I love elephants. I’m in awe of their huge size, their intelligence, their community spirit, their fierceness, their grace, their extreme care for each other, their strength, their resolve, their beauty, their elephant-ness.
But I’m also very scared. Scared that one day, soon, too soon, there will be only a handful of elephants left… And that those last few elephants will then be killed by humans or die off without their population recovering…
And then there will be no more elephants. Ever.
No elephants? How could that be?
The statistics on elephant deaths, mainly due to poaching for their tusks and habitat loss, are terrifying. For example, in the 9 years up to 2011, around 62% of the world’s elephant population was lost.
From 2003 onwards, elephants have been killed faster than they can reproduce (in other words, fewer animals are being born than are dying). In fact, on average poachers kill African Elephants every 15 minutes.
Mathematically and tragically, this means elephants will one day be no more. Except perhaps for some sad individuals behind bars in zoos.
That is, unless the poaching, habitat loss, hunting and kidnapping reduces or stops altogether.
But first, why do elephants matter?
Elephants matter because they are part of the great web of life. Okay, so people natter on about ecology etc, but what have elephants actually got to do with anything?
Elephants are essential ‘processors’ in forest and savannah landscapes, consuming, moving and producing organic matter (for example, leaves, grasses, roots and branches are eaten, moved and eventually turned into poo, which in turn, provides food and nourishment for others). Read more about how essential they are to nature (scroll down to the ‘Why They Matter’ section).
Think of it like this. Your body is an ecosystem, in the sense that there are lots of parts and organic material which interact in a very finely tuned, complex way to keep you alive. If we were to remove your liver tomorrow, you might survive for a short while with the help of doctors, but you would be very unhealthy and ultimately you would probably die.
Like your liver is essential for your body to be alive and thrive, elephants are a necessary part of the vast eco-web of life across this planet. If they are killed off, the important jobs they do in keeping life ticking along can’t really be filled by anything else.
And so the plants and other animals that rely on elephants in their environment will also suffer and some will probably die off. The intricate balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide between plants and animals, and on which you rely in order to be able to take every breath, will also be affected. As will the chemistry of the soil and water, and the symbiotic proportions of plants and animals.
Elephants alone are not responsible for all of this. We are all part of it and all necessary for life together.
Elephants also matter because they’re beings on this planet.
Because they’re alive. Because they’re amazing and wonderful. And because all living things matter. Like you and me.
What can you do to help elephants?
Even if you live far away from any elephants, there are lots of things you can do to help:
Donate to environmental charities which take action to save elephants from poaching, hunting and habitat loss.
Sign petitions to governments and environmental authorities to do more to stop ivory trade, poaching and hunting. Speak up for elephants by speaking out against poaching, hunting and animal cruelty whenever you can.
Share information, videos and pictures about elephants online. Make people aware, so that they in turn also take action to help elephants.
Don’t support tourist attractions like zoos, elephant rides and circuses, where elephants are exploited and kept confined. Elephants are usually beaten and tortured from a young age in these situations to make them ‘tame’ enough for interactions with humans. Did you know that over 70% of elephants in zoos in Europe were caught as babies in the wild and taken away from their mothers and herds to live the rest of their lives in captivity?
Support, visit and donate to wild animal sanctuaries, who are committed to providing better lives for ophaned elephants and elephants rescued from zoos or circuses, as well as wildlife reserves who let elephants and other animals roam free in natural landscapes, as they are meant to.
Explore lots of elephant-related topics in my free ‘Elephant Matters’ eco-worksheet, yours to download and print as you need:
It’s not news. Plastics are everywhere – all around us, as waste and litter, and in our minds, thanks to lots of recent plastic pollution awareness campaigns.
And we’re all trying to reduce, reuse and recycle our plastic bottles and other plastics responsibly, so less rubbish ends up lying around or ending up in the oceans.
What more can be done?
Something simply really: Prep your plastics!
What does ‘Prep your Plastics’ mean?
Let’s think, for a moment, about the wildlife whose homes are in the places our rubbish ends up.
Large and small critters suffer (see these examples in an article from Huffington Post) – because we don’t always consider our fellow creatures when we throw stuff away or recycle it.
