14 Minutes Worth Watching for Elephants

I came across a new short documentary yesterday about the roots of the ivory trade. Similar to what I am working on with The Elephant Project, the film explores the underlying causes of poaching and the challenging problem of addressing greed and false devotion to religious icons (ivory is carved into Christian, Buddhist and Taoist figures).

Humans can be a cruel and violent species, yet we are also capable of empathy and compassion that leads to tremendous acts of courage. I look forward to your comments on the film. Please share!


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New Book on Evolving Legal Status of Pets

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Just a beautiful view of a mother whale and her calf…

Although I am not a fan of drone technology in its vast array of frightening potential uses, this is one instance where being aware of the creatures beyond our normal sightlines can help protect them. This sailor is using drones to show boat captains who operate off the coast of Maui why they need to be careful in the waters.

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Naturestage’s Salon Series in 2014 Kicks Off With Matt Glover Wednesday February 26


Our salon series is off and running in the Naturestage studio with the first concert/presentation the incredible Matt Glover playing

 a 60-minute Trip Around the World
(on Mandolin)

followed by a brief presentation by Miranda Loud on the state of Asian and African Elephants worldwide, the ivory trade, and why we should care

 7:30 PM Wednesday February 26, 2014        $10

 Seating is limited. RSVPs are recommended

The studio is located at 144 Moody Street in Waltham, MA in Building 18 on the 3rd Floor.  Parking is available in the cinema parking lot across the river off Pine Street. The studio is also located at the Waltham train stop
which is 12 minutes from Porter Square (Red Line)

Mandolinist Matt Glover has been performing in New England for 20 years. He has also preformed in Canada, Ireland, France, Switzerland, Japan, India, Australia & New Zealand, with appearances on NPR, CBC, national Irish television and radio, national New Zealand television. He composed music for Genie winning Canadian film “When Ponds Freeze Over” and has composed/recorded for Universal records. He has opened for Bostons acclaimed “Dropkick Murphys” numerous times, including performances at Fenway Park and TD Garden. Matt graduated from Berklee College of Music in 1993.

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Raising a Glass to thedodo.com

January 10th was a wonderful day to open my New York Times. The word “speciesism” was mentioned, which is one of the underlying word-views that Naturestage is trying to challenge, and it is something that needs to become a sea-change of awareness and mind-shift. It helps enormously that a major media site has launched on this topic. I thought it would be worthwhile to copy and paste Kerry Lauerman’s opening post on www.thedodo.com to share, especially since it mirrors my own views on how we relate to other species and the vital need for more short films and stories that attempt to show what we have in common emotionally with other animals, as well as to show the possibilities for compassion and true stewardship that humans are capable of showing. The One Language Project could easily be an off-shoot of www.thedodo.com and I hope to find some way to work together to help compelling stories reach more people. – Miranda Loud


Copied from www.thedodo.com…

 By Kerry Lauerman

10 January 2014

Hillary Clinton and Prince Williamchampion elephants. The National Institutes of Health releases its research chimps. New York City plans an end to its carriage horses. Shark fins are banned again and again and again. Then there’s”Blackfish.” And Al Gore. BanksyChipotle. Even Burger King.

We’re resurrecting The Dodo — which we drove into extinction nearly 400 years ago — because my co-founder Izzie Lerer and I see signs of a revolutionary shift in our relationship with animals. It’s not (just) all those cute cat and puppy videos, either. Animals matter more to us now. No longer domesticated beasts, we let more of them into our homes than ever, and to 90 percent of us they’re “members of the family.” And it goes way beyond our homes and the fortunes we spend on them, past the halls of academia where animal studies programs are exploding in popularity, through the state, federal and global legislatures that are passing greater welfare and species protection laws, beyond the various demographics who list animal rights as the top issue that motivate them, even beyond thegrowing number of people changing their diets out of ethical concerns.

Many of us have always felt, deep in our bones, that the rational arguments (“speciesism,” academics call it) that allowed us to feel superior over our furrier, scalier counterparts were intellectually flimsy, emotionally false. The dog I grew up with, an irascible lab-mix named Boots, had an unflagging loyalty and flinty intelligence; a more recent orange tabby in my life named Lucas had a pure sweetness and compassion that no one would be able to convince me was in the least bit unevolved. And science, thankfully, has increasingly stepped up to prove us right. We know elephants exhibit self-awareness and empathy, orcas and other cetaceans are capable of great mourning, and Emory University’s Gregory Berns took brain scans of dogs that suggest the completely startling and yet absolutely unsurprising news that canine brains appear to look and function much the way ours do. Who knows? Soon dogs might be able to tell us all about it.

