Elephant Lessons

elefootThe quiet of elephants is one of the great mysteries of the animal kingdom. How can something so big move so softly, barely making a sound? I had the pleasure of spending some quality time with over one thousand elephants in the last few weeks in Tanzania, including two substantial groups of about 75 individuals each, one in Tarangire National Park and the other in Serengeti National Park. This is what I learned.

Community matters.

Watching elephants is a lesson in patience, family dynamics, sharing what you have, and taking care of others. Each elephant has a distinct personality that emerges the longer you watch and each of those personalities contributes to the social whole of the elephant

elefamcommunity. This bond between family members keeps young elephants safe as they venture beyond the reach of their mother’s watchful eyes. It ensures that everyone gets a turn at the water hole or mud bath. It means greeting each other thoughtfully after any separation, long or short. It is what keeps the herd vibrant and healthy, exploring other elephant communities, coming together, drifting apart, moving constantly in ordered disorder that makes seems to make perfect sense to the elephants as they go about their daily business.

Respect your elders.

The matriarchs know the rules and teach them to the younger elephants with gentle direction. They know where to go for the tastiest fruits, the tenderest grasses, the freshest water. And so the others follow because not to take advantage of that knowledge would be foolish. Certainly, younger elephants challenge the wisdom and experience of their elders – you can see it in their body language and their eyes. But as surely as they ask the questions, they accept the answers. The leaders never seem offended, but just continue to go about their daily business.

Walk gently in this world.

elegroupBeing the largest land mammal on the planet must surely have its drawbacks, but elephants wear that mantle with unparalleled grace. They seem to tiptoe through the brush, their entire bulk silently and suddenly appearing or disappearing from a landscape that seemed either devoid or full of elephants only a moment before.  Quiet rumblings of infrasound rarely detectable by the human ear keep them connected by a private language they are privileged to share. They use only what force and noise is necessary to protect themselves and their young, preferring to observe and indulge their insatiable curiosity with caution rather than participate in aggressive acts as they go about their daily business.

Elephants inspire me. We can all learn more about how to about our own daily business from watching them in the wild. It mystifies me that there are those who would wantonly slaughter elephants for their tusks, solely for financial gain. I cannot believe that those who demand ivory for ornaments understand exactly what the real cost has been. In fact, when questioned about where elephant ivory comes from, some purchasers have stated that they believe it is collected when the tusks fall out, like replaceable teeth. While it is true that elephants who stay in the heart of protected areas may be relatively safe, poaching of elephants ele2has not stopped. It has increased again in recent years and any elephant who ventures out of a protected area or remains on its fringes is at high risk in any African nation that still has elephants. Antipoaching efforts must include a variety of approaches to make a dent in the killing. Enactment and enforcement of antipoaching laws, rigorous conservation measures, and education of the public, poachers, sellers and buyers, must be braided strategies to keep from losing the remainder of these gentle giants in our own lifetime.

The African Wildlife Trust in Tanzania is working on all of these fronts in an effort to keep Tanzania’s elephant populations alive and well. Live elephants, aside from contributing to healthy ecosystems, help to keep the tourism economy functioning and employing local people. One of the current measures undertaken by AWT is to collar elephants in an effort to facilitate tracking of herds. The idea is that if a collared elephant, tracked by GPS, begins to panic and flee, a poaching incident is likely occurring, allowing the immediate dispatch of enforcement personnel to the site. Given that a recent slaughter in Cameroon involved the killing of 300 elephants in one incident because no one responded, there is real hope that collaring elephants may provide a useful tool in the fight against poaching. However, collars are expensive – one collar, which may last only three to five years, has a cost of $10,000 USD.

eleeyeI have set a personal goal of attempting to fund, with others, at least one collar a year for the next five years. I hope that you’ll help me with this effort as I certainly don’t have the funds to do this by myself. If $10,000 sounds like a lot of money, think about what you could reasonably give. If only 20 people would contribute $500 each, we could purchase our first collar. If you can only give $100, that helps. Working together, we may be able to make a real difference in a world that will continue to include elephants. Please contact me if you have any interest in helping with this effort.