Even the journey to the recycling plant could mean garbage blows away or falls off the recycling trucks and ends up harming animals.
So how do we prep our plastic waste and recycling?
The main plastic culprits are anything we throw away that has small rings, hoops or parts that could get caught around a bird’s foot, a hedgehog’s body, a fish’s fin or a turtle’s mouth, as well as anything long or sharp like plastic straws.
So get out some scissors and cut open any plastic hoops or enclosed parts, and cut shorter any long, jabbing plastics before disposing them in the recycling or rubbish bins.
Consider reusing plastic bags, bottles and containers, rather than tossing them into waste bins.
Small things you do will make a difference!
Margaret Mead, a famous anthropologist, said:
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful [people] can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Why not explore the concept of plastic pollution further with our Planet Plastic Worksheet? Get if free here.
What’s your favourite tip on reusing/reducing/recycling or prepping plastics? Write your reply below this post.
Photo of hedgehog caught in plastic rings from https://www.countrylife.co.uk/country-life/country-life-litter-campaign-71195 (Image credits – Creator: Ann & Steve Toon Credit: 1 Copyright: Ann & Steve Toon / naturepl.com)
Margaret Mead quote from http://www.interculturalstudies.org/faq.html#quote (used with permission)
Photos of rubbish bundle, seagull and butterflies from pixabay.com
Veganuary is a commitment to try the Vegan diet and/or the Veganism lifestyle for the 31 days of January this year or every year.
How do you pronounce Veganuary?
Almost like Jan-u-ary, except it’s Vee-Gan-You-Ary!
Well that’s when lots of us make ‘New Year Resolutions’ to do better, eat better, be fitter, be more healthy, isn’t it?
And as a Vegan diet is plant-based, it’s recognised as one of the healthiest and kindest diets. It’s not only healthy for you, but it’s also healthier and kinder to animals (you’re not using or killing them for meat, milk and eggs) and to the planet.
What’s Veganism got to with the planet?
Where and how your food is grown, fed, harvested and killed affects the natural environment.
From the pesticides and herbicides used prolifically on our food crops and the crops fed to animals kept for meat, milk and eggs – to the slashing, burning, clearing and deforestation of large areas for grazing for those animals as well as space to grow crops for them to eat – to the loss of habitats and biodiversity, and the resulting species extinctions – to the large-scale disease, use of antibiotics, and pollution caused by keeping billions of animals confined – to the major impacts of animal agriculture on climate change…
Anything and everything we eat and drink has an impact on the planet.
This sounds bad. But humans have to eat. So what can we do about it?
Commit to being mindful about where your food comes from, how animals were treated from birth to confinement to slaughterhouse, and what chemicals were used on your and their food.
Consider changing what you eat. Maybe try Veganuary (even if it’s already halfway into, or past January, it doesn’t matter – have a go). Or maybe try eating less meat, eggs and dairy, or having some meat-free or diary-free days every week.
Your paperback novel will be posted to your address (UK mainland addresses only). Alternatively you can choose to receive an ebook (downloadable PDF file) via email which you can read on any device.
Happy holiday reading! 🙂
Terms and Conditions of this competition: The author’s decision is final. The first 10 people to respond with a Like and/or Share on the author’s Facebook Page (or by sharing this blog post on Facebook, with the author tagged) will be declared the winners. Winners will be notified via Facebook. Any notified winners who do not respond with their email address and/or postal address by 31 December 2018, will lose their winning status, and will not receive a prize. If you need to, you can contact the author through the contact form here: https://kathrynrosenewey.com/contact-me/
Plastic is everywhere – so much so, that we might as well give Planet Earth a new name: “Planet Plastic”.
Explore the environmental issues of plastic waste, pollution and solutions in a 2-page worksheet I created for you.
It’s suitable for anyone aged 9-14 years or older, and it’s best to use it with someone else, perhaps a teacher or parent or in a group, so you can benefit from discussion, research and debate of the topics it covers.
This worksheet has lots of facts, website links, questions and activities to help you delve into and investigate the topics further.
