Ava looks out the window across an airport bustling with planes and trucks. Ahead of her the terminal gleamed in the brilliant sun. The state flag flaps vigorously in the warm wind. After the causal, friendly custom clearance she walks out to look for the reserved tour bus.The drive from the capital city of Kampala to Murchison Fall through the Budongo forest is very spectacular; full of Mahogany and Ironwood trees and the biggest Mahogany forest in the whole East Africa. Besides the road there are lush red bougainvillea and jacaranda trees heavy with purple-blue blossom. The bus stops at Royal Mile area close to the Budongo forest. This is Ava’s first visit. She is eager to stretch her legs and explore a little. She gets down from the bus and takes the trail with the other passengers. It is breathtaking view;the pretty bushes, myriad of plants, vegetation. A few tourists spot a Chocolate Backed Kingfisher, Paradise flycatcher while Ava clicks the picture of the clouds of spectacular butterflies enjoying a sunny forest pond on their way back to the bus. The bus bounces along with alarming swoops and dips from the badly rutted dirt road. After the dirt road, the bus drives over an endless stretch of dried yellow pampas punctuated by stunted plants and round clumps of grass, pass the thorn-acacia trees with lacy umbrella shaped top. Ava closes her eyes and takes a deep breath.Murchison Fall National park lies at the Northern end of the Albertine rift valley wall, Uganda’s largest and oldest conservation area. The park is bisected by the Victoria Nile which plunges over the remnant rift valley wall creating the dramatic Murchison fall.
As soon as the bus stops Ava picks up her luggage.The air is scented with grasses, brush,, wildflowers and dust. The huge flapping of birds overhead,, screeching of animals brings more excitement. The cottage is not very luxurious but pretty comfortable. Ava is almost fifty, a researcher from the Duke University and loves to travel on various projects. Now she has been studying the elephants and doing great deals of research on their cognition and social interactions. She wants to promote elephant conservation through this scientific research, education programming, and intern collaboration and to bring these results directly to the classroom both virtually and physically.
Next day Ava wakes up early.Dawn is breaking over the plains and the sight is breathtaking. A rose-colored sky, streaked with orange and gold that finally give up to a burning cerulean blue, brilliant white tufts of clouds.The morning dew sparkle on the grass and on the leaves. Her camera captures the picture of two doves perching on a tree branch , a yellow billed stork flying across the plains as the sky lightens up behind and a herd of elephants drinking water. Around eight one of her assistant comes to fetch her for breakfast. On the breakfast table Ava gets a chance to meet and mingle with the other tourists.
One of the ranger guides Ava to check the elephant herd.At the crest of the shoulder, sits an electronic transmitter that allows Ava to check all their moves. There are a herd of elephants scatter around a small tree enclosed area. The huge ears flap the buzzing flies away from their faces. Adult are feeding on grass, drinking fresh water and the younger ones just busy in their games. Ava glances at the one to the right. She is playing in the mud, and then trying to rest in between. She trots around grabbing a stick with her little trunk and squealing like a badly played saxophone. Ava smiles and names her Joy. Joy is gobbling the leaves with a big forehead, flappy ears, pretty small tusks which were shining like white gold as if posing for beauty shots.She has round platter field and four toenails, like teacups on each front foot. Her small tusk curves outward like crescent moon and earl like a palm leaf, small, intelligent caramel-brown eyes that stare behind the thick trunk of a tree. She raises her camera and clicks a few shots. The daily routine is to follow and observe the behavior patterns, their interaction. Ava is falling in love with Joy day by day – she wants to make friend with her, hug and play. After couple weeks Joy approaches her vehicle. Ava gives her a banana and she grabs it with her trunk like a toddler picking up a toy clumsily. She keeps the tip of the trunk against Ava’s lips and looks thoughtfully. Then she gradually start to greet her with raised trunk and let her tickle on it’s underside of the trunk. The friendship grows stronger with each passing days.
Towards the end of the month in one tuesday, Ava gets the flu and could not move from the bed for a week or two. As soon as her health improves she wants to check the herd and specially on Joy. She drives all the familiar places to find her but where is Joy! After couple hours of long search she spots Joy lying on the grass in a soggy spring- sleep valley, just upstream from the fall. Ava stops the jeep and runs towards Joy as fast as she could. Her is breathing heavy, there are big tears running down from her eyes,making painful noise. She is fighting for her life. Ava leans over. “ You will be okay,” she says. “ I will take care of you.” She gently wipes Joy’s tears, and checks her whole body to make sure that nothing terrible has happened. But the wounds on both of her back leg startles her.. “O’ No! Who did this to you?”Ava whispers choking on her own tears. Her wounds are grave. The reality stuck to her mind that it must be the poachers. Ava is ashamed to be human in the face of her suffering. “ No one will ever hurt you again,” she promises caressing Joy’s face.
From the trail of her eyes she finds another elephant from the herd, lying there dead without the tusks. Ava could not believe her eyes that someone so selfish and so cruel can take another innocent life for money and luxury. It is very hard to control her tears, sadness and anger. The forest ranger appears on time to take Joy to the clinic and to take the dead elephant for exam. Joy survives but it takes her long time to come to a normal existence.The doctor keeps her hydrate with saline solution and give her strong antibiotics. Ava extended her stay to look after Joy to make her understand that she deserves her life just like we do and the friendship continues. Three hard weeks have passed.One bright morning Ava walks into the barn with a fruit basket. Joy drops the hay and extends her trunk slowly. She touches Ava’s shoulder, before continuing upward. The two muscles at the tip of her trunk touches Ava’s face, moving to her nose, her lips and then to her wet eyes. Then very carefully she takes the fruit from Ava’s hand. Ava catches her breath and leans her head towards Joy.
Elephant poaching and international ivory trafficking involves multitude players with diverse interests. There are now fewer than 500,000wild African elephants and barely 32,000 Asian elephants. These animals cannot fight against us. People need to stop decorating their mantelpiece by taking the innocent lives. Elephants have the same right for a peaceful living as we do in this planet.
It was such a shame that just for money and luxury people can go such an extent to take innocent lives. What happened to the morality, the empathy, the respect and the compassion!!
“ Compassion, in which all ethics must take root, can only attain its full breadth and depth if it embraces all living creatures”- Albert Schweitzer.
We need to help the innocent elephants win this battle, so let us be their voice and be more active to bring justice to them.