Attacks by elephants on humans, both in Africa and India, have been increasing dramatically in the past five years. Scientists argue that loss of habitat and social structure is seriously destabilizing these magnificent creatures. Justin Huggler reports from Delhi. Thursday 12 October 2006
There is a temple in India where women come to be blessed by elephants who raise their trunks and touch down lightly on the womens heads, the women supplicant and graceful, small as mice kneeling at the elephants feet. Elsewhere, painted pink and gold, some crazy metaphor for poverty, the elephant in the room, the joke on us now. We have no elephants here in the US of A, not much by way of large mammals unless in a zoo, and maybe we should be grateful; the elephants are angry. They are seeking revenge for their dead who do not bury themselves, who are stripped of ivory or hacked to pieces and hidden. No one mourns for them, but their own, like Lakshmi, a city elephant hired for weddings, to stand outside as a symbol of wealth, or to lift flower wreaths to the necks of mayors or for partiesshe walked the city streets like a cow or doguntil, one night heading home after a gig, she was hit by a drunk driver, her spine severed, and had to be removed by a truck to a place she could die. People came from far away to touch the soles of the dying creatures cracked feet. People complained that it was time to stop seeing certain animals as sacred; it was a danger to them; they belong in the wild not the city. Here, we let nothing roam the streets if we can help it: sanitation crews collect garbage; animal control collects dogs; a bull running loose in Newarkit has happened more than onceis removed by whatever means necessary; children arent allowed in seniors communities, out after dark, in the community center, unattended in the local library, and not, certainly, in the neighborhood grocery, at least not in numbers greater than two. Young men of color should walk with their hands in the air. Only a young woman can walk free, swinging her hips, stepping into the road toward your car, her smile dangerous as a knife, her own vulnerability not anyones job to protect, not really, not anymore. Here, women are free to roam the streets dressed anyway we want, sacred like cows while our men collect sacred weapons of freedom: assault weapons, handguns, money, whatever works to wear away flesh.