The worksheet is similar in style to WonderWorksheets set B – a complete booklet of interactive worksheets exploring all sorts of environmental issues and English literacy skills, available free. Within them, worksheet 3b covers some further facts and activities on plastics.
Have fun thinking, exploring and researching how to save planet Earth! 🙂
Thought I’d let you know that I now have an author video channel where I will be posting content related to books, events, environmental issues, and interviews with authors and others who are saving the Earth in various ways.
Some video interviews I have already posted there include:
A series of interviews with Matt Prior, a vegan and a vegan activist, called “Vegan in Five“,
An interview with fellow environmental author, Sonia Faruqi, author of Project Animal Farm and The Oyster Thief. Watch the video and read the blog post about her.
Here’s the video introduction to what I will be doing on the channel:
I’m always happy to find another author who uses the magic of words and the potentially powerful imagery inherent in them to bring awareness of environmental issues, animal rights and nature conservation to the world.
Sonia Faruqi is one such author, having written two books, both of which she says happened accidentally!
Project Animal Farm, her first book, is a critically-acclaimed investigation into intensive factory farming. While volunteering at an organic dairy farm, in what Sonia imagined was going to be a short, idyllic holiday between jobs, she discovered that even organic farms treat their animals as commodities and that the peaceful, grass-fed existence we imagine for dairy cows is nothing close to the truth.
This experience led her on an unquenchable thirst for knowledge in eight countries around the world – to learn about how animals are treated in various types of farms around the world, why there isn’t greater transparency about the terrifying cruelty so often built into the intensive farming system, and what it might take to solve the unsustainable global crisis known as ‘modern farming’ for meat, dairy and eggs.
Peter Singer, author of Animal Liberation, and often referred to as the ‘founder of the modern animal rights movement’, had this to say: “Let Sonia Faruqi take you on her courageous personal journey of discovery. I thought I already knew everything there is to know about modern animal production, but I learned many new things from this very readable book, and you will, too.”
I like Sonia’s choice of title for this documentary book, which cleverly alludes to George Orwell’s novel Animal Farm, about farm animals who symbolise proleteriat workers, and who don’t realise they are being controlled by sinister forces larger than themselves.
Sonia has a rare gift for description – the farm and slaughterhouse workers, managers and farmers she met along the way (she says they’re true to life except for their names which she’s changed for privacy) jump off the pages like characters you wouldn’t be surprised to find in a dystopian novel.
She includes research and statistics about the laws, policies and practices around factory farming, and this book, which could be emotionally challenging for some readers in places (I burst into tears when she described the slaughterhouse scenes), should, in my opinion, be compulsory reading for everyone aged 15 or over.
I feel very strongly that if more people know the truth about the often deceptive, corrupt and heartless world of factory farming, then many more consumers would shun meat, dairy and eggs, and farm animals might be able to live their lives in peace, just as they have a natural right to do.
Sonia’s second book, The Oyster Thief, described as “an underwater odyssey”, is an extraordinary novel about merpeople in the Atlantic Ocean. In the richly and accurately-researched undersea environment, Sonia immerses herself and her readers in a story about love, betrayal and destruction of the ocean.
Through the eyes of the merpeople, many fearful of humans through past experiences, we learn about real and current environmental issues affecting the Earth’s oceans, including undersea mining for minerals and oil, and how coral reefs, the lifeblood of the oceans, are suffering from human activities.
Sonia says she sat down to write The Oyster Thief one cold, January morning, when she felt frustrated that she couldn’t escape to a warmer place. So she began creating an imaginary world, which turned into a novel!
Painstakingly researched, and informed by Sonia’s experiences including diving with sharks, the story introduces you to the myriad of different types of corals and undersea creatures which inhabit the Atlantic Ocean, as we follow Coralline, a mermaid, and Izar, a human on a quest for a life-saving elixir.
You can watch the video interview with Sonia below.
Veganism is being embraced, especially by young celebrities and their followers, and the numbers of people adopting vegan diets have risen exponentially in the last 10 years.
Are they just trying to be trendy, or is there something else going on?
