15th March

The Last Elephant

Nobody could be a hundred per cent sure about the last tiger. There were pockets of forest in Indochina and Sumatra so dense and inaccessible that they might hold a few specimens as yet undetected by poachers or zoologists. Unlikely though it was, most conservationists conceded that the survival of the last two subspecies of tiger could not be disproved beyond all doubt. But with the African elephant, no doubt remained. You cannot hide an elephant.

A TV comedian made a few feeble jokes along those lines: the elephant in the room, the elephant in the cherry tree, the elephants in the telephone kiosk. (‘What’s a kiosk?’ younger viewers asked.) It was like watching someone kicking a corpse.

After a day or two, the headlines changed and the world moved on. It wasn’t, after all, as if anyone could do anything about it.

A politician keen to show what a tough, realistic guy he was said, ‘Listen, things become extinct. Languages die out. Civilisations collapse. There are ten billion people in the world, nearly two billion of them in Africa. What are we supposed to tell them, that they can’t have that land because elephants matter more than they do?’

Others said it was a tragedy, a disaster, a wake-up call to humanity – all that guff. An online farewell documentary received millions of hits, but somebody did the analysis and found that after three visits most people never came back. Wildlife porn, some smart commentator called it. You get off on it once or twice, then it stales. What were you watching, really, when what you were watching didn’t exist any more? Elephant ghosts? Whatever they were, they were never again going to do anything different from what they did on that film. So how long did the baby have to swing its trunk in boredom before you too got bored? How many times could you watch the big bull desperately trying to mount the female that was just too small, too young, before you switched off ? You felt dirty, ashamed. You wished you didn’t recognise what you were watching. You wished you didn’t know that such a creature as an elephant had ever existed.

Reader: Kate Molleson
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
Piano: Kit Downes
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