An Interview with Anna Breytenbach
by Dominique Koubovec
Some regard elephants as violent and dangerous, whilst others as beautiful and serene...What has your experience been?
Elephants are connected to each other in an expanded family sense and are also very connected to the collective consciousness and to the earth energy. They also appear to have chosen a deliberate interface with humankind. They are an “indicator species” and are thought to be gauges of human consciousness.
The way we handle elephant conservation can be interpreted as how far we have advanced as a species. Through conflict situations with humans they show us what we humans need to see. When they trample through villages, they are showing us a very clear distress signal. They deliberately knock down fences that try to contain them in unnaturally small areas. This is not intended as a violent act. They simply want to be allowed to walk the ancient paths of their knowing. They want to follow instinctive migratory routes. They are also trying to teach us humans lessons about the appropriateness of moving with the seasons and in accordance with natural cycles so that we don’t overly deplete an area. In other words, they are trying to teach us how to live within our physical means.
The times that there are altercations between humans and elephants that turn violent are an attempt on their behalf to signal their distress at what we are doing to our planet. It is almost inevitable that, when we humans push around the largest animal on earth, it needs to be reflected to us that we can’t do that and get away with it. We need to learn to know our place in the natural order of things. Humans of course don’t like the push back...the reflection. Without exception, I find elephants very wise, even when they are acting out some of the shadow.
Another important aspect to their wisdom is that they hold on land what the whales hold in the sea. They are working “trunk in fin” with the whales as keepers of ancient wisdom and knowledge. As the elephants walk the gridlines and leylines rumbling their songs, so the whales weave the earth energy lines together under the sea with their calling and their songs. The stability of the earth’s grid depends on these two species being allowed to do their very important, selfless work.
It is said that elephants and humans are remarkably similar in many ways... for example: they live relatively long lives, calves require focussed attention from their mothers, they go through adolescence and old age and have life-long family or friendship bonds. They also have a sense of humour, mourn their dead by weeping, adopt orphans and react to a staggering array of emotions. Can you comment further in light of your experience with them?
In rehabilitation and sanctuary scenarios I have seen elephants nurture each other and often take care of their human keepers as well. I’ve also seen them display immense compassion towards other beings in need. They show immense concern for human individuals especially when an emotional issue needs healing. Elephants also perform sacred rituals.
Elephants are known to live in social harmony with themselves and with other species around them. Can you elaborate on this from your experience?
I can give an example that illustrates this tendency. At the Londolozi Game Reserve in South Africa a pregnant female elephant was sighted a few days ago whilst giving birth alone to her calf. As the calf literally dropped out, a number of female elephants came rushing over from quite a distance off in a visible display of joy and exuberance. There was much trumpeting and excitement at the occasion.
Elephants have no natural predator but man. Elephants are easily tolerated by other wild animals. It has been proven in Tanzania that certain areas deforested by elephants have opened up new patches of sunlight in the vegetation that has allowed the return of a very rare and previously disappeared butterfly species. I like to refer to elephants as “habitat architects” because their movements and “landscaping” (which many would rather term “deforestation”) reintroduces new cycles of life. Elephants bring cycles to pass in a specific ecosystem – cycles of regeneration rather than destruction – and if we had the patience to wait years or decades we would see how everything returns in a natural cyclical order.
The South African elephants are currently under culling threat due to alleged overpopulation – can you comment on this?
Elephant populations in the Kruger National Park have almost returned to levels prior to the mid-1990’s ban on culling. The culling ban in South Africa has now been lifted. Elephant calves never get culled; instead they are sold to the elephant safari and wildlife trade industries at enormous profit.
Contraception has proven to be very effective with elephants but the authorities state that it is too costly to implement. However it is very costly to implement manpower to track down a herd and cull all the family members. I’ve been told that scientists have come to notice that the elephants at the Kruger National Park have naturally slowed their reproduction due to lack of space within the fenced confines. This is because elephant consciousness has the ability to adapt to availability of resources. If only we could allow the elephants a few more years to naturally self-regulate their numbers, there wouldn’t be the need for this drastic measure of culling.
Additionally, the well- known phenomenon of the Species Survival Syndrome has proven that when there’s a sudden drop in the population number of a particular species (due to drought or culling, for example), the species markedly increases its reproductive rate to fill the void that was created. If the elephants are culled, this Species Survival Syndrome will kick in. Culling therefore is not a sustainable solution for the question of elephant numbers. This leaves one with the question of what is the real intention behind the drive to cull. I can’t help but feel it’s for monetary gain plus a patriarchal-based human need for dominance of over the animal kingdom.
Culling is a very brutal way to manage populations. Have you had firsthand experience of the extreme stress and trauma that these methods of population control have on the emotional well-being of elephants?
I have worked directly with a couple of elephant calves orphaned by culls – and they had witnessed their mothers being murdered. For months afterwards these calves were still in a state of extreme shock, and the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder very seldom leaves them. One calf I’d encountered was about six months after the cull, and even though he’d been in a sanctuary and well cared for with a keeper and friends, I had a sense that his soul had somewhat popped out of the body, like a disconnect. He was going through the motions of everyday life in an automatic and numbed out kind of way. It was very sad to witness.
One of the greatest negative effects on the survivors of culls is the break in the chain of learning how to be balanced and successful adult elephants. Because matriarchal lineage is broken, the surviving calves don’t know how to access the knowledge of the ways of being elephants. They are unable to learn through direct experience about the natural and balanced ways of being with each other and with the environment. This leads to dysfunctional inter-elephant relationships, very errant herd dynamics and essentially ends up with a bunch of ignorant and inexperienced adolescents trying to run and hold together an elephant society.
At the Natal Society for the Arts Gallery there is currently a big, life size elephant sculpture standing outside the building made out of tires and steel created by Andries Botha and Ian Player. The elephant is called Nomkhubulwane after the earth goddess who can shape shift into any animal. The elephant was chosen as the symbol of the yearning of forgotten conversations between humans, the earth and all living things. Considering we once lived in complete harmony with all sentient beings, if you could offer one piece of advice, what in your opinion can we humans do to remember and reinstitute peaceful co-existence with animals and each other?
We can pray for the elephants and hold a field of support for them. Here is a prayer I like to refer people to (which can be found online at http://www.corelight.org/sacred-activism/elephant-prayer-circle/prayer-circle/ ):
PRAYER FOR THE ELEPHANTS
Blessed Oneness, that which I am and which we all are in our deepest Essence, please communicate to those gentle giants of the Earth, the elephants, that I stand in strength and solidarity with them. I offer this prayer from my heart for their healing and well-being. I pray that they may find support where they need it and compassion instead of abuse.
May the humans they come in contact with respect and honor who they are as sentient beings. May they be blessed with peace and a fear-free life and held in loving kindness. I offer great gratitude knowing this will be so.
Thank you. Amen.
* * * * *
Anna’s interspecies communication work focuses mostly on wildlife. Visit her Events page at http://www.animalspirit.org/events-workshops.