Publisher: Fitzhenry and Whiteside, June 2014. ISBN: 978 – 1 – 55455 – 316 – 7. $20 (hard cover)
Shubhobroto Ghosh writes:
One of my most memorable zoo visits was to Toronto Zoo in 2012 with the Zoocheck Canada director, Rob Laidlaw. It was a great experience to see African Elephants, Toka, Thika and Iringa before they travelled across Canada and USA to their new abode at the Performing Animal Welfare Sanctuary in San Andreas, California. In my opinion, the transfer of the three Toronto Zoo elephants marks the greatest achievement in the history of Zoocheck Canada, a wild animal protection charity established in 2012.
5 Elephants is Rob Laidlaw’s personal endeavour to help human beings relate to elephants as individuals, both in the wild and in captivity. Given that elephants are such gigantic creatures and are under enormous pressure both in their natural habitat and facing major problems in captivity, writing a book about them would have to take a wide range of factors into account. Rob succeeds and admirably so.
The book revolves around the lives of ‘5 Elephants’, covering their lives in the wild and in captivity. We get to know about:-
Echo, a wild elephant who thrived in her natural environment in Kenya, surrounded by her family.
Lucy, an Asian elephant imported to Canada from Sri Lanka, and now living alone in Edmonton Zoo in Alberta.
We hear of Tarra, an entertainment elephant now living her days out at the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, USA.
The travails of Tusko, an elephant who was deemed as a threat during her days as an entertainer in Washington and eventually ended in Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle.
The remarkable transfer of Thandorra, from Bloemfontein Zoo to Gondwana Game Reserve is outlined movingly.
These stories develop empathy in the reader for elephants, both Asian and African, as sentient creatures who are capable of expressing the same emotions as humans do, love, fear, pain and attachment to family members.
Elephants have had a terrible time due to the human fascination for ivory, and hundreds and thousands have been slaughtered for this luxury product made from their teeth. Rob deals with this and pays a moving tribute to the more than one thousand rangers who have been killed across the wild saving elephants and other wild animals.
Elephants have also been tamed historically to serve as carriers of timber, circus animals, zoo exhibits and as instruments of war. The human elephant relationship has not always been a happy one, as this book trenchantly lays out. The author explains their biology and their ecology and suggests ways for children to get involved in elephant conservation and welfare.
With the Indian Central Zoo Authority having issued a circular prohibiting the exhibition of animals in zoos and several North American zoos relinquishing their elephants and sending these pachyderms to sanctuaries, the debate over elephants is more potent than ever before.
5 Elephants by Rob Laidlaw is an extremely commendable effort to raise awareness on the world’s largest living land animal that is so desperately in need of our help now than ever before.
I cannot recommend this book too highly.
~ Shubhobroto Ghosh is a former journalist for the Telegraph newspaper whose work has also been published in the Times of India, The New York Times, Statesman, Asian Age, Montreal Serai and the Hindu. Ghosh has been active in animal protection issues since the early nineties and has been a member and supporter of several animal protection organizations, among them Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, Born Free Foundation, People For Animals, WWF and Beauty Without Cruelty. He currently works in the WWF India Headquarters in New Delhi.