In any case, I urge you to learn more about poaching and its effects on elephants, rhinos, and other animal populations. A simple google search turns up a wealth of articles but you can also keep an eye on dispatches from http://Africanwildlifetrust.org. If you need more inspiration, come with us to Tanzania and meet the elephants in person. Once they become your teachers, as they have become mine, you will surely become advocates on their behalf, even as you go about your daily business.

Lisa Brochu

Kikoti Camp, Tanzania; Glamping in Tarangire

Male waterbuck near our tent.

Male waterbuck near our tent.

At 3:30 AM one morning I awakened to the sounds of a waterbuck bellowing below our tent cabin in Kikoti Camp near Tarangire National Park in Tanzania. Kikoti is a wonderful combination of comfort and close to nature. Glamping, glamor camping, as some call it, is a wonderful experience and the Kikoti experience is first class.

We arrived at Kikoti after driving through Tarangire National Park, about an hour and a half out of Arusha. Tarangire is the land of tembo (elephants in Swahili) and

Tent cabin at Kikoti Lodge near Tarangire National Park.

Tent cabin at Kikoti Lodge near Tarangire National Park.

baobab, the upside down tree. The staff of Kikoti greeted us with a glass of fruit juice and a cold damp cloth to refresh us after our dusty journey. Alice, camp manager, quickly oriented us to safety practices and the camp schedule. Our first evening we showered quickly after our bags were delivered to our individual tents and settled around the campfire with Tusker beers in hand to enjoy a Maasai greeting dance.

Dinner soon followed with a tasty mix of meats and veggies in an open-sided dining room that looks out over the bush. Our journey through the park over the next couple of days gave us great safari memories with three leopards, four lions, a cheetah, hundreds of elephants, zebras, impala, waterbuck and beautiful birds that

Feisty young male elephants challenged us several times and then withdrew to safety with mom.

Feisty young male elephants challenged us several times and then withdrew to safety with mom.

included rollers, hornbills, finches and more. We experienced our best elephant day ever in five trips to Africa with more than 1,000 pachyderms scattered along the road near the great swamp. They were taking mud baths, eating the lush seasonal grass and mating. Young males made fake charges a few feet toward us with ears fanned forward. None posed a serious threat as they were three to six years old, rushing towards us, then backing up as if to say, “Whoops, too big for me.” Once a protective mom heard her young boy bellow at us and she charged over to be sure he was safe. It was a wonderful day in all ways.

Lisa, David and Jacob (left to right) study tracks on our bushwalk near Kikoti.

Lisa, David and Jacob (left to right) study tracks on our bushwalk near Kikoti.

That evening back at the camp we walked with Jacob, a bushman, David, a Meru tribesman, and a Maasai warrior carrying a gun. Jacob had his bow and four arrows, two laden with poison for more dangerous encounters. We walked two kilometers studying tracks and medicinal uses of trees interpreted by our guides. They grow up with nature, respect it, learn from it and willingly share their first-hand knowledge.

The tent cabins sit on large hardwood decks on stilts overlooking the park. Screened walls make it feel very open to breezes and sounds of wildlife. The bathroom behind the bedroom has a flush toilet, hot shower and two sinks, as good as any bathroom arrangement in a franchise hotel, except with much more local flavor in terms of the acacia wood trims and other small touches. A seating area and desk is included in the bedroom and an outside covered deck has two very comfy chairs with a table for morning coffee, which they bring when they give you a wake up call.

John tends bar, helps serve meals and generally makes old and new guests feel very welcome.

John tends bar, helps serve meals and generally makes old and new guests feel very welcome.

