Sunday, February 10, 2013

Raw deal

LAST Feb. 5, 2013, the Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) ran a story about an elephant, some ladies and a cause.

It’s been days since then. Yet I still remember the story because of the photos and the lay-out. Beside a picture of a rearing elephant was a landscape plucked out of Eden if that virgin paradise were peopled by ladies with a penchant for flesh-colored undies and a cause.

After minutes of verifying that the limbs peeking behind strategically placed placards just strove for an illusion of nakedness, I felt sufficiently curious about the reason behind the collective disrobing to piece together the placards.

This was the declaration: “Naked truth: Mali the elephant is suffering!”

According to PDI, the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) leads an online campaign to sway authorities into returning the Manila Zoo’s only elephant inmate to an elephant sanctuary in Thailand.

Mali, 38, female, formerly of Sri Lanka, has been in the country since 1977 after she was given as a gift by the Sri Lankan government to the former first lady, Imelda Marcos.

Peta claims that Mali is lonely and should spend the rest of her days with other elephants.

Others oppose the move, saying Mali is too old, too settled to compete and survive in
the wild, and too sick to make the long trip.

As Peta feels that not enough people care about Mali, nine commercial models and entertainers were tapped to stir up the public through a “provocative and funny way to draw attention to a very serious message,” said a group spokesperson.

I don’t know how to convert elephant years into human terms. I’m 47, female and revel in solitude. I’m not an elephant. (Will elephantine do?)

I can argue with the Peta claim that Mali is better off in a sanctuary, where she can “do whatever she wants”. After being married for 20 years and mothering for 19 and counting two teenagers, I think a solitary life is more conducive for waking up anytime you want, playing with others only when you want, and seeing the doctor only when you want.

Then again, I’m not an elephant.

I would have wanted the two camps to present findings and experts arguing for the strengths of each of their advocacies. It doesn’t help me understand any better animal welfare, particularly Mali’s, that Ornussa, Geneva and sisters are quick to shed and bare skin.

Isn’t there something about mismatching ends and means, even metaphors?

How does a skin show or a publicity gimmick made at the expense (again!) of women justify pushing a message, even if it is to provide a better retirement for a lonely elephant?

The best advocate for Mali would be Mali herself.

There’s that problem about getting from her a sound bite that’s intelligible for TV. However, various reports have detailed her sorry physical condition.

Shouldn’t immediate vet care for Mali be the priority over retirement?

As a policy concern, shouldn’t authorities and other stakeholders look into improving how our zoos are run, from the standpoint of the animals that were placed there without being consulted or solicited for their ideas about zoo rules?

Shouldn’t we, the animal-ogling public, pause to reflect about our attitude towards animals, particularly this habit of collecting and displaying them in the name of eco-tourism?

On a recent trip to Bohol, I saw how droves of tourists descended on a Panglao “sanctuary” to “appreciate” tarsiers. We all skipped the lecture and briefing; zoomed in, clicked cameras nonstop and yakked while the poor creature clung bug-eyed to the branch where its caretaker had “posed” it. After about an average 15 minutes, spent more for speculating how many august regulars of Senate and Congress had an uncanny resemblance to tarsiers, we allowed ourselves to be led to the shops to buy tarsiers we could finally pinch, squeeze and take home to stick as ref magnets.

Could Peta think of a “provocative and funny” way to make Filipinos see past the carnival and freak show mentality we cultivate about the creatures we share this planet with?

Meanwhile, it would be just as welcome if Geneva and her sisters would keep their clothes on for novelty and still provoke more human-like intelligence and compassion in our beastly relations.

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebus Feb. 10, 2013 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday main op-ed column

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