Introduction

Featured

Tags

,

Hi there,

Welcome to my blog, and thank you for visiting :-). I’m not sure how this will go as while I enjoy keeping personal records I’ve never done it in such a public way. I’ve created this blog with the aim of sharing and exploring adventures, experiences and passions close to my heart. I’m hoping it will give any readers something they can take away for themselves whether it be inspiration, ideas, awareness, new perspective, or simply just enjoyment from reading the posts.

Firstly, my name is Samantha. I’m 26 years old and living Auckland, New Zealand. I was born and raised here, and I know New Zealand will always be home no matter where I may find myself. Since I can remember I have enjoyed the company of critters great and small. I have a Bachelor’s degree in Applied Science (Wildlife Management and Animal Welfare), and I have always strived to work in some animal field or other from shelters to zoos to rehabilitation centres to veterinary hospitals.

When it comes to ‘To Do’ lists of experiences, I have two or three. There is the bucket list of things to do in my lifetime – things like visit Antarctica, go on a hot air balloon ride in Europe, see a soccer match in an English stadium – and then there is the list of things I want to achieve sooner rather than later. The latter is a list that came into fruition not too long ago and focuses mainly on exploring the things I am most passionate about – wildlife and their conservation and welfare.

Since I was little, non-human animals have been my fascination and main interest. I grew up in a house backing onto a reserve in the suburbs, and we’d always be out feeding the ducks and other birds. One thing I learnt more and more as I grew up is that animals cannot speak for themselves. Like human babies, they are dependent upon others to stand up for their welfare when it is in question. Animals have all levels of intelligence and a lot of the time I think it is forgotten how sentient they really are. We all have complex nervous systems, different methods of reproduction, brains of various sizes and function, and unique designs that give us the ability to fit into certain ecosystems. Different species work into different niches and through all these connections thus life on earth progresses. We are all important to each other in some way.

As species have niches in different ecosystems, another thing I have learnt ‘growing up’ is that as individuals we are encouraged to find our own personal niche too. I think this can be a struggle in different ways for different people – there is so much to be passionate about, but sometimes people are unable to follow their passions, or they spend their life without one. I find myself drawn to people who care about what happens to the world and who strive to personally contribute something positive. I talk about it often with a friend of mine who views the earth as doomed/a ticking time bomb. She gets exasperated because she sees there is just so much to do; human rights, individual and species health, ecosystem wellbeing, the environment in general – these are examples of things I care about too, and it is easy to feel overwhelmed by it all. But I’ve decided that the best thing to do is stick with the things you feel most strongly about. There is so much I want to do, but sometimes you just have to take it one step at a time, and prioritise and plan where need be. With our individuality and uniqueness we thus have individual and unique passions, and I really do feel that if each person contributed something to an issue they felt strongly about, the world would be better off.

So I suppose that is why I have set up this blog; to be able to recount and set up journeys of contributing to and exploring things that matter to me. I’m grateful to anyone who takes the time to read it, and hope it encourages others to share and think about their own journeys and adventures. My latest expedition was in Thailand where I volunteered at an elephant rescue centre for some time, and in only a mere number of days I head back to the United States of America to once again work with the arctic wolves I adore so much.

Sam.

Note: All the photographs used in this blog are my own unless otherwise stated. If you would like to use them for anything please contact me for permission.

Join me on Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/Blameitonmywildheartblog and Twitter – https://twitter.com/wildatheartblog

*

America - Wolves: 2010

America – Wolves: 2010

*

Thailand – Elephants: 2013

More dress-ups

Tags

, , , , , , , , , ,

Three more sleeps, three more sleeps… If there hadn’t been some confusion with flights I would be leaving for the USA tonight. In a way I’m rather glad I have a few more days to prepare myself and pack. The last LARP weekend I went to was great for catching up with people I wouldn’t normally see on a regular basis, and I’ve tried to meet up with friends where possible before heading away. The next few nights I’ll be spending time with family, and Tuesday will see me flying away from the Land of the Long White Cloud. I had my last day at the office yesterday (and my final shift at the veterinary clinic today), and people kept asking me if I’m excited. Am I excited? I know deep down I’m incrediblycrazilysuperduper excited, but I don’t think I’m letting myself feel it yet – not until I step off that plane in Oregon.
I have never enjoyed the logistical side of travel. The running to catch planes, the hoping your luggage turns up when it’s meant to, the waiting, the lack of sleep… Not something I look forward to. This journey to my destination is going to be quite an adventure. If things go to plan I am due to land in Oregon on Tuesday evening (after going back in time from New Zealand), I then have to pick up my rental car and then somehow find my way to my friend’s house which is over two hours away from the airport. I am familiar with the Oregonian roads around the wolf sanctuary I’ll be working at, but I have never driven out to the airport before. One thing I am so looking forward to is coming past the Heceta Head Lighthouse – utterly one of my favourite night-time haunts. It is going to be magical. I can’t wait to tell you all about it :-)

So until I finally land (and probably until I actually successfully reach my friend’s house where I will be staying for the next month) I will most likely be a bit of a frazzled mess – a reason why I’ve been trying to use “Stillness” as a mantra.

“Stillness” is a concept that popped up on my Twitter feed recently, and I didn’t really understand what the person who posted it was talking about. But the word has, for some reason, stayed in the back of my mind of late, and I’ve begun to find that to me it translates to a state of calmly being. A state of calm… quiet… peace… breathing… self-awareness… being still.
Stillness isn’t encouraged where I’m from. We zoom around, rush like busy bees at work, have loud coffee dates with friends, integrate with society as is required, ruthlessly consume; purchase; own. Stillness can be sanity-saving in the midst of all of this. As I said in my last post; I love the quiet of the rural countryside. This is a place where stillness is accepted. An early walk through the paddocks, a picnic in the trees, coming home to a night-time greeting from the horses grazing by the house.

I am lucky enough to, every now and then, get involved in a creative venture of the photography variety. I once wrote about a rather high-end project I took part in that endeavored to raise funds for the Child Cancer Foundation in New Zealand. This had been a large, structured project, where photographers had been briefed on what sorts of images the director had wanted, and stylists and makeup artists had also been instructed to create a certain ‘look’ on models. While I relished the shoots,  I probably more enjoy ‘intimate’ settings where there are less photographers and I can also have some creative input.
Not too long ago I was invited to do a shoot with Brett Walters of Creative Photography. I met Brett a while ago at a Graham Meadows Photography Workshop that I was acting as ‘subject’ for. Graham Meadows is one of my biggest mentors, and is the reason this shy, hunched-over girl ever got in front of a camera in the first place. Brett was taking part in the workshop to learn some portrait photography techniques, and we kept in touch afterwards. I hadn’t seen him again until this last shoot, but I always like to keep up-to-date with the creations of various photographers I have worked with.
Thus I recently headed over to Brett’s St Heliers-based studio, where he was chatting with two budding photographers he would be teaching that day. I like the casual atmosphere of shoots like this, where techniques are being explored and experimentation is encouraged. You don’t feel like just an empty body to be posed and shot, but a person with a creative mind recommended to express it. We had a lot of fun playing in the studio, and then went out to make mischief in the forest. The trio even trusted me with a working bow-and-arrow – I’m glad I didn’t accidentally hurt anyone!!! (Believe me, with my lack of grace and control, there was a high potential for it!)
Brett does gorgeous work. Here is one of the shots from the studio:

Creative Photography Ltd

Creative Photography Ltd

Sometimes I ask permission to play around with images myself – it depends on who I am working with. I love the opportunity to completely change and distort a picture; add an entirely different mood to it, or create a story. My desktop background is a constant rolling slideshow of fantastical images – as you may know by now I am a big fan of escapism and anything that inspires adventurous thoughts, and at home I’ve got a stack of paintings and posters that achieve this. After looking at some of the fantastical backgrounds on my computer, I wondered to myself if I could create some of my own. Brett gave me the OK to have a play around with some images, and below are a few examples. I was working on these when I was still bouncing back for a bit of a rough patch. “Stillness” also fits when I feel disconnected from other people and/or western reality. So while the below pictures don’t portray physical stillness as such, different elements fuse together to give me that Stillness theory feeling – e.g. being turned away from the camera, the use of a mask, being transformed to a fantasy setting, etc.
Please note that I do not own the false background layers included in some of these images.

wildatheartblogCreative Photography fairy wildatheartblogwildatheartblogHere is one of my favourites in general from the shoot:

Female archer Creative Photography cosplayI had wanted to post this before I left on the next overseas adventure. After somewhat feeling like I had completely lost myself a few months ago, it has been things like this that have kept me bouncing along; Stillness, exploring creativity, focusing on something positive and fun. Dress-ups, LARPing; exciting hobbies. Wonderful friends and family. Everyone who has contributed to my life positively in whatever capacity. Smiles, warmth, joy. All those good things! It helped me remember my passion when I was close to forgetting.

Next time you hear from me, fingers crossed, I’ll be in Oregon with those great white fluffy creatures!

Sam.

Special thanks to Brett
from Creative Photography Ltd

Stillness.

Tags

, , , , , , , , , ,

Stillness.

 

Silence.

 

Honestly, this year has been anything but. Less rollercoaster ride, more ‘I’m-a-chew-toy-being-flung-from-side-to-side-in-a-dog’s-mouth.’ That’s life, though, isn’t it. There have been points where I’ve literally said to myself, ‘This just isn’t worth it.’ There have been points where I’ve looked at others in my life and felt in complete disbelief that they can still continue on. My Mum. My Dad. My friends. People in my life that I care about. I have tried not taking anti-depressants for a little while of late, and I’m wondering if I’m recognising more darkness in the world around me because of this. But in saying that, there have also been points in recent times where I have felt like the luckiest, most blessed girl in the world. Must say, though, the whole “do the drugs really affect me, or can I stop taking them?” is doing my head in right now.

