Me, you, and 35 Elephants

Image courtesy of Eliza Weirwight
Image courtesy of Eliza Wierwight

Saturday December 21st marks the opening of a very special event at LEA4. Quite how long it will be there is unclear; hopefully through until the goal is achieved – and perhaps even a little longer.

35 Elephants is the work of Eliza Wierwight, and the aim is simple: raise funds to sponsor 35 elephants at the Elephant Nature Park in Thailand. Specifically established for the rescue and rehabilitation of abused elephants, the park is a place where elephants can live as close to their natural environment as possible while remaining free from their biggest predator – mankind. The park also finances and runs projects such as Jumbo Express for the rescue and medical care  of elephants in remote regions of the country, as well as working to stop the steady deforestation of the Thai northern rain forest, which is threatening the entire local ecosystem.

"Lek" Chailert, founder of SEF and the Elephant Nature Park in Thailand
“Lek” Chailert, founder of SEF and the Elephant Nature Park in Thailand (image courtesy of SEF)

The Park is operated by the Save Elephant Foundation (SEF), created by Sangduen  “Lek” Chailert. Born in northern Thailand, Lek grew up increasingly concerned at the plight of the Asian elephant, fast becoming an endangered species largely due to a tradition which sees an elephant’s spirit cruelly broken through the Phajaan in order to be put to work, increasingly for the amusement of the tourist industry, and often in the cruelest of conditions as beasts of burden.

Eliza,  who has had a life-long love of the elephant, was made aware of the horrific  – and I do mean horrific – means by which young elephants are ripped from their mothers’ sides and their natural environment and then forced into subservience to humans through the film How I Became an Elephant, which focuses on the efforts of another remarkable person, 14-year-old Juliette West, and her determination to raise awareness of the situation alongside of Lek.

You can read more of Eliza’s own awakening to this situation, and her own determination to help, through a post by Emma Portilo. Suffice it to say that while Eliza’s efforts to help with the SEF’s work began modestly enough – buying lunch for two of the elephants – she has striven to do so much more, both in sponsoring one of the 35 elephants on which the LEA4 event focuses, and on becoming the official representative for SEF in Second Life.

Sponsor an elephant at LEA4
Sponsor an elephant at LEA4

It costs L$27,000 ($109) to sponsor an elephant. A number have already been sponsored through people rallying to Eliza’s call, which she put out through her Flickr stream and through her efforts at her in-world store, where she has created a seasonal topiary featuring a baby elephant, the designed approved by the SEF. This is available at L$499, with 100% of the price going directly to SEF, and can be purchased as a gift for others as well as for yourself. If you prefer, there are also donation boxes located throughout the store, with all proceeds again going to SEF.

Elephants at LEA4
Elephants at LEA4

35 Elephants, making full use of the region generously provided at short notice by the LEA committee, provides a means for visitors to not only donate to the efforts in reaching the target of 35 elephants sponsored, but to also learn about the elephants, their plight in Thailand (where it is believed there are only 3,000 elephants left, and around 50% of them are living in captivity, many for the amusement of tourists) and learn more about SEF through the photography of Lek Chailert.

Things will kick-off at 11:30 SLT on Saturday 21st December, with a benefit  concert by the fabulous Joaquin Gustav – which itself is not an event to be missed if you’re in-world.

Commenting on her efforts, Eliza says, “I’m not getting all vigilante about this, I’d rather emphasize the positive. There’s a place in our cognition to recognize wrongs in any stance, I guess it’s how we choose to address the revelation after that fact. Promoting awareness and cold hard cash directed to those in the front lines seems a reasonable reaction.”

It’s a fair position to take. After all, money has a powerful voice; so why not add your voice to the cause, and either hop over to LEA4 for Joaquin’s concert or, if you’re still looking for the Christmas gift for a friend or something special for Christmas in your own home, drop by Eliza’s store and pick-up the baby elephant topiary?

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a video from the Elephant Nature Park.

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