Certain animals make me smile. Elephants are one.
The founder of Elephant Appreciation Day is Wayne Hepburn of Sarasota, FL, who suggests they have the qualities at left, and recommends you start the day with an elephant-shaped breakfast. http://www.himandus.net/elefunteria/eday/eday_main.html
Elephants have been on my mind because I read recently of the Elephant Orchestra of Thailand – which followed news a few years back about elephants that had been taught to paint. I am adamantly opposed to animal cruelty and was a bit skeptical of both, but it seems the treatment of the elephants has been kind and the motives of the trainers – to learn more about the elephant brain and keep them gainfully employed – is well-intended.
Thailand’s timber industry once employed thousands of elephants to haul teak logs out of the rain forests. Deforestation and anti-logging laws have left many elephants and their mahouts (many of whom were raised with their elephants) jobless. Mia Fineman, a New York City writer who has co-authored a book on elephant paintings and an article for the Asian Elephant Art and Conservation Project, (See below) is a huge fan. She wrote about what she sees as elephants’ innate interest in drawing: “Unprompted, an Asian elephant in captivity will often pick up a pebble or stick with the tip of her trunk and casually doodle on the floor of her enclosure.” And doodling, it seems, can lead to art. During the learning stage, the mahouts generally select the colors and determine when a painting is finished. They teach the elephants how to hold the brush, and a number of mahouts have also customized their paintbrushes, adding bamboo handles that are easier for the elephants to grip. They also teach specific strokes and designs.
Would you believe that the art shown at left was painted by an elephant? Even more impressive, here is a YouTube video of an elephant painting a self-portrait: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=He7Ge7Sogrk
To learn more and/or order Mia Fineman’s book When Elephants Paint, The Quest of Two Russian Artists to Save the Elephants of Thailand, click here.
To read all of Mia Fineman’s article on the Asian Elephant Art and Conservation Project go here: http://www.elephantart.com/catalog/default.php?cPath=67
As for the elephant orchestra, although it has only recently come to my attention, apparently they have been doing this gig for more than a decade now. To learn more, click on the following, both of which contain videos of these musical elephants.
But perhaps the main reason elephants make me smile is that when I was school girl, elephant jokes were all the rage. Some, like the following, made a bit of sense:
Q: Why are elephants so clever?
A: They have lots of grey matter.
Q: Why are elephants poor dancers?
A: They have two left feet.
Q: Why did the elephants leave the circus?
A: They got tired of working for peanuts.
Others were completely nonsensical, and will only cause you to laugh uproariously if you have an appreciation for the absurd. For example, my all-time favorite elephant joke in the mid-1960s was this two-parter:
Q: How did elephants get flat feet?
A: From jumping out of trees.
Q: Why do some elephants have ridges in their feet?
A: From jumping out of trees onto railroad tracks.
If you are that rare individual who appreciates ridiculous elephant jokes too, you can find many more at http://www.elephantjokes.co.uk/why_elephants/why_elephants.shtml.