Today a work colleague was talking with me about the view out of my office window. There are paddocks, trees, the Sky Tower, the ocean off in the distance, and the motorway.
“I like seeing the movement,” she told me, “The cars passing. But I suppose I am a city girl.”
Could say I’m a city girl, too. Well, a born-and-raised suburbs girl, anyway. And yet I can’t think of anything I’d rather return home to more than the stillness of the countryside. On the weekend, after a nursing shift at the veterinary clinic, I was at the mall fetching a few things in preparation for the wolf trip (I leave next week – too good to be true!!!), and I remember noting how absolutely abysmal the traffic was. I couldn’t wait to get back out on the country road – yes, you must look out for rabbits and possums and tractors, and you’re a fair way from any main shopping centre, but I love it. Guaranteed I will see at least one horse rider on my way home from work – they always smile and wave when you slow down to carefully pass them. I can’t wait for the summer when I’ll finally be out riding some of the horses my landlady owns.

Stillness can be difficult for one to achieve. One who is like me, I should say. When there has been a bit too much emotion in one day, it comes out as pressure against my head, and that makes it hard to breathe calmly and rid myself of busy feelings. Meditation would be beneficial, but I have never been very good at it. The closest thing I get to, at the moment, is in the studio where I take ‘circus’ classes. The tutor of these classes is an incredible woman with a fierce, glowing heart, and the studio is adorned with images of Buddha, Japanese cherry blossoms, twinkling fairy lights, and always smells deliciously of incense. For one to two hours I am painfully twirling myself up in circus ribbons hanging from the ceiling, trying to perfect poses that I can’t quite achieve yet with my very limited (read: nonexistent) upper body strength. Everything else just disappears.

White wolf Tehalin free spirit

With Tehalin

The greatest time I have ever felt stillness was when I was sitting opposite darling Tehalin, the most incredible wolf spirit I have ever met. I have mentioned before how we would spend time together at the top of the mountain at the White Wolf Sanctuary – he would gently reach out one massive paw for me to pat or groom, and stare right into my eyes. Some days I would tell him everything I could think of, other days there would be silence. For hours (unless his sister came running and bowled him over to fight for my attention). To think, I will be back with them in a week, all going well. It is said they remember you forever – we will find out if this is true.

Preparations for the upcoming trip haven’t helped maintain a calm mindset, as is to be expected of travel planning. I have so far had flight ticket mix-ups, extra money to pay for date changes, not to mention completely unnecessary stress caused for family members in regards to some horrible challenges they are facing. I suppose, as said above, this is life. There are always little disruptions, and unfortunately there are also major, life-changing obstacles and ordeals – experiences we always have to prove that we can get through. Since that wonderful, incredible, childhood inspiration of mine – Robin Williams – unbelievably passed away recently, there seems to have been a cascade of other, similar tragic events. Of course I don’t know his real story – all I know is that it broke my heart knowing someone so many people cared about was not aware of how much he meant to so many. I suppose it only takes one moment to forget how much the people in your world need you; one moment that can lead to utter hell for the people who love you. The last few days a few people I know have lost loved ones; family members and dear friends. These people in my heart are the types of people I look at, and I think to myself, “How on earth do they carry on?” I don’t have the answer, but I am incredibly glad that carry on they do, however they manage it.

Right now is not a good time for me to be leaving certain people here in New Zealand. But I know if I tell them this, they will simply be their selfless selves and say, “Sam, there is never a perfect time – life always brings some hurdle to get over.” But I still feel guilty. How do you choose where to dedicate yourself? The romantic, stubborn, dreamer’s part of me likes to think that one person’s heart can save the world. But it is utterly impossible to end the suffering of every single person, creature and environment on this planet. I guess just do what you can, when you can, even if there is no perfect time for it. I’m going back to the arctic wolves, to greet old fluffy friends and to meet and learn the stories of new ones. We all face hardships, and life will always bring challenges, but if you decide to do something good with what is inside of you despite all that’s going on, I can guarantee you will be more fulfilled – and the world around you will be better for it.

Sam.

A different ‘D’ word

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

Time flies when you’re having fun.
It also seems to fly when you are under pressure, stressed about something, or anticipating some sort of impending event that is racing straight towards you. A few weeks ago I was sitting here contemplating how it seemed I had all the time in the world to prepare for my next journey, and all of a sudden it is right in front of me, a mere number of days away! Am I prepared? Not in the slightest! Or I don’t feel so, anyway.

When I was growing up, Dad used to ask me what my ‘career‘ would be. ‘Career‘ was a word I heard a lot at school, coming from the mouths of teachers or guidance counsellors or friends’ parents. “But you can’t make a career out of that,” they would say. “And when you’ve done that, what will your career be?” There is so much pressure on us to find a ‘suitable career’ that a lot of the time I think we completely miss the point.
And what is “the point,” exactly? Well, I’m not sure if I’m talking about life in general or what – I just know that the point is happiness, or that is at least what I feel it to be. If you can’t say there is happiness in your life, then there truly is no point.
Back when I was a lot younger – before the time any sort of darkness began to pry its way into my life – ‘happiness’ wasn’t a word I would ever stop to think about. It was simply a guarantee; a fact of being alive. If I thought about the future, I knew I would go to university and grow up and become an adult, and I would be happy all that time. I would have a house and get married and have kids, and I would be happy. I would grow old, and be happy. It’s just what people did. Happiness was a given. Those were my innocent, naive, unaware thoughts.
Now if you ask me what happiness is, I wouldn’t be able to define it for you. At this moment I’m currently reading a definition that says to be happy is “to be in a state of cheerfulness” – but that doesn’t quite describe the word, does it. If someone says to me now, “Are you happy?” I have to really think about it. A million and one thoughts roll into my head; Am I where I want to be in life right at this moment; Is money worrying me; Are my personal relationships doing well; Is my job secure; Is my home environment comfortable and safe? I don’t believe happiness is a constant state. It’s not something you can work towards and reach like a finish line and say “I’m here, I made it, I win!” It changes. It may ebb and flow. Rise and fall. You can wake up feeling wonderful, and by the evening have experienced something that turns your world temporarily on its head. Likewise, you can have a horrible morning, but encounter something fantastic during the day that reminds you life is great and that you’re enjoying it.
I have been trying, recently, to practice the theory that things only affect you if you allow them to. I’m a sucker for letting things get to me more than they need to. Perhaps it’s part and parcel of being predisposed to anxiety, but I do have a tendency to worry, I do stress about things out of my control, and I am affected by what others say to or about me. A few particular people in my life (I could perhaps describe them as more ‘level-headed’ than myself) are often trying to convince me that I do not need to be affected by certain things so much, so I am working on it. After a lifetime of practicing this apparent flustered need to ‘fix’ things, though, it can be difficult to just breathe and let go. Yes, it can be difficult – but not impossible.

As well as accepting that you don’t have to be bothered by every little daily grump, surrounding yourself with things that make you smile – even temporarily – can be life saving. And this is where “a different ‘D’ word” comes in: dress-ups!

I love dressing up. Well, I love escapism, and to me dressing up is a form of escapism. I have lots of childhood memories of utilising that wonderful, magical thing called imagination, whether it be in games with my friends, my sister, or just myself while I ran around being a ridiculous little kid. I still consider myself a ‘dreamer’ in several senses; I have strong, passionate dreams that I am determined to follow, but I also like to slip away into daydream-realm – whether it be with books, music, movies, literature – where the pressures of today aren’t such a reality. This world (our planet; our only home) has so much going on, and I thrive on the ferocity I am imbued with when I’m living what I’m passionate about. But I also relish the few quiet times I have where I can lose myself in the pages of a book, or throw some painted swirls onto a canvas.

A few years ago I was sitting at my Dad’s house in the country (a quiet place I used to relish), watching a movie with a friend. It was a silly movie with plenty of immature humour; I didn’t have high hopes for it, but sometimes it’s good to just blob out to something mindlessly ridiculous. Anyway, one of the characters in this film – a young lad who would typically be described as ‘geeky’ – introduced some of the other characters to one of his favourite past-times. It was called LARPing: Live Action Roleplay. The fellow dressed himself up in a medieval-themed costume, and proceeded to take part in a rather intense make-believe battle with other larpers, some of whom seemed to take it way too seriously. My friend was almost crying with laughter, and I was having a giggle too – the concept was pretty novel to me. Yet deep down there was a little spark inside me that I couldn’t ignore: it was saying, “That looks like something you could enjoy, Sam…” Unbeknown to my friend, as soon as I had a moment to myself after the movie ended I somewhat hesitantly Googled “LARPing in New Zealand”. I didn’t really think such a thing would exist in our relatively small community – but I was to be surprised!
Not only were there listings for LARP in New Zealand in general, but Auckland seemed to be a pretty good place for it! As I flicked through a few different web pages – some of which were quite out of date – I stumbled across one that announced a ‘Campaign’ about to be held in only a few weeks’ time. I had no idea what was meant by a ‘Campaign’, but I dove right in and emailed my interest to the organisers. To my joy they came back to me very quickly, telling me I was welcome to join this campaign known as “Teonn“. From what I understood there were two options: to ‘Play’, or to ‘Crew’. Playing required you to create a character with a back-story, maybe some goals and other character connections. As I was utterly, completely, totally ignorant to the whole LARP thing, I figured Playing might be a bit too much for my first time. I decided to offer myself as a Crew member – Crew were like the extras of a movie, or the NPCs (non-player characters) of a video game; the barmaids, the farmers, the quest-givers, the monsters, the bandits, the helpless villagers, the damsels in distress. I thought it would be the perfect place to start.