Matt Prior, a vegan and vegan activist in Hertfordshire, says there’s more to veganism than you might think:
“Veganism is a lifestyle, not just a diet. It’s about not supporting any forms of animal exploitation, whether that be in animals farmed for meat, dairy and eggs, or animals confined in zoos or circuses; or in clothing and fashion, such as items made from leather, wool or silk; or in cosmetics/cleaning products where ingredients are derived from animals; or in animal testing in laboratories”.
So let’s take a look at the different aspects of veganism.
Probably the strongest motivator for vegans is they don’t want to support any forms of animal suffering, and so take steps to avoid it with their consumer choices. Matt describes this as “aligning your actions with your morals and ethics”.
Vegans typically avoid any foods derived from animals, such as:
~ Meat (especially meat from intensively factory-farmed animals),
~ Dairy milk and products derived from milk such as cheese, cream and butter (did you know that most dairy cows also end up as meat?),
~ Eggs (most eggs come from tightly packed hens living in appalling conditions all their egg-laying lives, and when spent, they may also end up as meat),
~ Foods like honey (which is the bees’ own food for the winter months), Foie Gras (which means ducks and geese are force-fed with pipes down their throats to make them unnaturally fat, so that Foie Gras can be scraped from their livers when they’ve been killed for this purpose), and foods with ingredients like gelatine (thickening agent usually made from boiling bones and ligaments of cows and pigs).
Unfortunately even ‘organic’, ‘free-range’ or ‘grass-fed’ animal-based food products, which may be more nutritional for consumers, often come from animals which have had to die the same grisly deaths in the same slaughterhouses as factory farmed animals.
What do vegans eat, and is it healthy?
Essentially vegans have a plant-based diet, which when balanced, will give you everything your body needs, plus better health and more energy than meat-eaters and dairy-consumers!
More and more science is noting that meat and dairy consumption contributes significantly to the world’s major fatal diseases such as cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and Alzheimer’s, where as a plant-based diet leads to health and longevity.
But beware – not all ‘plant-based’ diets are necessarily healthy.
You could, for example, live on crisps, chips and soda drinks – usually all ‘vegan’ – but sooner or later, you’d get sick from your nutritional deficiencies.
However most vegans are much more nutritionally-aware than their meat-eating counterparts, and vegan food can be tasty, colourful, exciting and full of nutrition!
To get everything you need nutritionally as a vegan, make sure you eat a range of vegetables and fruits – the different colours and types all signal different nutritional benefits, as well as beans and pulses (like lentils, broad beans, black beans, kidney beans, endamame beans or aduki beans), nuts and seeds. Add grains and starches like potatoes, pasta, rice, cous cous, quinoa or bulgar wheat, and/or different breads like wholewheat bread, rye bread, pittas, wraps or tortillas – check the ingredients to ensure they’re all vegan – and you’re good to go.
Plus there are countless alternatives to meat and other non-vegan foods available nowadays – such as vegan burgers, vegan cheese, plant milks (such as soya milk, rice milk, almond milk or hemp milk), vegan pre-prepared meals and vegan snacks. So if you’re struggling with what to eat to appease your conscience, you’ll be spoilt for choice.
There are a lot of myths about the vegan diet.
If you’re worried that you won’t be able to get all the protein, iron or calcium you need, except from meat or dairy products, I’m afraid you’ve been duped by the wealthy and powerful meat and dairy industries, who, like the cigarette industry, will do anything, including lie, deceive and commit scientific fraud to keep people buying and using their products.
A plant-based diet can provide all the protein, calcium and iron you need, and in more digestible, purer forms of these nutrients, than from meat and dairy. Think of any large, herbivorous mammals like cows, camels, elephants or buffalos – in the wild, they’re strong, healthy and get everything they need from eating only grasses and other plants!
And like anybody else who’s health-aware, if you’re concerned about getting all the nutrition you need, take vitamin and mineral supplements. Vegans are encouraged to take vitamin B12 supplements because this vitamin, naturally occurring in soil, is no longer available to us in our overly washed, soil-less vegetables and fruits.
Vegans know animal suffering doesn’t stop with the food industry.
Countless animals are kept in unnatural conditions and undergo painful trauma and abuse in order for us to have things like wool (sheep and goats are often kicked, hurled and cut in order to remove their wool as quickly and profitably as possible), leather (leather is not always a by-product of the meat industry – many millions of cattle and other animals – even dogs – are bred and killed inhumanely just for their skins), and fur (did you know that 100 million animals are killed every year for their fur, and that some fake fur is actually real fur?).
