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When the events of that day were ultimately televised and an investigation launched, if anything the details descended further into obscurity. In the ABC program, the off-camera shooter is unidentified — and for that matter, so is the victim. Mysteriously, no actual body was ever found, or anyone reported missing within a large radius. A former U.S. ambassador to Zambia (who was not in office at the time of these events) suggested that ABC staged the whole shooting with actors and no one was actually harmed. Mark’s version of the story also centered on the network’s eagerness to get dramatic footage, insinuating that one of the local scouts was bullied or excited by the camera crew into firing at someone recklessly.

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Tom’s attachment to this elephant, Jenny, opens his eyes to the quagmire of human motivation that gives rise to the unjust world they live in. Like many other stories, the presence of an animal as a key character offers a compelling stand-in for those members of society who don’t have power and metaphorically can’t speak for themselves. Sometimes, they become tales of a sympathetic human finding his own voice to represent those who literally cannot.

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As early as the ninth century, with a present from Caliph Harun al-Rashid to Charlemagne, elephants were offered as special gifts to European royalty and marched from court to court until they died of cold and loneliness. A few such stories have been fictionalized — Nobel laureate José Saramago’s (2008, translated 2010); young-adult fantasy author Judith Tarr’s (1993); and BBC World Service producer Christopher Nicholson’s bleakly enchanting first novel (2009). Set in eighteenth-century England, it begins with the purchase by a respected gentleman of two half-dead baby elephants from a merchant ship just returned from the East Indies. A stable boy, Tom, takes a shine to them, is made responsible for their care, and becomes inseparable from one of them forever. (The other is resold and eventually killed.)

“Oh, for God’s sake,” I snapped. “Do you have a princess drill, too?”

They were inseparable until Jenny died a few years later.

Even bare, bleached old elephant bones will stop a group if they have not seen them before. It is so predictable that filmmakers have been able to get shots of elephants inspecting skeletons by bringing the bones from one place and putting them in a new spot near an elephant pathway or a water hole. Inevitably the living elephants will feel and move the bones around, sometimes picking them up and carrying them away for quite some distance before dropping them. It is a haunting and touching sight and I have no idea why they do it.

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She thought about this. “Then don’t you like her face?”

Of the many types of elephants and mammoths that used to roam the earth, one born today will belong to one of three surviving species: in Asia, (savanna elephant) or (forest elephant) in Africa. There are about 500,000 African elephants alive now (about a third of them the more reticent, less studied ), and only 40,000 – 50,000 Asian elephants remaining. The Swedish currently lists just under 5,000 (most of them ) living in captivity worldwide, in half as many locations — meaning that the average number of elephants per holding is less than two; many of them live without a single companion of their kind.

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At first, I was defensive. I was expecting to hear, “No! You’re worth it. You should feel angry.” But I didn’t need someone to encourage my feelings of victimization. What I needed was someone to remove me from my echo chamber. He showed me true kindness by putting him self in an uncomfortable position and telling me what I needed to hear instead of what I wanted to hear.