The first night of this three-day game arrived, and I had bundled a couple of pillows, a sleeping bag, and plenty of old clothes into my car. I was so nervous. Turning up to a camp out in the middle of a completely unfamiliar area, where I would literally not know a single person, was quite a big step for this anxiety-ridden girl. But somehow I had faith that I would find myself feeling comfortable within the larping community fairly quickly.
Game preparations were in full swing as I pulled into the carpark. There were people rushing around in all directions, carrying bundles of what I could only assume were props and larp-safe weapons. I bumped into a lady who pointed me in the direction of the Crew Room, and I nervously wandered through the dark to find some indication of what I was meant to be doing. I happened upon one of the GMs – Game Masters – who told me to find myself a mattress in the sleeping quarters upstairs, leave my belongings there, and get into my first costume.
The Crew Room was a crazy rabble of people getting geared up in armor, painting their faces with weird and wonderful patterns, items of clothing being flung across the room as costumes were changed, and the GMs calling out what they needed: Gypsies, villagers, knights, wenches, spies, tavern staff… I joined a small group of ladies who were getting themselves into delicate medieval dresses, and discovered that we would be playing courtesans. Not quite what I was expecting for my first role, but it certainly was a good opportunity to get out and meet some of the Players.
Thankfully, being in a group meant I was able to follow the lead of the others – I had no idea what to expect, and as we exited the Crew Room all prettied up, I decided to simply watch and learn. We wandered down the street of the town known in-game as Cormere, and in the dim light of the buildings I could see groups of people in elaborate outfits milling about. The leader of our little band of coquettes approached one of the Players, and proceeded to have a discussion with him about some ongoing battles that were obviously tied in to the Teonn story, and chatted to him about how we were there to bring some smiles to the town.
I found it difficult at first to speak to the Players with confidence; I was pretty overwhelmed and quite intimidated to be honest! But as I got into the swing of the game I realised this was definitely something I would enjoy. Crewing was great; if you wanted to play a more combat-oriented role then you could speak to the GMs and they would send you out as a bandit or assassin. There were all sorts of little side-plots going on, and people were constantly needed to flesh everything out. I was having fun waltzing around the evening playing this courtesan who, when trouble arose, could hide behind the front line and watch any fighting from a safe distance. Since I had never handled a larp-safe weapon in my life I had no idea how to fight accordingly.
Inevitably, though, I did have to gear up for a battle – in the dead of that first night, a raging orc horde arrived in the forest near Cormere – and who else would play this massive horde of blood-thirsty orcs but the Crew.

First night larping

First night larping

I believe I failed dismally as a big scary orc, but dozens of us banded together, banging drums and screeching into the night would have intimidated anyone I’d say. Swinging axes and swords in the dark of the forest was definitely one of the things I had expected about this larp business, and it really does get your adrenaline going!

Teonn was a campaign that was scheduled to run for several years, with two big weekend games each year, and several shorter day-games scattered throughout. It was a different thing altogether to wake up on my first morning at the larp and actually see in the daylight all the beautiful Player costumes – simply incredible; it took my breath away. The world of Teonn encompassed a number of different races, religions and factions – my favourite were the colourful ‘Elementals'; mysterious individuals who had some affiliation with one of the elements (earth, air, water or fire). How could you not be immersed in this fantasy world when you were surrounded by such meticulously planned characters and costumes?

Photography by Reality Dysfunction

Photography by Reality Dysfunction

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo set by Reality Dysfunction

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I continued to crew in Teonn for a number of games, while I learnt the ropes of campaign larping. Being cast as some kind of orc became common, though I didn’t get any better with the fighting – hopefully the green face paint and huge weapon was convincing enough. Other than that, in a typical game I learnt you’d be sure to find:

 

These types of heroic guys,

Some magical object puzzle we had to solve,

Giant monsters,
12
Helpful pointers in case you got lost,
8
Human-eating orcs,

Elf-eating orcs,

Epic battles,

Epic deaths,
14
Grieving over epic deaths.

Photo set by Reality Dysfunction.

Photo set by Reality Dysfunction.

For the last two big Teonn games I was involved in, I finally decided to take the plunge and try my hand at Playing. Thus, Y’vaine was created, a shy, naive, probably rather annoying Elemental of the earth variety. After all my dealings with dressing up as orcs it was decided that Y’vaine was utterly terrified of those more primitive green beasties, yet I still got covered in bodypaint.

A few snaps of Y’vaine:

Sam

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sam3 Sam5

 

Sam7

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to make the final game, which sounds as though it was incredibly emotionally intense. It is near impossible to not get attached to a recurring character you play throughout a campaign that runs for years, and I don’t quite know how I’d deal with the loss of one of my own that I had put so much work into. I also liken the finale of a campaign to reaching the end of a book series you are completely immersed in – you can’t wait to find out the ending, but when it’s all over you feel some sense of emptiness; or at least I do. However, the wonderful fascination of the games is absolutely worth any “larp-over”, and I can say my life isn’t the same now that I have the occasional magical larping escape, not to mention the family-like community I hold so dear. This weird and wonderful discovery has definitely helped put more frequent smiles on my face.

Sam.

Orc attempt #2

Orc attempt #2

Photos by Scott of Reality Dysfunction (check them out for more pictures) and one of my favourite orc friends, David.
(And a couple from my tacky cellphone.)

http://www.nzlarps.org/

Understanding and Depression

Tags

, , , , ,

I want to add on to what I wrote about last time – which, admittedly, was fairly off-topic in regards to what I had initially started this blog for. But I now know it is important for many people who have come across it, so it has been entirely worth it, and I’m putting it in the category of “things I care deeply about.”
It has been over a month since I wrote that last entry, and I have had some good time to think about it all. I still have battles with myself over whether I take the last post down or not, but it has lasted so far. When I had written it, and actually published it, I sat at my computer desk in a state of suspense for many long moments afterwards. I realised I cared a lot about being judged, so to me the act of publishing this piece of written thought was emotionally brave (and terrifying). I was worried people would see it as a form of attention-seeking, which it was not. I was worried people would look at me differently, and treat me differently; even those who have known me all my life as the person that I am. For the most part, though, I figured there would be two main outcomes: those who did read it wouldn’t mention it, or they would tell me to “toughen up” or give me some equally supportive suggestion.
To be honest, I would have been very surprised if anyone even read a portion of it. But after I posted the ramblings of this strange, airy-fairy girl, someone on my personal Facebook page clicked the “Like” button for it. ‘That’s nice,’ I had thought to myself. ‘My friends are so supportive.’ I figured that this person was just letting me know they acknowledged I had written something. I truly didn’t expect anyone to read through it all.
Very soon, though, as I still sat there at my desk with blurry eyes from uncovering certain memories I had buried unthinkably deep down, there came beautiful messages, comments, texts and emails. Some were from people I hadn’t spoken to in years. Some were from people I hadn’t even spoken to at all. It brought me to tears realising the amount of people in my immediate life who could relate to what I spoke about – it was incredible, and tragic. And yet there we were, chatting away to each other, recognising something in each other, and realising we weren’t alone.
It goes without saying that you are never alone in what you are feeling – someone, somewhere, is feeling the exact same thing, and countless people before that time have also gone through it. And even though I always knew that, it was something else to suddenly be connected to so many people who could relate to my written words. Perhaps even more amazing was the amount of people who couldn’t exactly relate to it, but still reached out to demonstrate that they care. People right there help restore some of my faith in the human spirit.

That’s what I want to talk about in this post – understanding, and depression. Not understanding depression, because I really don’t think you ever can! When you have it, it is different for everyone of course, but I liken it to a cloud of black smog with suffocating tendrils that seems to know exactly what to do to smother you down to a low point. And if you have never felt this depression thing, or anything like it, then how can you possibly be expected to understand what it’s like? You can’t. You also can’t expect someone with it to explain it to you so that you will understand what it’s all about and what it feels like. If we accept this, it can take a lot of frustration out of some situations.

If there is someone in your life who you suspect may be haunted by a nasty depression demon or similar, the first thing to remember is that you do not need to understand it. If you have never gone through something like this, then it will probably be impossible for you to understand no matter how hard you try. And that is absolutely okay. It is absolutely okay to have no idea what this person is feeling, or why. Equally, it is not okay to tell them that what they are feeling is made up, ridiculous or insignificant. It is not okay to tell them to “harden up”, to “build a bridge and get over it”, or to “snap out of it”. If you have someone close to you who is dealing with something unexplainable like this, please know that in order to support them you do not have to understand – you need only be there for them. That’s all. If they need to be held, then hold them. If they need to talk it out, then let them talk – you don’t have to understand the ins and outs of what they’re saying, and you probably won’t, but simply being there and letting them know that they aren’t alone in this can lift the darkness significantly for someone struggling. And remember to look after yourself, as well; it can take an emotional toll on you to be there for someone who is going through a situation you are totally unfamiliar with, so do what you need to do to take care of yourself. If you need a break from it, you should not feel guilty to do so – just like you are supporting this person close to you, they should also recognise that you may need some time here and there, and not make you feel bad for it. It’s all about wanting the right things for each other.

This is one example of why my Mum is such an incredible, strong woman. A few weeks ago, when the reason for me writing the last blog post was in full-force of knocking me about emotionally, it would be my evening routine to head to Mum’s, plonk myself down on her couch, and talk or cry or just sit there in numb silence while she gave me a big caring hug. We would eat food and watch movies, she’d drink wine and I’d have an ice-cream – she knew she couldn’t make the darkness go away, but she was just there for me regardless of anything else. She would give me advice if I asked for it, or she would let me ramble when she knew I needed to get it off my chest. At the time, when you are being choked by those vicious black tendrils, it can be hard to recognise the good around you – so if you are supporting someone and you feel like it is all for nothing, please know that while they may not be able to see how much you are doing for them right at the time, I can guarantee they will thank you later on, when they have the ability to appreciate again. At the time, I had been so focused on how horrible I was feeling, I couldn’t quite vocalise my appreciation to Mum for being there for me – but we both know it made things so much better.

Once upon a time, when things with my parents were teaching me that some things in life really wouldn’t go as smoothly as I had once thought was guaranteed, I wasn’t there for my Mum as I should have been. This was one of those stages where I literally can’t remember the events of days, or even weeks. I blocked it all out without realising that I had. And I don’t think it was emotional trauma that made me block this time of my life out – I think it was guilt.
I had figured that because I couldn’t fix the problems going on, I was useless. I thought I was in danger if I even tried to be there as a supportive daughter, because I wouldn’t do a good job of it, and I would crash and burn. I was already tormented by things I hadn’t dealt with and hadn’t told my parents about – and if that did happen and I burnt myself out, then who would look after me? I couldn’t burden people with my own failures; they had enough to deal with.
I knew I couldn’t understand the issues that were going on with my parents, or make it better. So I ran away from it all. If I did come home and see my Mum or sister upset, I would feel a frustration grow within me – I pushed them away, instead of being part of the support system, because I knew I couldn’t make it right.
I see now that I didn’t have to make it right, nor was I expected to. But I could have been there, as a listening ear or an open pair of arms or a shoulder to cry on. That’s all. Instead I decided I was of no use, and that’s how I acted.