Most vegans choose not to buy products made from those and other animal-derived materials.
They also prefer to deliberately stay away from places like zoos, circuses, aquatic parks and animal rides, where animals are usually kept in impossibly tiny enclosures their whole lives, or are forced to work or perform unnatural tricks, and often suffer from mental illness, loneliness, disease and early death.
Even the so-called ‘best’ zoos and parks, which brag about their ‘world-class’ animal welfare policies, cannot get away from the fact that they’re essentially keeping animals captive for profits. Gone are the days when zoos and aquatic parks helped conserve species from extinction – most captive animals are not endangered and it’s very common for zoos to cull their ‘excess’ animals.
What’s this got to do with the planet?
Essentially everything we do or buy as consumers on this planet has an impact on the environment. With seven billion human beings, it’s got to.
Whether that be filling up our cars with petrol or diesel and driving instead of walking or cycling, buying and consuming foods from supermarkets or local shops, using electricity or gas for light or cooking, or choosing and using household cleaners, pharmaceutical medicines, cosmetics or clothing…
All of the food and products we buy and use come from somewhere (often from factories or farms of industrial scale); almost all of these products and by-products generate waste, littler and pollution in their manufacturing, packaging and discarding after use; and many of them are full of additives, carcinogens, pollutants, toxins, pesticides, herbicides and contaminants which are bad for our bodies and bad for the planet.
Take factory-farming, for example.
This is how the vast majority of meat, dairy, egg and fur animals are farmed across the globe.
Factory farming involves keeping animals by the hundreds, thousands and more commonly by the hundreds of thousands, in confined spaces like crates, cages or barns. They are fed hormones, antibiotics and even ground-up flesh of other animals in order to artificially boost their growth and keep costs down, and their natural behaviours and movement are restricted.
At the end of their short, horrible lives, they are slaughtered in cruel ways, some of which are deemed legal and ‘humane’, but not all. Keeping and killing all those animals – 150 billion every year – happens behind closed doors, for a reason. And is there really a ‘humane’ way to kill any living being?
Big farming = big degradation and big hunger.
Not only do animals suffer from these barbaric, cost-saving policies, but the disease and pollution from the close confinement of millions of animals kept in mega-farms is through the roof. The emissions of greenhouse gases like methane, carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide are on the rise, accounting for anything between 10%-65% of all global greenhouse gas emissions. Those quantities are definitely climate-changing.
We haven’t even touched on the land grabbing, clearing and deforestation that occurs, such as in the Amazon rainforest, and resulting habitat loss, species extinction and desertification, in order to grow feed-crops for animals, including beef cattle, or to provide space for livestock or agriculture.
Or the fact that we could feed many more humans with plant-based foods than we do now, by not producing meat or dairy (meat- and dairy-producing animals need humongous amounts of space, food and water compared to plants), and instead growing crops for human food consumption. For instance, it takes around 660 gallons of water to produce enough beef for ONE hamburger!
Eating meat and dairy is literally contributing to human starvation and planetary degradation on an industrial scale.
At the end of the day, it’s a matter of science and conscience.
We live in a world where we can buy, eat and use anything we want, whenever we want. Or at least those that can afford it, do.
But surely there’s more to life than just consuming whatever we like, regardless of the cost to ourselves, to other beings and to planet Earth?
Veganism is about being mindful of the fact that what we do has a consequence.
Like Matt says: “Once you know what happens in the meat, dairy and egg industries, and how bad they are for the planet, it feels hypocritical to support them. To live a vegan lifestyle is to consciously add more compassion and benevolence to the world, to establish a spiritual connection with it and its many forms of life. By minimising the negative impact we impose on the environment and our fellow earthlings, future generations have a chance to thrive.”
Never in history was it more true to say ‘you are what you eat.’
Kathryn Rose Newey is an author of unique novels with environmental themes, for young adults, teens and children. In fact, her books are suitable for anyone aged 8-88 who cares about animals and the planet.