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What is an elephant?

The Buddha tells a parable that is a classic:  The King has six blind men brought to the Palace and asked to describe an elephant.  “When the blind men had each felt a part of the elephant, the king went to each of them and said to each: ‘Well, blind man, have you seen the elephant? Tell me, what sort of thing is an elephant?”  Each blind man describes the elephant differently.  The one who touched his ear said he was like a fan.  The one who touched his leg said he was like a tree trunk.  The man who felt his tusk said he was like a spear.  Touching the elephant’s body, one exclaimed he was like a wall.  One man touched his trunk and said he was like a rope.

How can anyone describe the Whole until he has learned about all the parts.  Relative to Nature, we are all like the blind man for we cannot see the whole and all the parts are too many, too intricate, and some parts even invisible which we will never see.

I was speaking with someone today about Grizzly bears and the need for connective corridors and Yellowstone to Yukon to become a reality; how if grizzlies are delisted in 2014, then hunted to control their numbers, they will just be in a virtual zoo in the GYE, and how studies have shown that without connectivity, over time the bear will go extinct in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Strangely enough, I was told that the plan was that if genetic diversity were compromised, then bears from other areas could just be flown in!  I think that’s the idea with wolves as well.

Trying to manipulate all the parts to make a whole becomes a juggling act that is doomed to failure.  Over time, we’ll never be able to control wolves for livestock on public lands or figure out how many we should kill to maintain elk and deer at levels we want; Or how to control the diseases in the ungulates we desire to hunt when we have killed the wolves that control those diseases; or manage cattle on public lands and still maintain healthy ecosystems for elk and deer; or control brucellosis, that originated with cattle, from transferring back to cattle from elk and bison; or keep enough control over Park bison and still have enough genetic diversity; or shoot enough coyotes to keep them from killing sheep or chickens; or kill enough raccoons to protect our cornfields.  We are like the boy with his fingers in the dyke.

In the end, we always seem to learn that all the parts need to be there to make up the Whole; and the Whole can self-manage and heal itself quite well, without our interference.  This has even been proven in places where humans are no longer allowed, like Chernobyl, now a healthy ecosystem as far as wildlife is concerned.

The question is not how do WE manage and juggle everything.  The question is how can we live lightly?    When all is said and done, it will not be the Endangered Species Act, nor some Act of Congress that makes the final difference, but an act in Consciousness that each and every one of us must make.  And that Conscious Act will translate into our Approach to all of Life itself.


4 Responses

  1. I love that old parable! When I was teaching, one of our reading text books had a story written based on it. When I read that the idea was to just fly others in if the diversity was compromised I said (right out loud) WHAT? What a stupid idea.

    You said, “Trying to manipulate all the parts to make a whole becomes a juggling act that is doomed to failure.” I just can’t agree with you more! I loved that entire paragraph, so well put. You wonder how any intelligent, thinking person, can’t see the craziness in the way we deal with our “wildlife” issues.

    An excellent, thoughtful entry, with wonderful photos to accompany it!


  2. Thanks Anne, Yes, I was totally frustrated and this essay came out of that.


  3. Have you read ‘The Future of the Wild?


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