Now I can recognise the huge impact one can make by just being there, even if they don’t understand. I know people who have gone through incredibly tough times, and their partners have left them to fend for themselves because they were too scared to even try and help. When I started on the medication, I knew my then partner was just as scared to offer himself as a support – it’s as if he was worried he might ‘catch’ what I had if we talked about the “D” word. So we wouldn’t talk about it, and I felt alone. I also felt like a lesser person every time he turned away when I took my medication. It became something I felt like I had to hide. If I had a dark day I would have to take myself away, rather than ask for comfort. It became a very inward, personal battle – not only did it rot me from the inside, but being in a relationship where I felt like I couldn’t talk about things meant that the relationship was rotten, too.

My point reiterated: you don’t have to understand what someone is going through. But do recognise that whoever this individual is, whatever they struggle with does not make them a lesser person – mental and emotional health is significant. You don’t have to be scared about not being able to fix it, or feel like that’s your job to do – just simply be there for them. Watch silly movies with them. Let them talk if they need to. Let them cry and give them a hug; you don’t have to do anything else. If they are going to a doctor, offer to go with them – you may not understand a word of what’s being said at the appointment, but at least they are supported in that room and aren’t alone. I’m not sure if it’s even about compassion – I know I still contained compassion even when I was afraid to be there for my family when my parents were splitting up. It’s about understanding and accepting that you don’t have to understand, but you can still be a positive force in someone’s life, and that can make the world of difference.

Sam

That taboo ‘D’ word

Tags

, , , ,

I’m talking about depression.

Depression. That word sends a million and one thoughts and feelings coursing through me when I type it out and read it. Thoughts and feelings like:

Shame.

Darkness.

Anxiety.

Fear.

Weakness.

Loneliness.

Abnormality.

Pain.

Helplessness.

Worthlessness.

Shame is the biggest one, right now, for me. And ‘abnormality’. Maybe if this blog was anonymous I wouldn’t be questioning whether or not I actually write this up. To be honest with you, I am afraid to write about it. Because I’m afraid of how it might make me feel. And I’m afraid of how everyone reading this will perceive it.
I once mentioned that ‘clinical depression’ has been a part of my life. It feels so strange to say that. I want to whisper it to you with my eyes closed, so that I can’t see your reaction. We’re all just people, right? There are things about each of us that others wouldn’t ever understand. But I feel like if I open up to someone and say that I’m on medication, it gives me this automatic stigma and means every ‘normal’ person will want to back away slowly. But for goodness sake, we are all people. And the real, shameful dark truth is that, for me, on the inside it sometimes feels like a struggle to maintain a state of happiness – or to even just not feel like I’m going to break down, wide-eyed with tears dripping down my face.

Look, I’m a scientist (here we go, trying to rationalise things). I have studied a wide range of biology topics, chemicals in the brain and neurological function being some of them. I understand that this horrid darkness isn’t my fault. When I came to know and accept that, I felt so relieved. It took a lot of pressure off. It meant I wasn’t doing anything wrong, I wasn’t failing at life – it meant I could accept things, and just go forward doing what I could to work on it. For me, working on it meant trying therapy first (and we’re talking a good decade ago) – but when I realised I wasn’t really structuring action plans for myself, and the sessions weren’t helping a great deal, I decided to change tactic. Three things really impact my quality of life; friends and family, a comfortable living environment, and work conditions. I have always had a wonderful group of close, select family and friends, so that is one huge blessing that I have always been able to count on. As to living arrangements, well, when I started flatting it wasn’t so good for me, so I changed things. Now I live out in the country in a self-contained little place that is absolutely peaceful, free and relaxing (not to mention surrounded by animals). And I am finally in a job I enjoy, one that doesn’t leave me feeling mentally and physically exhausted at the end of each day. My employer allows me to trek off overseas for my passionate volunteer excursions, they support me furthering my education, and I can see a career with them. So getting these three things lined up together has done a great deal for my quality of life.

For me, depression has never been about self-worth. I look at the person I am, and I adore her. I adore this slightly nutty, wild-hearted, free-spirited tangle of brunette hair and long limbs who is full of passion and constantly dreaming about the next adventure. My warm heart and ability to see things through feeling and compassionate eyes are possibly the features I am most proud of in myself. So no, self worth isn’t the issue for me anymore. I think one main ingredient in the bubbling-hot concoction of my personal depression is how others perceive me. Or how I believe others perceive me. And what I believe is based on how these people treat me.

I was a late bloomer. In school I didn’t get asked on dates like my friends. Nobody wanted to dance with me at socials. People wouldn’t invite me to parties because they thought I would be boring. I was this skinny shell of a girl, a meek, quiet thing who was usually too shy to raise her hand in class to ask a question. I remember vowing to myself that if, by some incredible miracle, a boy ever wanted to go out with me, I had best marry that man! Luckily I changed my mind.
The first guy I felt seriously about completely changed me. When it comes to matters of the heart I utterly dedicate myself. So when we got together, I dedicated myself without a second thought. It was scary, and terrifying, but wonderful at the same time – this whole, new, ‘relationship’ thing. Having someone to go to the movies with. To text randomly throughout the day. To hold hands with. To chat on the phone with in between study and dinner. And I didn’t think about it going badly. I mean, it happened to other people, but they weren’t me, and they didn’t have this special thing I had. It was real. In my mind, life was set. I mean, I was this nice, smiley, free-spirited young thing who would drop anything if I was told I was needed by this person – there was no reason for him to do me wrong. I didn’t enjoy the company of my family or friends as much, but that’s okay, because I was in a proper, grown-up relationship that was important to me and not seeing friends much was just a normal side effect, right?
I didn’t realise that over time I was being manipulated. It is hard to remember, because I realise now that I blocked a lot of it out. The manipulation – the abuse – started out as mental. Emotional. Soon it incorporated verbal violence. Then it came to objects flying across the room. The neighbours banging on the door to ask what the hell was going on. Threats. The flatmates hiding themselves from it, leaving me to fend for myself. Being held down, helpless.
I didn’t tell my parents. I didn’t tell my friends. I thought that it was normal. I believed, by this point, that I deserved it all. I was a crazy, ugly, inadequate, worthless girl. Nobody else would put up with me. I was lucky. I needed to stop complaining, I needed to stop being so difficult and selfish. And unbelievably, when he said he didn’t want me anymore, I was destroyed. I didn’t eat, so I lost weight that I couldn’t afford to lose. I couldn’t sleep. I remember lying on the roof at night in the rain in nothing but pyjamas, in winter, hoping I would die there. I cried all the time. That’s all I really remember.

Eventually, you begin to process things. I finally realised that abuse wasn’t normal, and I tried to convince myself I didn’t deserve it (even though I did believe that I was an ugly, crazy, difficult girl – this had been utterly drilled into me, and it took a bloody long time for me to see differently). And teenage Samsam just could not comprehend the fact that someone was capable of doing that sort of thing. Honest question – how is it possible that a person can do that to someone they apparently ‘love’? Teenage Samsam would have understood it more if she had been a nasty, mean, equally manipulative and abusive person – but that just wasn’t the way things were. She was a quiet, shy girl, not demanding or material-item obsessed. She wasn’t a bully, nor did she take pleasure in seeing others suffer even in the slightest. One of the hardest things to deal with was the fact that she had to go on living without having any of her questions answered. Without any honesty or truth. No closure, no satisfaction. Always wondering, ‘why?’

Anxiety secured itself firmly after that. A loud voice. A raised hand. Someone punching another person on TV. Boys in fast cars heckling me as they drove past. People yelling at each other. Anyone touching my neck. These sorts of things would cue the onset of a panic attack. Sometimes to the point where I would black out. Soon I realised I couldn’t go outside my room without feeling anxiety. And when I was inside my room, well, I was surrounded by a black cloud, suffocated, and terrified that I was going to break down. Depression had been in my life before that, but that whole experience built on it. Now I was just terrified of everyone. They say whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I have to disagree. Someone may physically survive a particular event, but never properly recover. Even as I think back to that time, nearly ten years ago, my little heart is racing, and my chest is constricted. And again I wonder: who the hell has the right to treat another person like that?
I managed to restrain the anxiety. But the depression itself was always evident. A usual day for me would mean waking up, trying not to think too much; trying not to let that dark cloud settle. I would go to Uni, or work, and feel inadequate in the eyes of others, but I would try to ignore it. Coming home I would continue to try and ignore the pressing darkness. It was like there was a rotten, sagging ceiling over my head that threatened to crash down on me at any moment, and suffocate me in that blackness. A normal day for me would mean just trying to carry on without being crushed. Because I didn’t know if I would ever be able to get up again if that rotten ceiling did finally cave in on me.

A few years ago I hit a very sudden, unexpected low point. Something that would usually be viewed as trivial affected me so much, so strongly, that I found myself pulled over in my car with a knife to one wrist. It was the first time I had even gotten close to physically harming myself that way, and I was terrified because I couldn’t actually remember getting that knife out. It happened so damn fast. I knew I needed more help.
Thus, the meds started. From what I hear about other peoples’ experiences with medication, I was lucky. I didn’t turn into a monster. I didn’t have horrible dreams, or feel unbalanced emotionally. Over time they made me feel, well, nothing – I just realised I felt like myself again. Occasionally that dark cloud would come back. Occasionally I’d feel lonely, or low. Every now and then a certain experience would bring me back down, despite medication, despite the wonderful support system I now realised I had, despite the tricks you learn to change your thought patterns and keep you from giving in to dark suffocation. But I can say that I’m still proud of my achievements; proud of my passions and the way that despite being hurt I haven’t gone on to become another abusive individual who takes their pain out on others. I was making plans and living life, and it was good. I could see that it was good.

