The question is, are we happy to suppose
that our grandchildren may never be able
to see an elephant except in a picture book?
– David Attenborough
The elephant is the largest land animal on earth. There has been some form of elephant on planet Earth for at least 55 million years. But this could all too easily change before the end of the 21st century.
In Asia, there may be fewer than 50,000 elephants remaining, more than half of them in India. Small herds of elephants, under increasing pressure, still inhabit some pockets of Southeast Asia and the Himalayas.
In Africa, somewhere over 400,000 but less than 500,000 elephants still roam the continent, mostly in southern Africa. In the west and the forested center, African elephants are in the greatest peril of disappearing. Compare these numbers to a 1930 estimate that about 10 million wild elephants roamed the African continent.
For thousands of years, humans have killed elephants for their ivory tusks. For most of that time, it was very difficult and dangerous to kill an elephant, but the invention of firearms has made it possible to kill a lot more elephants from a much safer distance. In the 19th century, big game hunting began wiping out whole herds of elephants across the continent of Africa. Today’s elephants face not only local hunters, but modern poaching gangs, financed by Asian syndicates.
Rumi (Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī) was born in 1207; Persian poet, Islamic scholar, and Sufi mystic. His works have influenced the literary traditions in Persian, Turkish, Chagatai, Urdu and Pashto, and have been widely translated into many languages.
To read Rumi’s poem “An Elephant in the Dark” click
An Elephant in the Dark
Some Hindus have an elephant to show.
No one here has ever seen an elephant.
They bring it at night to a dark room.
One by one, we go in the dark and come out
saying how we experience the animal.
One of us happens to touch the trunk.
“A water-pipe kind of creature.”
Another, the ear. “A very strong,
always moving back and forth, fan-animal.”
Another, the leg. “I find it still,
like a column on a temple.”
Another touches the curved back.
“A leathery throne.”
Another, the cleverest, feels the tusk.
“A rounded sword made of porcelain.”
He’s proud of his description.
Each of us touches one place
and understands the whole in that way.
The palm and the fingers feeling in the dark are
how the senses explore the reality of the elephant.
If each of us held a candle there,
and if we went in together,
we could see it.
– translated by Coleman Barks