This has fueled the burgeoning “nonhuman personhood” movement that’s challenging the way we can legally treat animals, providing the argument for a ban on using dolphins or other cetaceans for entertainment in India, and fueling a buzzy case in New York that seeks enhanced rights on behalf of chimps. It’s rapidly pushed us way beyond thinking of animals as things we raise for food or press into entertainment. They’re intelligent, sentient beings whose cognitive, emotional and social capacities mirror our own. Those creatures big and small that have fed, frightened, entertained, comforted and awed us are no longer just them. Increasingly, they are us.

We’re talking about a movement with compassion at its core. Sure, there will be cute videos on The Dodo, but we’ll focus on images you won’t feel conflicted about watching — as Izzie puts it, we’ll celebrate animals, and not just laugh at them. We plan to explore our fierce and fraught bond with animals broadly and enthusiastically, from animal testing to the ethical eating movement. Most people are still figuring out where they stand on a lot of these issues; one of my favorite voices belongs to Bob Comis, a pig farmer in upstate New York, who openly grapples with the ethics of what he does, once writing: “What I do is wrong, in spite of its acceptance by nearly 95% of the American population. I know it in my bones, even if I cannot yet act on it.” We’re not saying we have all the answers, by the way. But we’re committed to searching for them.

Join our community, and you’ll be a contributor like all of our other founding members, and you’ll be the instant editor of your own Dodo page. You can share and curate the most important information you see anywhere by using the community tools. Alert us to what you find, and we’ll be able to promote it to our frontpage, as well as on our Twitter, Facebook and other accounts, too.

Be part of the team that resurrects The Dodo. It’s time.

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Parallels between a Town in Connecticut and the Ivory Trade in China

This article was shared by Melissa Groo to the elephant listserv, and I am copying it here because it is so important a viewpoint. To follow the author, Richard Conniff, on twitter: @RichardConniff    

Does the Solution to Elephant Poaching Lie in Small-Town Connecticut?

Between 1860 and 1930, rival companies in the Connecticut River Valley dominated the ivory market in the Western Hemisphere.

ivory tusks ivorytown connecticut

(Photo: Joe Amon/The Denver Post via Getty)

Wildlife products are big business in China. And to outsiders concerned about dwindling numbers of species, the rabid desire for these products can be shocking. Running down the list of species they are eating, or otherwise consuming, to the brink of extinction, it’s easy to get the impression that China’s newly rich are utterly depraved. Shameless. Inhuman, even.

In fact, though, their appetite for wildlife products—from shark fin soup and pangolin stew toivory trinkets—in some ways echoes our own 19th-century rise to wealth. We are the ones, for instance, who brought off the great slaughter of American bison, from 60 million animals down to about 700 in 1902. We alone are to blame for the mindless killing of billions of passenger pigeons, down to the death of Martha, the sole surviving female, in 1914. But those sad stories are already well known. I’m going to tell a hometown story instead, one that resonates with what China is doing to elephants in Africa today.

For many years, I lived in a Connecticut River Valley community that rose up entirely on the strength of the ivory trade. The rival companies at the heart of Deep River and neighboring Ivoryton, Conn., were makers of piano keyboards covered with ivory, and they dominated the ivory market in the Western Hemisphere. The river landing just below my house was an unloading point for ivory tusks. And at the beginning of the 20th century, the factory at the other end of my street was cutting the ivory of a thousand elephants a year.

When I lived there in the 1980s and ’90s, people could still remember fertilizing their tomatoes with ivory sawdust. The local pond below the mill used to turn yellow with it, a local elder told me, and when he and a friend came home from swimming there as boys, “we looked like the Gold Dust Twins. How my mother would holler.”

For American buyers then, as for Chinese consumers now, ivory was all about status. In the prosperous decades after the Civil War, the piano was the essential “badge of gentility,” as one social observer put it, “being the only thing that distinguishes ‘Decent People’ from the lower and less distinguished…‘middling kind of folks.’ ”

At the height of the public craze for the piano, from about 1860 to 1930, demand from Pratt, Read & Company in Deep River and Comstock, Cheney & Company in Ivoryton helped determine demand for ivory in Zanzibar, the major trading center, and even the price paid for tusks in the East African bush, where the elephants were being killed. Then, about 50,000 elephants died each year to supply the ivory trade. At the risk of overstating the moral complications of what seemed like an innocent pastime, they died so girls in the rising middle class could display their musical talent and families could gather around the piano to sing.