I was spurred on to write this post a couple of weeks ago. My blog was designed to be a record of adventures, the worlds I thrust myself into in the name of “doing something good”. I’m damn passionate about conservation, the environment and animal rights – but lately I’ve also become more expressive about how I feel in regards to the ways people treat each other. I have always believed in honesty, compassion, treating others the way you want to be treated, etc. etc. I realise that I am still extremely naive. Innocence is very rare in our society nowadays, and I never used to see it as a weakness, but as something that others should nurture and cherish. In the perfect world innocence and trust would be positive qualities, but I’m sure we can all agree that this is not a perfect world, and in our society naivety and trust are excessively exploited.
Recently I put my trust in someone that I shouldn’t have. I was probably told a hundred and one times not to trust this person. And I didn’t at first. But I have this ridiculous, fatal flaw where I strive to see the best in anyone – absolutely anyone – close to me. Still, I was very vocal about the fact that I had no room in my life for lies, mind games, dishonesty, or anything but being honest and truthful. I was clear and concise in my beliefs, and I lived the way I talked – meaning I didn’t say one thing and then do another. And this person told me, non-stop, about how these qualities of mine were so good – and not just these qualities, but my passionate wanderlust, my spontaneity, my ridiculous sense of humour, my childish silliness… aspects of myself that I thought would be difficult to warm to. I remember thinking, ‘Wow. This person – this genuine person – sees me as I am, and actually admires the parts of me that I love the most.’ And slowly, I began to trust. You might say that I was groomed – over months of being told “you are safe,” “you can be vulnerable with me,” I began to believe it.

Edge of darknessWhen you live with fear of being exploited by other people, it can be a challenge to let someone in. It feels as though you are standing on the edge of anxiety’s cliff, atop a mass of waves that threaten to suck you in and drown you if you fall (by making the wrong decision). And you expect to be pushed by anyone in your near vicinity, so you stand there with your walls up, pretending you can’t see the black waves below you; pretending that you’re okay and everything is fine.
Now, when you are standing there on the edge of the cliff, trying not to freak out and pretending everything is fine, and someone gently takes the time to come over to you, put out their hand, look into your eyes and tell you it’s alright to come away from the cliff; that they aren’t going to push you, that you are safe… It’s like suddenly being wrapped up in a heavenly warm, beautiful blanket of protection, and you are led away from that cliff in safe arms and taken to a place where you can see the sunlight, and smile. And relax. It’s like being able to breathe after years of being strangled.

So, imagine what it’s like, after months of being told you are safe to trust, safe to let your walls down, safe to be vulnerable – and then suddenly and violently be pushed off that f**king cliff.

That’s how it felt. I knew I had been pushed, but I didn’t even feel myself fall. I told you what bearable days are like, when I would ‘fake it to make it’ in order to keep that rotten ceiling from caving in. Well, let me tell you, this time a few weeks ago that ceiling fell on me. It crushed me. It flattened me, pushed me all the way down to the bottom of that dark, raging sea. And I couldn’t get up. I don’t know if I would have gotten up if someone hadn’t intervened and picked me up off my bedroom floor.

So, once again I am left sitting here wondering. Asking myself “Why?” It could be a lover, a brother, a father, a mother, a best friend, an employer, a teacher, an idol – anyone you respect and put your trust in… To have it broken can be devastating. It can disrupt your world, and make you forget what is truly important. It is hard being faced with these feelings. Right now that darkness is clawing at my stomach, tightening the knot I’ve had in there for weeks. Slowly, slowly (because it always takes time with me) I know I will build myself up again. I’ll get out of the water and claw my way up the side of that cliff. But this is me telling you that I am terrified of that journey. I have made that climb before, and it takes a lot to clamber up the side of that cliff – especially when you know you may reach the top only to be pushed again, or to fall on the way. But talking helps. People who genuinely listen help. People who will sit with you in silence if need be because they care help. So anyone out there who is going through something that may feel unbearable – talk about it (even blab to me, I’m always up for hearing from those I have things in common with). It’s not forever. It may feel like it will be forever, but it’s not. And don’t forget what is really important in life. I give myself moments (in this case, weeks) to feel what I need to feel, but don’t abandon your passions, or the parts of your life that deserve your attention. Remembering that you care about something can be a great motivator. Right now I have two little tortoiseshell cats curled up on my lap – these fragile bundles of innocence help me remember that despite the horrid, nasty things that happen out there, the world is also full of goodness. Choose to be a part of that goodness.
One thing you can do straight away is make the conscious decision to not be one of those people who carry the cycle of pain out. “Hurt people hurt people.” Being hurt yourself does not give you the right to then go and hurt someone else. Shut that cycle down. Concentrate on yourself. Concentrate on peace, positivity, passion. Do things that make you smile. Watch a stupid movie. Congratulate yourself on little victories, like realising you’re laughing, or getting through another hour. Let others take care of you, you aren’t alone.

So as much as I would like justice, and closure, I have to shake that loose (not easy to do when there are SO many things I’d like to say…!) I have to forgive myself for tripping up and getting pushed again. I have to stop calling myself ‘fool’, and instead call myself ‘wonderful’, ‘caring’, ‘deserving of good things.’ So, over the next few posts as we gear up to another trip to those howling wolves countless miles away, I’ll probably show you a few things I’ve been getting involved with that make me smile.

If you’ve read through this essay, you get a huge high five for bearing with it!

Sam

Original image captured by Creative Photography Ltd

Jane Goodall in Auckland – a public presentation

Tags

, , , , , , , , , ,

Last night I headed out to the heart of Auckland City to see Jane Goodall speak to a sold-out crowd. Where to begin. I have a good 30 minute drive home from the city (plus the time it takes for me to un-lose myself and find the motorway away from all those bustling streets), and the best word to describe how I felt driving home was, well: Good. I felt good after hearing Dr Goodall speak. I also wanted to cry – she talked about many topics that I care deeply about. And you know what? Wanting to cry also made me feel Good: because I do, very obviously, care about those things.

The two strongest words I took out of her presentation were ‘magic’ and ‘hope’. Jane is full of hope for the future, despite how bleak the world looks at times. And she is still able to describe so many of her experiences as ‘magical’. Really, she is a prime example of an incredible spirit; she has done so much good in her life, and has seen some horrific things, and yet she still smiles on and lives with hope. That’s the best way I can describe what I took out of the evening: Hope.

Jane has been travelling the last few days up New Zealand, speaking firstly in Dunedin, then Wellington and last night Auckland where I live. Each evening has sold out, and she has spoken publicly to over 6,000 New Zealanders while she has been here in the mere space of a few days. It has been her first ever public talk here – hopefully not her last, as there were so many more who wanted to come and see her.

Dame Jane Goodall is, of course, a pioneer of sorts – not only for science, but also for women. She is extremely well known for discovering much of what we know about chimpanzees today, and for her environmental/conservation/animal welfare work in general. As she stepped up to the microphone after carefully walking across the stage in front of 2,500 people, she greeted us in a way she knows best.
“This is me, this is Jane, I’m announcing myself.”
But she said it in chimpanzee.

(Sample, from another talk, below.)

Jane started life as any typical animal-lover would; totally intrigued with all critters and crawlies. She said one thing that really set the path ahead for her, though, was the support of her mother. She recalled a time when she was about a-year-and-a-half old, and her mother found her with a pile of earthworms in her bed! Jane said she had been staring at the little worms with a look of wonder on her face, as if she was thinking “How do these things walk without legs!?” Most mothers would probably be quite deterred, but instead of scolding her baby, Jane’s mother scooped the earthworms and Jane up in her arms, took them all outside, and returned the worms to the ground. She explained to little Jane that the worms wouldn’t survive in a bed; they needed the earth to live.

A few years later Jane got to visit a farm with her mother, and being face-to-face with all these incredible animals just intrigued her. She told us last night that she had been given the job of collecting the chicken eggs – and just how a big egg came out of a chicken had utterly perplexed her. That was surely impossible, she thought! She looked at the chickens, and couldn’t see any hole so big that an egg that size could come out, so she decided to solve the mystery herself by following a chicken to see if it would lay something.
The first chicken she watched went into a coop, and four-year-old Jane crept in after it. Of course, laying hens can be very timid creatures, and with many loud squawks and a fractious flapping of wings the chicken fled the coop after seeing this wide-eyed child stalking it. So, little Jane decided to change tactic. She found an empty coop, and sat inside and waited. And waited. And waited some more. She waited for four hours, until finally a chicken came inside, and Jane witnessed the laying of an egg. She solved the mystery for herself. It was after dark that she returned to her mother, who was of course extremely worried about little Jane going missing for so long. However, instead of berating her daughter for running off, she sat and listened to this delighted child’s wondrous tale of how a chicken lays an egg.

Jane’s mother encouraged her to read books from an early age, and one of the first she ever bought herself was Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Jane said she read this book cover to cover, and of course “fell passionately in love” with this great man of the jungle. Sadly, though, he broke her heart. “What did he go and do!? He married the wrong Jane!” (This really made me giggle.)

