By Maria Menounos
LOS ANGELES, Calif. –
When I was in kindergarten, my teacher instructed the class to draw a picture of the animal we would most like to be. While my classmates drew bunnies, lions, cats and dogs, I drew an elephant.
Maybe it was because I didn’t speak the English language yet and felt I needed size to protect myself or maybe I somehow sensed the truth about them; that they are gentle giants who are loyal, loving and very much human. Elephants care for their families, take in strays, and even mourn the deaths of loved ones. Sometimes they get a little greedy about food and I, no doubt, empathize with that as well.
Regardless, I’m proud to say that at age six, I was definitely on to something.
Traveling to Kenya, I had the unique privilege of getting to know the elephants up close. They were nothing short of remarkable – sweet, playful and funny. I never knew how gentle they really were until I had one suck on my hand and affectionately nudge me with his trunk. What I found even more remarkable was how complex their emotions and minds were. They will remember you for life.
It’s true that an elephant really doesn’t ever forget. As babies, they need to be slept with and monitored as any human infant. Parental warmth, affection and companionship is literally vital to their survival just like a human baby. I was most moved, in particular, by the extent in which elephants truly love their keepers. When the elephants are released into Tsavo, Kenya’s largest national park, they go out and make new families. However, when they have babies of their own, they return to the trust (the place the care takers raised them) and, showing gratitude and respect, proceed to introduce their babies to the elephant keepers. If only we humans could show such dignity and class.
Speaking of the keepers, all of the elephants I saw were rescued by the wonderful David Sheldrick wildlife trust. For over 30 years, Dame Daphne Sheldrick and her amazing elephant keepers have done some incredible work to save the elephants. No one else in the world ever knew how to successfully rear baby elephants until Dame Daphne. Amongst other things, she created the milk formula that has enabled these elephants to be able to live into adulthood.
To be surrounded by 19 orphaned elephants was special, but being able to tell their story, and the story of those who help them, was most important to me. The two biggest reasons they are orphaned are poaching and human conflict. Because the population keeps rising, we keep intruding onto the animals land. Migratory routes of wild animals are being occupied by people and buildings and therein lies the conflict. Humans get mad that the animals ate their crops, and yet, WE ARE on THEIR land. But that’s just one of the reasons these elephants are killed. The other is the ivory trade.
Kristin Davis said it best when she told me “The only people that should be wearing ivory are elephants.” If poachers only knew what gentle, human like creatures they were killing, perhaps they would think twice.
For now, if you want to help the cause, visit www.sheldrickwildlifetrust.org and adopt an orphan elephant. The keepers actually send you diaries about how your adopted elephant is doing. It’s a great holiday gift-one I’m giving to all of my friends and family. I hope you’ll consider it, too.
For more amazing photos from the trip, CLICK HERE!
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