It’s hard for us now to grasp the extraordinary intimacy with elephant tusks that was once commonplace in the two towns. These days, scientists tracking the illegal ivory trade can determine the origin of a tusk by studying its isotopes, persistent biochemical traces of what the elephant ate, and where it lived. But the old ivory cutters had something like that knowledge in their hands. They could tell Congo ivory from Sudanese, Mozambique, Senegalese, or Abyssian ivory, Egyptian soft from Egyptian hard, and Zanzibar prime from Zanzibar cutch.

They knew the ivory not just by how it responded to their saws but by how it felt beneath their fingertips. “To observe a man at work with ivory,” a reporter who visited the Pratt, Read cutting rooms once wrote, was “to watch a man in love. As it is sorted, sliced, cut, and matched, each workman actually fondles and caresses it.” No doubt the ivory carvers of modern Hong Kong or Bangkok feel the same way.

There is, of course, a big difference between the ivory market then and now. The idea of eliminating elephants from Africa would have seemed absurd back then, like suggesting we could remove all the fish from the sea. Moreover, today we have television and the Internet to bring the slaughter of elephants into our homes and make it real. Even with the current censorship in China, only willful ignorance could keep the people who still buy ivory trinkets from knowing the bloody cost of their status symbols.

And yet the Connecticut River Valley’s 19th-century ivory merchants also understood the damage they were doing. Local men who represented the ivory companies in Zanzibar knew that elephants were disappearing from vast areas of East Africa. As the years passed, the Arab-run ivory-trading caravans, armed by Yankee merchants, were obliged to travel deeper into the continent and be away for longer.

One especially painful irony is that George Read, the founder of Deep River and its ivory company, was an anti-slavery activist even in the 1830s. His home was a station on the Underground Railroad. Meanwhile, the caravans that brought the tusks down to the East African coast also brought slaves to carry the tusks, and those slaves were then sold into the trade. Read, who died in 1859, must at some point surely have realized his own connection to the slave trade, and yet he did nothing to stop it.

So how does all this history matter to the present challenge of getting people in China to stop buying ivory? What ultimately killed the business in Connecticut wasn’t any concern about the elephants (or the slaves). Instead, it required a change of taste among consumers: The phonograph arrived, and playing the piano became old hat. By the 1950s, the ivory trade in the Connecticut River Valley was dead.

The moral is that we shouldn’t be too quick to call Chinese ivory buyers inhuman or depraved. They are a lot like we once were. At the same time, our own bad behavior then should not become the means of justifying China’s continued bad behavior today. We need to be quick and clear about that, because at the current rate of killing, elephants, rhinos, tigers, and many other species could soon completely vanish from the wild.

But a change in taste, like the one that killed the Connecticut ivory trade, is still eminently possible. Social pressure and the need to save face are the forces most likely to make it happen. In my lifetime, I have seen that kind of pressure make fur unfashionable and more than halve the rate of cigarette smoking among American adults.

So here’s the lesson for China: The ivory trade of the 19th century is now a permanent mark of shame for the Connecticut River Valley. It will be a far greater disgrace, and an everlasting one, if China now causes the extinction of the largest and most beloved land mammal on Earth. Stepping up and saving the elephants, on the other hand, will bring China the thing great nations crave most, which is the admiration of the world.

The hunger for status, which is now killing the elephants, could thus instead become its salvation.

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The cost of being an artist in the U.S.

This is a fascinating group of discussions around what it is like to be an artist today in the U.S. Thank you NYT for the attention to it.


Another worthwhile read as a PDF from the Field Foundation related to the topic.


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Some encouraging news of ivory arrests in China

Xiamen customs smash HK$767m ivory smuggling ring (China)

(Copied from the listserv of consolidated elephant news run by Melissa Groo)

South China Morning Post
06 November, 2013

Customs officials in Xiamen have smashed a transcontinental smuggling ring responsible for illegally importing almost 12 tons of ivory worth 603 million yuan (HK$767 million), Xinhua reports.

The details of a long-term investigation into two criminal gangs were announced yesterday by Xiamen Customs, who named two “black bosses” as masterminds.

The first, a Fujian native man surnamed Chen, co-ordinated a smuggling ring between China and Africa in order to meet increasing demand beyond the fixed annual import limit set for his licensed ivory shop.

Chen’s group has been known to Xiamen customs since 2011. In August this year, several members were arrested and almost 2,000 kilograms of ivory were seized. Xiamen customs now attribute several loads to the gang, including four loads in 2011 hidden in shipments of sand, cashew nut, metal and leather.