Jane’s curiosity, intrigue and sense of adventure was obvious even from a young age, and is something so many of us can relate to. To be honest with you I didn’t know a lot about Jane’s background until I went to her talk last night. I knew she was a learned woman, but I had no idea that when she first arrived in Africa she didn’t have any kind of degree under her belt at all. She told us that when she was in her early 20s, a friend of hers invited her to Kenya. Perhaps it was that brave, rugged man-of-the-jungle’s story that fueled her fascination with all things African, but it was an invitation she just couldn’t pass up. She worked as hard as she could to afford a return boat passage to Africa, and waved her mother goodbye at the age of 23.
As Jane pointed out last night, it is not uncommon for much younger women to head off across the world on adventures nowadays – but back then it was practically unheard of. Thus not only was Jane a pioneer in the field of biological science and conservation, but also for the independent, traveling woman. She described her journey to Africa as “total magic”; watching the grey waters surrounding England turn to blue, the smells of Africa in the air, flying fish and other new creatures right in front of her. She ended up getting a job with Louis Leakey, renowned paleoanthropologist. She impressed him with her knowledge of Africa’s nature despite never being there before or having a graduate education. He eventually secured six months of funding for an observational program, and sent her on her way to what is now known as Gombe Stream National Park, a part of Tanzania only accessible by boat that was home to indigenous chimpanzees. Jane wasn’t the only non-African to lead this excursion, though; once again, her mother lent amazing support and actually came along for four months of the journey! In Jane’s presentation last night, she thanked her mother countless times, recognising that without her curiosity, dreams and wild inspirations being nurtured, she would never have turned out the way she has.
Jane spent four months on Gombe without observing too much that she would consider as ‘ground-breaking’. Her mother tried to convince Jane that the young pioneer had done amazing work; she had been getting glimpses of the way these animals live; their social structure, their territorial behaviour, the way they care for one another. But Jane said the most breakthrough observation happened just after her mother left Gombe and returned home, four months after the excursion began. ‘David Greybeard’ was a male chimp that Jane had named for the grey colour of his beard. He was the chimpanzee Jane first grew closest to, and she believes he helped the other chimps trust in her as they learnt she wouldn’t hurt them. One day, Jane was watching David Greybeard as he sat near a termite mound. He picked a long blade of grass out of the ground, and stuck it in the termite mound. The chimpanzee pulled the blade of grass out of the termite mound, which was now covered in termites, and Jane watched in awe as he picked the termites off the grass with his lips and crunched them in his mouth. He then repeated this action of dipping the blade of grass into the termite mound to collect insects before sticking them in his mouth to eat them. This was ground breaking, because this was what is known as tool use.
Not only did Jane discover that the chimpanzees knew how to use tools, but they would also do things such as strip a twig of its leaves and go fishing for termites. This is called tool modification, and it is the beginning of tool making. Back then, scientists believed humans were the only species intelligent enough to make tools. When Jane reported her findings, her mentor told her that it was incredible. “We will either have to redefine ‘man’, redefine ‘tool’, or accept chimpanzees as humans!”

Thus Jane completely changed what humans then thought they knew about non-human intelligence.

Something else Jane said last night really stuck in my mind. She said that through watching the chimpanzees, she came to see they were far more like us than we ever realised. They had evolved to use touch, posture, and gestures as forms of communication – like we have. She proved that certain knowledge was passed down in different communities from generation to generation – this is known as ‘culture’ in human terms. She showed they have incredible social bonds. She also said, however, that “tragically, like us, they have a dark side.”

A dark side. But their dark side, and our dark side, are on extremely different levels in my opinion.

Jane learnt that the chimpanzees can be very aggressive. Groups of neighbouring territories fight, and some individuals – sometimes many individuals – die from their wounds. To establish hierarchy inside a group there are always physical tests of strength, fights and arguments. To get to the top, a male chimpanzee has to beat the current highest-ranking male. Jane learnt that different chimpanzees would use different strategies to do so. A chimpanzee she named Goliath was quite fond of throwing rocks. He was overthrown by Mike, a male who wasn’t the strongest or biggest chimpanzee in the Gombe group Jane was watching, but “he had brains”. Mike learnt that he could use empty kerosene bottles from Jane’s camp as tactical weapons, throwing and kicking them at opponents during challenging displays. Mike ended up reigning for six years. He was eventually overthrown by a chimp named Humphrey, who didn’t have brains but possessed a lot of brawn and would only challenge Mike when his brother was around – the two of them would team up against Mike. Humphrey was at the top of the hierarchy for a year-and-a-half, before losing out to another male. And so on and on it went.
“But they also have a good side – like us. They show compassion. They show altruism.” Of course, in the science world you can’t claim that a non-human animal is ‘compassionate’, or ‘caring’, or ‘kind’. Or even ‘happy’ or ‘sad’. Jane witnessed countless examples of times where the chimps expressed a quality we had only ever used for ourselves. For example, it is common for a young chimpanzee to be adopted by an older brother or sister if it loses its mother, but Jane witnessed an unrelated male adopt a young baby in need – he ensured it was fed, he kept it safe, tucked it against himself when he slept; he saved its life despite social and survival rules dictating otherwise.
After Jane’s initial six months of research, the National Geographic offered to fund the program for another six to seven years. Louis Leakey did want Jane to have more credibility, though, and made sure she did a PhD. For someone with so much knowledge and experience as Jane, she said she felt terrible when her professors constantly told her she was “wrong”. She was trying to explain that chimpanzees are capable of thinking, and emotions, but in the world of scholars this is not allowed. You have to be very careful about your wording if you are to be taken seriously in science. Jane told us last night that if anyone had a dog growing up, or lived caring for a cat or cow or rabbit we would know animals have personalities, minds and feelings – but she could not communicate this the way she wanted in her higher education. A friend of hers came up with a suggestion, a loophole for this if you will. Instead of saying, “the young chimpanzee behaved that way because it was jealous,” she simply would say (and here’s a tip for all you biologists out there!) “The young chimpanzee behaved in such a way that if she was a human child, we would say she was jealous.” Clever!

Jane said she never meant to get into the “sanctuary business”. It is a huge commitment to take on a chimpanzee for the rest of its life. It is expensive, and requires resources. She said it is the most difficult thing to fundraise for. But Jane was walking through a marketplace one day and saw a little chimp, chained, in a cage, surrounded by tall local men laughing and shouting loudly. The little thing looked at her, as if to say ‘Won’t anyone help me?’
The bush meat trade is still going strong. Roads carved through natural habitat for foreign logging and mining operations (etc.) have created an easy access way for poachers to travel along and shoot whatever they come across – elephants, gorillas, chimpanzees, birds, bats; anything they want. I have talked about the use of wild animals as photo props – and Jane reiterated last night that the only way to get a young wild-born primate is to kill its family. Mothers and family groups are slaughtered for the bush meat trade, while tiny youngsters are taken in and sold illegally. Hotels buy them because it attracts tourists. Sometimes ignorant (and often non-ignorant) foreigners purchase them. It is all funding the same killing. Jane called the authorities in regards to the little fellow she found in the marketplace, and he became her first rescue chimpanzee.
Now Jane is involved with dozens of sanctuaries in different areas. Rescuing a chimp, to her, is a pledge that it will be safe for the rest of its life. It will be physically cared for, its intelligence will be nurtured and it will be kept mentally stimulated. It will be free from harm and distress. Chimpanzees can be difficult to look after; they are strong, potentially dangerous (I definitely know this after working with dear old solitary chimp Janie at the zoo!), and they do require a lot to keep them busy. They can live for over 60 years. It is no small commitment. “Is it worth it?” Jane asked out loud last night. “Every single chimpanzee is worth it.” She said it is also worth it when people come through one of the sanctuaries, realise they relate more to chimps than they could have ever imagined, and walk away saying something like ‘I’ll never eat chimpanzee again.’ That is a small but important victory.

Jane spurred biological science on to accept that chimpanzees (and, consequently, other animals) are extremely intelligent. They not only use tools, but actually modify and make tools. They have families; they care for each other even if it is not beneficial for themselves as individuals. They learn from each other. They pass knowledge down through generations. They mourn for lost group members. They are extremely intelligent. “But,” as Jane points out, “what is this in comparison to we who build rockets? Make robots that walk on Mars? Send a man to the moon?” It just doesn’t compare. So then how is it possible that us, a species so intelligent, is utterly destroying its one and only home?

“Where have we gone wrong?” Jane asked us, pausing to look around the theatre. I know I couldn’t answer.

Jane went on to say that she believes we lost our wisdom along the way. We have experienced this explosive spurt of intellect, but now we are making decisions without thinking about how it will affect our descendants and the future. We base decisions on the next political campaign, on the next paycheck, on “what I want right now.” I think of it in the sense that humankind is in its teenage phase: going around doing whatever it wants without thought of the consequences. Unfortunately, there is nobody wiser around to make us stop. We will be left to learn from our mistakes all by ourselves – but what happens if it is too late to learn? What if the mistakes are so drastic we can’t ever fix them?

“Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, not every man’s greed.”
Mahatma Gandhi

Jane has seen a lot in her time. She now spends 300 days out of every year in some foreign place, dedicated to spreading awareness and supporting conservation. She said she hasn’t stayed more than three weeks in the same place in a very long time. You would think, with so much happening in the world, that she would become as so many people do – weighed down, hopeless, helpless. But she is filled with more hope than I have seen in a lot of people. Last night she noted that she meets a lot of ‘young people’ who are depressed, desperate, and even angry about what goes on. They do not think anything will ever change, and they have almost given up. Jane disagrees. She believes we have a “window of hope” – a very short time in which we can change what goes on. She set up her Roots & Shoots program, which gets people to take part in three projects: 1) people (e.g. volunteering with a woman’s refuge), 2) animals (e.g. fostering an animal in need), and 3) the environment (e.g. clearing rubbish). Roots & Shoots started with twelve students, and has spread across to 136 countries with thousands of active groups. Jane says it encourages people to go back to “watching plants grow and playing in the dirt,” the thought of which I absolutely love.

Dame Jane Goodall has hope. One of her favourite trees is a giant English oak – a ginormous tree that starts from a mere, tiny seed. “How can something so small become so big? There is a magic in the seed – a life force.” I love how she uses the word ‘magic’ to describe so many things that many of us take for granted. The magical life force in that tiny seed allows it to slowly, slowly but surely reach down into the ground for nutrients and shoot up from the dirt for sunlight. And eventually, the huge oak tree can break bricks and crack houses in two. This is the power Jane sees in young people. She has hope because of the people who haven’t given up yet, who see the time ahead of them as an opportunity to contribute something good. She has hope because of the human brain – there are people doing and creating amazing things to help change the way we are abusing the world. And Jane has hope because of the resilience of nature. She used the story of the Black robin in New Zealand as an example of this resilience:
The Black robin as a species got down to only seven individuals. Only two of those individuals were female. One was infertile, and the final remaining female (affectionately named “Blue” for the blue band on her leg) had an infertile mate. These birds supposedly mate for life, but the very last fertile female Black robin in the entire world decided to find herself a new mate, and with a little help from some very dedicated conservationists, there are now over 200 Black robins.