This fourth visit to Kikoti was shared with a group of friends and family. John, who tends bar and helps at meals remembers me from earlier visits so it feels like coming home to be here. The Maasai workers guide us back and forth from cabins in the evening to be sure we are safe from buffalo, waterbuck, and hyenas that routinely wander through the camp area. Gabriel, our skilled guide who traveled with us for ten days, told us of lion footprints found along the camp pathways while we were there. And that’s part of what makes a tent camp so charming. It’s built in wild places with very creative solutions for services. Many camps, Kikoti included, now get most of their electricity from solar panels, a step up from the generators of past times. They even have limited Internet access at the main office where you can recharge batteries and go online to check email.

When I was listening to waterbuck outside the tent early in the morning, I tried to remember the many African hotels, resorts and tent camps at which I have stayed. I can remember every single room, lodge and trail at the tent camps. The franchise lodges are a blur and I cannot remember their rooms. Tent camps create a richly

Stately baobabs, the upside-down tree, are common on the Tarangire landscape.

Stately baobabs, the upside-down tree, are common on the Tarangire landscape.

encoded experience in our brains because everything about them is singular, unique and usually thematically tied to the site. Our brains record those experiences in much greater complexity and we recall the places more easily. Tent camps are most definitely memory makers because they bring us closer to the outdoors and those sights, sounds, and smells that provide the backdrop for our brain recorders.

Wildlife sounds provided the music of the night as we stood on our front deck and marveled at the starlit sky with no area light interference, but the silence of the savannah is startling in its simple lack of people and machine noises. If you get to Tanzania, try to spend some quality time at Kikoti. It’s an experience not to be missed. -Tim Merriman

Five Good Reasons to Quit Lecturing and Start Learning

Scott Mair of Canada had a totally engaged audience as he portrayed Elvis the Elk as we shared interpretive training methods in Korea in 2006.

Scott Mair of Canada had a totally engaged audience as he portrayed Elvis the Elk as we shared interpretive training methods in Korea in 2006.

Many of us went to schools and colleges where lectures prevailed. The expert spoke from behind a lecturn while we tried to listen. I say try, because I, for one, often slept. I remember being in Dr. “Gabby” Galbreath’s Evolution classroom and awakening suddenly to laughter. I had dozed off and awakened to everyone watching me. He had a great sense of humor and a gruff voice. “Can I get you a pillow, Merriman? You look uncomfortable.” He laughed and went on. I never fell asleep in his class again, but I often wasn’t paying attention. It was not a requirement and even if it had been, I might not have been able to fulfill it.

Training others these past 18 years in the interpretive approach to communication and current brain research has driven me back to some very old principles and what I think are five good reasons to quit lecturing whether you are a classroom teacher or a non-formal interpreter.

1. You learn nothing if you lecture. Every audience or classroom has people who may share a thought or idea with you that improves your understanding of what you do. Sometimes it’s from the mouths of babes and sometimes from other professionals, but learning is good. Get it where you can.

2. A lecture does not encourage a conversation. People do not change their attitudes, beliefs and behaviors unless they think more deeply about what they believe. Conversations and thoughtful questions invite us to pay attention and start us thinking. Not everyone will join the conversation but in a lecture, few will engage.

3. Every audience or classroom is different. You do not adapt your lesson to the audience if you operate on assumptions. When you start the conversation, you find out what they believe. You can adapt.

4. Lecturing is boring for you and your audience. You repeat the presentation or lecture you’ve used before in the same old way. The passion in your voice will eventually sound like elevator music to the listener, something to ignore.

5. Addressing learning styles is not an academic exercise, but critical to success. Our knowledge of multiple learning styles or multiple intelligences suggest that auditory learning or even a combination of auditory and visual learning (Powerpoint) are rarely as engaging as interactive conversations with questions, demonstrations and activities whenever possible.

More than 2,000 years ago Socrates encouraged questioning in learning. His belief was intuitive, but it has proven to be a great approach. Social science research supports the power of bringing people to a greater understanding and voluntary behavior change through careful questioning, thematic presentations and multi-sensory approaches.

And yet I still see lectures in both formal settings such as classrooms and conferences and in nonformal interpretive settings. We can do better. Let’s lay down our crutches of Powerpoint and lecterns and be more creative, for ourselves and for our audiences.

-Tim Merriman