Chen’s gang also smuggled shipments through Hong Kong, where several illegal loads have been seized in recent months. In early October close to 800 kilograms was seized, having originated from the Ivory Coast.

The deputy inspector of the Xiamen Customs Anti-smuggling Bureau, Hu Yonggang, named Mr Liu as the second mastermind currently investigated by the department. Liu’s gang was said to be responsible for a 4.2 ton haul seized late last year.

Ivory is seen as a symbol of wealth and status in China, and has become increasingly popular in recent years with the growth of the wealthy middle class.

Three Chinese nationals were arrested in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania on Tuesday after nearly 800 tusks were found hidden in bags of garlic at their homes.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei reaffirmed China’s commitment to working with the international community to protect wildlife in a press conference that day.

A recent survey by the International Fund for Animal Welfare found that 70 per cent of Chinese are unaware that elephants are killed for ivory products. The survey found that many thought that elephants lose tusks as humans lose teeth.

Also on Tuesday, US President Barack Obama announced that six tons of illegal ivory would be destroyed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Obama said they wanted to send a message of “zero tolerance”, the New York Times reported.

The United States is the world’s second largest consumer of ivory products, behind China.


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Fraser’s Story


Not long ago my mom declared that it was time for the family to get a new dog. At first I was quite surprised by this announcement. In the many years since we had owned our last dog, my mom was the defector in the family whenever there were whisperings about possibly adopting a new pooch. My confusion over her reversal of opinion lasted until I realized that, with my younger sister about to graduate from high school, my parents would soon be the only occupants of their home. My mom’s new interest was more than a fleeting curiosity – it was her way of preparing for the potential loneliness of an empty nest.

I was more than willing to help my mom find a new companion. It wasn’t long before I found myself looking at pictures of dogs on the local animal shelter website. After what seemed like only a few minutes of searching, I came across a picture of a small terrier with shaggy blond hair. He seemed to be about the size that my mom was looking for, and he reminded me of our family’s last dog. I scheduled a time when we could see the pooch, whose name was Fraser.

Upon meeting Fraser, the first thing that I noticed about him was the way that he looked at me. While other dogs would simply glance up nonchalantly when I was in their company, Fraser stared me down. His gaze was not threatening or pleading, though. What I saw in his eyes was more of a curiousness, a pondering. It was as though he was studying me; searching my thoughts and motivations and weighing them against his own. It was then, during this staring session, that I fell for Fraser and decided he was the dog for us.

Fraser has been a part of our family for two years and continues to impress us with his perceptiveness and curiosity. No matter what you are doing around the house, you can be sure that he is close by, watching and analyzing. This charming trait, along with his joyful, fun-loving nature, makes him an important part of the household: a pet who has added new meaning to the word.

– Robert Hamilton

Robert and Fraser
Robert and Fraser


photographer’s note: When I met Fraser, I learned that he was also very emotionally bonded with everyone in the family and had cried once when he had done something “bad”. According to Robert’s mom, he was so upset at upsetting his new family that everyone realized he felt some things really deeply and learned to be more careful with his feelings. I was also amazed at Fraser’s ability to leap high through a hoop in the kitchen with almost no lead-up. He was so incredibly present and fast. During the photosession outside, he was distracted by a chipmunk. A true terrier.

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One Language Pr…

One Language Project on the Walls of Emerson Hospital thru February

From the concept of a common language among all species to the movement to save the elephant from extinction, Miranda Loud’s Naturestage program was educational, thought-provoking, and moving. A wonderful presentation!

–Member of Lifelong Learning at Regis College (LLARC) and Lunch, Listen & Learn (LLL)

I thoroughly enjoyed presenting a version of Saving the Elephants, Saving Ourselves at Regis College last week, and look forward to many more speaking opportunities in the upcoming year. Collaborators are gathering around the Elephant Project film set and empathy curriculum and the One Language Project recent exhibit is now on the walls of the cancer center at Emerson Hospital.  I am always looking for more dogs (and other species) to add to the rolling and duplicating exhibit. If you have a story you’d like to share about a connection with another animal, send me an email and we can set up a time for me to photograph your pet. The cost of participating in the project is $375, and all the proceeds support Naturestage’s work. If you would like to make a donation to subsidize someone who wants to be involved but can’t pay that amount, you can make a tax-deductible donation for that purpose and send it to us by check.

Make sure you check out our One Language Project blog with the latest stories and photos of the participants. To read Raleigh’s story…http://onelanguageproject.com/

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