“Don’t give up,” urges Jane. “We possess an indomitable spirit. Live with love and compassion.” Nurture fresh curiosity. Be a conscious consumer. Support good things. Have a look at Jane’s Roots & Shoots program – if every person in the world started out by doing three small, good deeds, how different would life be?
When someone asks “So what do you do?” don’t give the standard, “Oh, I work in retail” answer. Be able to tell them what you actually do – what is important, not for money, but for our home, for our descendants, for the innocents out there who don’t deserve mistreatment.

If you read through this whole thing and it resonates with you, that’s a damn good start, and like Jane you give me hope.

Sam

- http://www.janegoodall.org/
- http://rootsandshoots.org/

RIP Ms Dawson

Tags

, , , , ,

Just watched a short doco on the late Charlotte Dawson. Maybe I should keep this post to myself, but I suppose a blog is designed to be public, isn’t it? I could look up the statistics of how many people fatally hurt themselves on a daily basis, but I don’t really want to. The other day Mum and I were watching the film The Book Thief, and got talking about nuclear weaponry for some reason. “The world is such a scary place,” I had said. Her eyes on the Nazi Germany war scenes before her, Mum replied, “It always has been.”

Charlotte Dawson was a TV personality here and in Australia. Google Image search her name and a hundred beautiful photographs of this stunning, smiling woman come up. But as she pointed out in her final interview, no matter how much positive media coverage she got, it did not make her immune to hurt.

You never know what someone is going through – physically, mentally, emotionally. You know by now I am an advocate of compassion towards animals, but it goes for people as well. People use and abuse each other. Take each other for granted. Hurt each other, intentionally or unintentionally. It was reported in this documentary tonight that Charlotte was plagued with horrible, vulgar, spiteful Twitter messages from people. Telling her to hang herself, saying things like “No wonder you can’t breed – nobody would want to touch you” (she wanted children so badly). In the piece below, she confronts some of these “internet trolls”, reportedly after she had already been driven to a suicide attempt.

I can’t put into words how it makes me feel. Individuals who excuse horrible behaviour by simply saying something like “Well this is Generation Y. Get over it.” The reality is, some people don’t “get over it”. Charlotte, a high profile personality, is now a case in point. And as her friend Alex Perry pointed out, every single one of the people who ever sent her a horrible Tweet, who ever said anything hurtful to her, who ever called her a name or disrespected her: each one is partially responsible for her ultimate action to kill herself. For some people, social media is a deadly concoction of viral negativity that manifests itself into everyday life despite it originating from a computer or phone screen. I never met Charlotte, and I don’t want to write as if I knew her, but in this documentary tonight her family pointed out that she had an addictive personality, and it drove her to read and reread horrible hate messages directed at her, and seek these “trolls” out. Some people can easily brush negativity off, and in a position of cyber bullying would simply ignore spiteful messages. But some people can’t do that. Some people care so much about what others think of them, even if those other people are on the other side of the world and will never meet them face-to-face. Maybe it is a trait of low self-worth or a characteristic of depression. I don’t know the first thing about psychology, and it is hard to place yourself in someone else’s shoes, but I am fairly certain that if I was in the spotlight and I was faced with an artillery of written abuse I wouldn’t be able to stop myself from reading such messages either. Some people can stop it from getting to them. Some don’t find it that easy.

I can see why Charlotte wanted to confront those trolls. Maybe she wanted to understand their behaviour a little better. Maybe she hoped that if she showed them she is an actual person it would make it harder for them to type out horrible messages so quickly. Perhaps she just wanted to give them a little taste of what they gave her. But I think that no matter how many times she did it, no matter how many trolls she managed to successfully track down and confront, it would never bring her satisfaction. I feel heartbroken for her. She wanted to campaign about this bullying and make a difference – because she truly understood its worst effects. Not only was she emotionally invested every time something hurt her, but she also poured energy into trying to bring an end to something that affected her so deeply. All I can say is that people are cruel. People are never going to stop hurting each other, not unless something inside all of us changes drastically. But she fought so hard. She fought too hard. It breaks my heart.

It frightens me how easily people hurt each other. It frightens me that people can go through life without caring about how their actions affect others, even others that are meant to be so close to them. People hurt their family, friends, partners – those you love are the ones that can hurt you the most, no? And yet we keep doing it. We excuse ourselves, our behaviour. I often wonder how individuals can be so different; how some people care about the affects they have on those around them, while others don’t even let it cross their minds. I don’t know what the point of this post was. Thinking out loud I suppose. Today I can’t wait to get back to the wolves, those beautiful, howling, gentle giants who have also been hurt by human actions. I wish I could hold people like Charlotte close, and help them feel that they aren’t alone and that there are other options. Being consumed by depression is utterly spirit-destroying – you can’t do it alone. Reach out. And if you are worried about someone near you, reach out to them. And stop hurting each other, for goodness sake. Every decision has a consequence, no matter how big or how small. Every action, every word. These are your choices, and they are your responsibilities.

Countdown to takeoff resumes

Tags

, , , , , , , , , ,

Do you ever sit, ponder life and wonder “What am I doing!?” I am pretty sure I have this thought at least a hundred times every single day. I don’t even want to count the number of months I have been back in New Zealand since visiting the Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand sanctuary. It’s completely impossible for me to feel satisfied with life unless I believe I am putting my passion to good use – and as much as I love my job, the desk work doesn’t compare to being out in the field where you are fighting relentlessly for a sometimes seemingly unachievable cause whilst learning so much along the way. My sister and her partner have just relocated to Canada (after years of waiting for Visa approval they finally made it!!) and on having a chat to them the other night they told me it was just like coming home; they knew it was where they were meant to be. I felt this way very quickly after being around the elephants and the Thai locals in the sweltering, gorgeous Southeast Asian heat. New Zealand is my birthplace, its people are my main family, but I always feel an impossible-to-ignore pull to other spaces of the globe. Rural Thailand could quite easily be home; I couldn’t think of anything better than to campaign for a cause I feel so strongly about by working directly for it while still educating others all over the planet and raising awareness through the use of social media and the like. Plus any chance to be away from western living is one I’d gladly take.

It is less than three months until I depart yet again for an overseas volunteer expedition. There is far too much to do out there, and my list of things to get involved with is just getting longer and longer – yet for this journey I just couldn’t resist going back to the wolves; those stunning, incredible scapegoats. I leave in early August, and will be back in November, so expect to see updates resume as I travel around. I will be visiting a few extra sanctuaries on the west coast of the USA, and will also be heading up to Canada for the very first time. I still have lots of loose ends to tie up here before I head off, but in all honesty if you threw me a backpack I would up and leave tomorrow.

The plight of wolves is not a secret, and it is something I have talked about a lot; for some reason these species are extremely close to my heart and no matter what the reasons are for them to be discriminated against, it all saddens me. Last time I worked with them I was at the White Wolf Sanctuary in Oregon, and spent a good three months there bonding with the wolves and learning about their captive husbandry. This time around, while I will go back to those particular animals I miss so dearly, I will also travel a lot and hopefully learn more about the nitty-gritty problems these creatures face from state to state (and country to country), as well as conservation and preservation efforts. Sure, I could just read a few books and online articles about it all, but in order to be able to tell a story properly I believe I have to see it and experience it for myself. So that is the next big travel adventure.

In the mean time, what does one do to keep oneself busy? This I am always asking myself. The selfish gene theory says I should be breeding, my culture tells me I should be buying a house and working overtime, but my heart tells me the that point of life is to be happy – above power, money, a career and all that is expected of us, we should focus on happiness and joy. For some of us that is self-happiness. For some others, it means bringing others happiness. For me, I find myself drawn to ventures in which I can contribute positively to the life of another. Usually I find it is in the form of reducing suffering as opposed to nurturing “happiness” (for want of a less anthropomorphic word). While I type this, however, I look down at my little foster kitten Elphaba (named after the supposedly wicked witch in the production ‘Wicked’), who is softly purring in my arms, cuddled as tightly as she can against my chest, and I think to myself: surely this is an example where I have nurtured happiness into a little soul.

There is suffering everywhere you look. Sometimes I get so frustrated at myself that I am not doing more in the world – but you have to remember that you don’t need to travel for miles to make a world of difference to someone, or something. When I got back to New Zealand from Thailand I moved out from the suburbs into a little studio flat in the country – Karaka; horse kingdom. On the overall property we have rescue dogs, chickens, horses and of course my constant litters of foster kittens. I love the difference this has to suburban life. I like the fact that some mornings I am woken up by the sound of a big Buff Orpington pecking away nonchalantly at the cat biscuits after it has managed to somehow get into my flat. I like the fact that if I am painting on the deck, the beautiful stocky dog Rhino will probably come along and stick his nose in my paint and run it through the paddocks. I love getting home from a late clinic shift to find the horses grazing freely around the driveway, and how the smell of them can make you forget absolutely any stress. I like the constant reminder that all of these animals are cared for now, and have the kinds of lives they ought to live. I look at little Elphi, and my grown-up foster kitty Jasmine (who has been with me for over a year now), and I realise I had a main part in assuring their freedom from stress and suffering. A big proportion of humankind have shaped the world into a ruthless, power-hungry machine, and I just want to get out there and tackle things head-on – but sometimes you need to remember that every day holds the opportunity to do something good, and even the tiniest act of kindness can ripple out into something much bigger for someone other than yourself.

Sam.Row of miaows

Your photos with exotic animals on the street are not impressive!

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , ,

I’m very excited to say I’ve got another journey planned for a few months this year (thanks to work for giving me the time off to get stuck into overseas wildlife rescue again). The first leg of the trip will begin in Thailand; I truly didn’t get enough of that rural countryside and will be heading back to the Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand’s rescue centre. When people find out I am passionate about animals and that I’ve been to Thailand or that I’m going back they generally pipe up and say either: “Oh I love the elephants! I rode one while I was there!” or “Yeah I’ve been to Thailand! The animals are amazing, they’re so friendly and you can get so close to them.”

