foods were corn, melons, anything sweet. In fact, she was a chowhound and carrot junkie, ravaging whole oranges and pumpkins. Her keeper laughed recalling Calle’s cute and playful antics, admitting she was not always the brightest star. Sometimes they lovingly called her the blond elephant.

Calle and the elephant Tinkerbelle (who plays herself in this story) immediately became friends at the San Francisco Zoo. However, their bond could not transcend the cramped zoo conditions. Calle’s health was rapidly deteriorating. The inadequate environment at the zoo advanced her chronic foot problems and improperly healed leg injury. Regularly administered painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs did little to no good, merely masking the pain. By the time of her death, zoo veterinarians had cut away so much of Calle’s infected feet that she was virtually toeless.

Shortly after her death, another of the zoo’s elephants died of unknown causes. Finally, through the vigilant work of animal rights groups and the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, the zoo’s elephant exhibit was forced to close. However, the transfer of Tinkerbelle to PAWS was delayed for so long, she died after only a few months of freedom. The sole surviving elephant from the San Francisco Zoo, an African named Lulu, is still thriving at PAWS.

Those with any knowledge of elephants can see clearly the cruelty of captivity. Elephants are highly intelligent animals with a complex social culture, known for their close relationships and lifelong friendships. Most mammals are born with 90% adult brain mass. Human babies have 26% and elephants have 35%, resulting in the amazing human-like learning ability of baby elephants. In this matriarchal clan society, a herd consists of mother, dependent offspring, and grown daughters with their offspring. Herds of 9 to 11 are bonded with similar herds forming kinship groups. Females stay with their mothers for life while males leave the mother herd around age 14 to live alone or in bachelor herds. Together they bathe daily, submerging themselves if they can. Cooling mud and dust is sprayed over their bodies with the trunk. Mothers gently spray water over their calves and scrub them. Elephants use their astonishingly versatile trunk to pull up grass, pick up the tiniest morsel, or tear off tree limbs. It is an organ for exploration as well as scent. It takes babies years to learn to control its 150,000 muscle units. Joyce Poole recounts in Coming of Age with Elephants, “Elephants have picked up objects in their environments and thrown them directly at me, undertrunk, with surprising, sometimes painful accuracy”…

Please stay tuned for Parts 2 and 3 in the coming weeks.

To purchase Elephant Girl visit

cocohall_pictureAbout the Author: Coco Hall has been an animal activist since 1991 when she spent six weeks on the Sea Shepard crew. She has been focused on elephants for seven years, working to release the seven elephants at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, supporting elephant sanctuaries such as PAWS in San Andreas CA, and as a Board Member of Joyce Poole’s ElephantVoices. She has been a political artist for twenty years, covering environmental and animal rights themes with her multi-media sculptures. She coauthored and drew her first graphic novel, Ignoring Binky, published in 2001 by Checkmate Press under the nome de plume Beverly Red.