Author Coco Hall shares an excerpt from Elephant Girl, her 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 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.
The Eyes of Thailand blog published Part 1 of the 3-Part series on Monday, November 9, 2009. Part 2 appears below.
Elephant Girl AFTERWORD (cont.)
By Coco Hall
Cow elephants are very maternal to all calves in the herd, often including strange, orphaned youngsters. The matriarch leads the herd, making all decisions. Older elephants stand over their sleeping young to protect and shade them. In sanctuaries, female adults stand by their sleeping friends, often with one foot on them or touching them with their trunk. Ed Stewart, Co-Founder of PAWS, said once he was lying in a pasture and an elephant came right next to him and gently stood over him waiting for him to “wake up”. This same gentle mass forms an almost impenetrable wall around the matriarch and babies when in danger.
Working together the cows will help fallen members stand, but if the matriarch is hurt or killed, they will mill around not knowing what to do. When an elephant dies, the others linger with her for a long time, sometimes trying to get her to stand. Joyce Poole describes the grief-stricken days of a mother over her stillborn calf:
“…Tonie stayed out on the barren plains with her dead baby for the rest of the day and through the long night. The following morning Cyn and I left the camp on foot and walked to the edge of the palms from where we could see Tonie still watching over her stillborn infant. Fifteen vultures and a jackal hovered around her; she charged and they scattered for a few seconds only to return. Tonie placed herself between her baby and the scavengers, and, facing them, she gently nudged the body with her hind leg. As I watched Tonie’s vigil over her dead newborn, I got my first very strong feeling that elephants grieve. I will never forget the expression on her face, her eyes, her mouth, the way she carried her ears, her head, and her body. Every part of her spelled grief.
By now Tonie had been standing out on the bare plains without food or water for over twenty-four hours. Cyn and I walked back to camp, found a jerry can, and filled it with water….
As we drove toward Tonie she charged. I placed a basin on the ground, poured the water into it, and then drove away. She lifted her trunk toward the water and walked immediately toward it,….She drank quickly, emptying the basin in two trunkfuls…
Later that morning Cyn and I returned to Tonie with another two containers of water…Tonie drank while I poured the water onto her trunk, her tusks no more than ten centimeters from my head. After she had emptied both cans, she reached through the door of my car and twice touched my arm with her trunk.
In the early afternoon I returned once again with more water…(she) used the last bit of water to splash on herself….she again reached inside the car and touched me gently on my chest and arm.
The following morning we found Tonie still on her vigil, attempting to chase away the ever-closer vultures. Later that day she had gone, and all that remained on the plains was a few vultures and scattered bones.”
Coming of Age with Elephants p. 95-96
Depending on resource distribution, a wild elephant’s home range can be from 5 square miles to 1350 square miles. Walking as many as 18 hours and 50 miles per day foraging for food, they laid the original paths for many of today’s African highways.
Elephants’ need for food (300-400 pounds a day) dictates the size of their habitat. They consume just about every type of vegetation and fruit. The only animal elephants compete with for food is humans, whose African and Asian populations have quadrupled in the past 100 years, demolishing elephant habitat for cropland, pastureland for livestock, and timber for housing and fuel. Habitat loss is not the only agent of elephant population depletion. Elephant numbers plummeted when ivory prices spiked between 1970 and 1990. There were 5 to 10 million elephants in Africa in 1930, 1.3 million in 1979 and only 450,000 in 2008. Asian elephant populations stood at 100,000 in 1900 but were estimated to be between 35,000 and 51,000 in 2000.
To order Elephant Girl, visit Amazon.com