Of course, people thinking of the ‘friendly animals’ are referring to the ones you find in packed tourist areas on the street with a handler. Animals are thrust in tourists’ faces: pay a small fee and get a photograph with this cute or impressive exotic animal. Someone showed me a photograph on Facebook of them in Asia sitting on the street next to an orang-utan who was crossing her arms, and they were copying her pose. The picture itself had so many Facebook ‘likes’, but of course I was heartbroken. I worked with orang-utans back when I was zoo-keeping, and I know how devastated their populations have been by palm oil plantations, pet trafficking and the like. Without getting too fired up about the issue I will just say it makes me utterly sick that people actually support any of this. The palm oil thing is more difficult for people to not support because it can sometimes be hard to tell what products contain it, but come on – orang-utans on the street is a pretty easy thing to not give in to! It overwhelms me how thoughtless people can be. A traveler sees a big orang-utan on the sidewalk with a handler and what, just thinks “Oh let’s go get a photo taken with him!”? How can people be so utterly incomprehensive?

One of the most popular Photo Prop animals you’ll find in Thailand and Southeast Asia in general is the slow loris. These little guys are super cute, and having one wrapped around your arm for a photograph would make anyone think they are the most chilled out creature in the world. You know what I’m about to say though, and you’re right – their apparently relaxed demeanour couldn’t be further from the truth. Slow lorises are nocturnal by nature and carry the name “slow” for a reason – they are extremely careful, quiet creatures that travel very slowly and cautiously. Bright lights, loud noise or any kind of big surprise can cause them to freeze instinctively. They actually have the ability to secrete a type of venom from certain glands and mix it with their saliva, and coupled with a bite this can cause a toxic reaction in their victim. This doesn’t really make them sound like appropriate candidates for use on the streets as cute photo props, does it? As always, though, humans get around this inconvenience: when a slow loris is taken in as a pet or for use as a photo prop its teeth are removed to prevent bites. Of course, this also means that if the creature is rescued, any rehabilitation would be impossible – without teeth they are completely unable to survive in the wild on their own.

Slow lorises have a very low reproductive rate and live in low population densities. Most loris species are listed as VULNERABLE on the IUCN Red List. Their biggest threats are the wildlife trade, use in traditional medicines and habitat destruction. Who supports this? We do.

WFFT went and investigated the use of endangered wild animals on the streets of Phuket, as this is technically an illegal act in certain areas and not meant to be “tolerated” by local law enforcers. However, their footage shows it is far from monitored and is still as popular as ever.

When I went to the Phuket Fantasea show I was disgusted at the use of elephant calves, tiger cubs and other animals as photo props, and people would eagerly step up and pay for a quick snap with an exotic creature. Does anyone stop and think, “Is this normal for the animal?”

You can’t tell me that any amount of breeding is going to turn a generation of tigers absolutely docile. The reality is that many of these animals are drugged to keep them subdued for visitors. They are beaten into learning poses that make visitors laugh, smile and feel entertained. Nocturnal animals like slow lorises are surrounded by bright neon lights, camera flashes, and are kept in a heightened state of anxiety and innate frozen fear – hence they appear tame. (NB: In my opinion you cannot ‘tame’ any wild animal.)
The physical and mental strain on these animals takes its toll, and eventually an animal becomes unsuitable for use as a street photo prop. Perhaps it stops behaving in the way the handler wants it to. Perhaps its body condition becomes so obviously unhealthy that even unfamiliar tourists begin to notice. Perhaps it stops looking or acting as cute as it needs to in order to earn its handler money. When this happens and the animal is deemed useless, it is disposed of. Another is then obtained to take its place.

Animals are easily poached from the wild in certain areas. It has been estimated that in order for one street animal to be obtained, up to fifty others are killed in the process. When a young animal is targeted, often its parents and/or family group are killed out of necessity. Then comes the preparation for working life: teeth removal, claw removal (which can lead to infection and death, remembering that these procedures are not going to be carried out at a sterile clinic under anaesthetic), and the brutal ‘training’ process (for example, Phajaan in elephants).


Awareness is spreading, slowly. When Rihanna snapped herself with a slow loris in Asia there was an outcry. But it is not enough. People still take the ‘opportunity’ to have their photo taken with an exotic animal, and many don’t look past the cute or impressive factor. The family in the above picture with the chimp talk about how cute the animals are on their travel blog, whereas I look at that photo and it makes me want to cry. A young chimpanzee dressed in human clothes, smiling for the camera. Yes, so cute. But where did she come from? What of her parents? Her very close family group? What happens when she gets too old and big to be ‘cute’ enough for photographs? If there is one thing you can do when you travel, it is to ask yourself these sorts of questions before supporting any kind of venture like this.

When I was last in Thailand I saw a few photo prop animals. A leopard cub. The tigers at the Kanchanaburi Tiger Temple. At WFFT lorises are very commonly brought in, either as rescues or because their ‘owners’ no longer wish to have them around. It is sad to know they will not be able to be reintegrated back into the wild due to the physical mutilation they had to go through in order to become someone’s pet, but at least at the Centre they have large, immersive enclosures that mimic their natural habitats. They have food, shelter, veterinary care and will never have to work again.

Something I urge for anyone traveling to countries where animal use for entertainment is high: before you make the conscious decision to support something, think about what it is you are endorsing. Ask yourself: is this natural for this animal? Where did it come from (captive bred, or poached from the wild and its family killed)? What mental and physical changes was this animal put through before it could be used in this way? And ask yourself: is this animal suffering for my entertainment? It’s simple: if you support the use of animals as photo props, you support abuse and wildlife poaching. It can stop, but only when we let it.

Sam.

http://wfft.org/

Photos taken from Google and edited.

Thailand – Elephants: Looking back

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Thailand was a very different experience to everything I had ever been used to. I loved the place, the people, the weather, the animals, the scenery. The culture is incredible. New Zealand is relatively young; we don’t have the deep-rooted culture of other places that is written all over the colonised landscape.

I really enjoyed the company of the Thai people I got to know. Joy, one of the girls working at the Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand, would greet me with a huge hug every day and a big smile. Mostly everyone would greet you with a smile, actually. And the boys – the mahouts – they were just so funny. It took effort to convince some of them to go out of their way to do something really good for the elephants; it was just a job for several of them. But being on good terms with the guys really helped, and I think the more passionate the volunteers around them were, the more they realised how important good care was for the elephants in their charge.

Working with the elephants was nothing at all like my internship with the arctic wolves in Oregon. The husbandry of the two species is completely different, as were the protocols and methods of the different organisations. At the White Wolf Sanctuary it had just been myself and the director most days, whereas at WFFT I was hardly ever alone. While I would often seek time to myself, to write and reflect on the day, it was a positive thing for me to be around so many chirpy people. I had gotten very lonely during my several months in Oregon; I had been looking for a quiet escape where I could focus on purely the animal work, but I did surprise myself with how on my days off I would be wishing to have people I could share the beautiful setting with. I spent many nights in the carpark up the coast in view of my favourite lighthouse, with the moon as company and the waves far below the cliff as the only sound.

I remember that no matter how I was feeling, though, as soon as I arrived at the wolf sanctuary in the morning, one look at those gorgeous beasts would wash away any thoughts of loneliness or the like. They were perfect companions, even the ones who had little to do with me. Tehalin became my best wolf buddy; we would spend hours and hours together, playing, having a bit of a cuddle, or just staring at each other while I talked time away to him. I could drown in those sweet honey-brown eyes of his.  And despite all the abuse most of those wolves had faced, many of them were willing to trust in certain people again. I think I almost assumed they would perceive me with a neutral view. That I got to bond with individual animals was amazing – but I got used to having those relationships with the wolves. Perhaps it put a slight preconception in my head about how things would be with the animals in Thailand – but that was not to be the reality.

As much physical effort and emotional investment I put in to working with the elephants at the WFFT Elephant Rescue and Education Centre, I can’t say I truly bonded with any of them. True, the elephants would see so many people every single day, and volunteers would come and go like the rain – whereas with the wolves it was a lot more intimate. But it’s more than that… If I were to be anthropomorphic I would say I almost felt a sense of bitterness from the ellies. After everything – an unnatural life of work and torture and mental abuse – it was like they realised they didn’t have to put up with people any more now that they were in this environment of their sanctuary, and they really wouldn’t stand for anything they didn’t have to. On my very last day of work at WFFT I was feeding banana balls to Duanphen. A second after this photo of us was taken, Duanphen rammed her head into the fence at me, crushing my thumb between the metal bowl I was holding and the wire barrier. Had I been feeding her too slowly? Had she just done it because she felt like it? Was she intentionally trying to scare or hurt me? I’m not sure. But you can’t hold any such behaviour against any animals. And I have mentioned before in my Thailand posts that you couldn’t take anything personally with the elephants – Boonmee scared the life out of me when she charged me, and it took a few moments for me to not feel offended, but you just can’t. Especially considering the life those animals have had to endure because of humans.

NepentheBut in saying that, there was only one wolf at WWS who ever did anything close to offending me, and I know he was just asserting his dominance. Nepenthe was his name, and he had been rescued from an illegal fur farm when he was very young. The cage he had been kept in was so small that he couldn’t stand, and his hind legs were underdeveloped; he couldn’t use them at all. Once he had been nursed back to health at the sanctuary (and regained the use of his legs) he remained there with his sister and habitat mate Ventana. Both have passed away since I saw them last, but they were over a decade old – that’s good for a wolf, even in captivity. I remember that Nepenthe used to jump at the fence if anyone walked too close. He would do it to get a reaction; it was absolutely intentional. You could tell he would be so proud of himself when he made a person start or yelp. It bugged me a little that we couldn’t just be around each other amicably, but again it’s a case of him not having to put up with people. Yet, he was the only wolf that did anything like that. And others had been far more beaten and abused than he and his sister. When I think about it, I really feel like that old saying is true: elephants don’t forget. I’m not saying wolves do forget, but if I had to describe it I would say that the wolves were almost forgiving.

Sam.

www.whitewolfsanctuary.comwww.wfft.org

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 902 other followers