World Elephant Day

I have always loved have been fascinated by elephants and when I heard there is a day dedicated to them, I knew this was a post I had to write since today is World Elephant Day.

The largest existing land animal, three living species of elephants are currently recognised: the African bush elephant, the African forest elephant, and the Asian elephant. African elephants have larger ears and concave backs, whereas Asian elephants have smaller ears and convex or level backs. The distinctive features of all elephants include a long proboscis called a trunk, tusks, large ear flaps, massive legs, and tough but sensitive skin. The trunk is used for breathing, bringing food and water to the mouth, and grasping objects. Tusks, which are derived from the incisor teeth, serve both as weapons and as tools for moving objects and digging. The large ear flaps assist in maintaining a constant body temperature as well as in communication. The pillar-like legs carry their great weight.

Elephants are scattered throughout sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Southeast Asia and are found in different habitats, including savannahs, forests, deserts, and marshes. They are herbivorous, and they stay near water when it is accessible. They are considered to be keystone species, due to their impact on their environments. Elephants have a fission-fusion society, in which multiple family groups come together to socialise. Females or cows tend to live in family groups, which can consist of one female with her calves or several related females with offspring. The groups, which do not include bulls, are usually led by the oldest cow, known as the matriarch. Males or bulls leave their family groups when they reach puberty and may live alone or with other males. Adult bulls mostly interact with family groups when looking for a mate. Calves are the centre of attention in their family groups and rely on their mothers for as long as three years. Elephants can live up to 70 years in the wild and communicate by touch, sight, smell, and sound, using infrasound and seismic communication over long distances. Elephant intelligence has been compared with that of primates and cetaceans and they appear to have self-awareness and appear to show empathy for dying and dead family members.

African bush elephants and Asian elephants are listed as endangered and African forest elephants as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature or IUCN. One conservationist has stated that both African and Asian elephants face extinction within twelve years. The current population estimates are about 400,000 for African elephants and 40,000 for Asian elephants, although it has been argued that these numbers are much too high. The WWF reports that Asian elephant numbers have dropped by at least 50% over the past three generations. An estimated 35,000 African elephants are still killed every year for their tusks, according to the African Wildlife Foundation.

World Elephant Day is an annual event on August 12, dedicated to the preservation and protection of the world’s elephants. Conceived in 2011 by Canadian filmmakers Patricia Sims and Michael Clark of Canazwest Pictures, and Sivaporn Dardarananda, Secretary-General of the Elephant Reintroduction Foundation in Thailand, an initiative of HM Queen Siriki. Since then, World Elephant Day is recognised and celebrated by over 100 wildlife organizations and many individuals across the globe. This provides citizens, policy-makers, politicians, and governments a way to create and support conservation solutions that will make the world a safe place for elephants, wildlife, and habitat for future generations to cherish. The foundation uses a neutral approach that allows and facilitates everyone to conduct campaigns that demand cooperation across borders and political lines. The day is a rallying call for people to support organisations working to stop the illegal poaching and trade of elephant ivory and other wildlife products, protect wild elephant habitat, and provide sanctuaries and alternative habitats for domestic elephants to live freely.

The goal of World Elephant Day is to create awareness of the urgent plight of African and Asian elephants and to share knowledge and positive solutions for the better care and management of captive and wild elephants.

The demand for ivory, which is highest in China leads to the illegal poaching of both African and Asian elephants. With the street value for ivory now exceeding that of gold, African elephants face a poaching epidemic. Elephants are also poached for meat, leather, and body parts, with the illegal wildlife trade putting elephants increasingly in danger because it is perceived to be a low-risk and high-profit endeavour. The loss of habitat due to deforestation increases in mining, and agricultural activities has become problematic, especially for Asian elephants. The fragmentation of habitat also creates isolation which makes breeding more difficult and allows poachers to find the elephants and set traps more easily. Asian elephants have lost nearly 30-40% of their habitat, making it incredibly difficult to maintain their offspring and themselves. Human-elephant conflict is a significant concern, as human populations increase and forest cover decreases, forcing elephants into proximity to human settlements. Incidents include crop damage and economic losses, as well as both elephant and human casualties. A lack of legislation regarding the care and treatment of elephants in zoos, circuses, and tourism often leads to their mistreatment and captivity can be a serious threat with Asian elephants often illegally captured in the wild and trafficked into the lucrative tourism industry. A lack of legislation regarding the care and treatment of elephants in zoos, circuses, and tourism often leads to their mistreatment.

Elephants have a vital role to play in shaping ecosystems and are considered a keystone species for the role they play. They trample forests and dense grasslands, supporting the growth of smaller species. They also travel vast distances, dispersing seeds in their dung, and supporting vegetation growth. Some research suggests that elephants could disperse seeds up to 65km, which helps to maintain the genetic diversity of many tree species and prevent local inbreeding. Therefore, elephants are critical to the integrity of the African savanna ecosystems.

So on this day, use your voice to spread the word about these gentle giants and support organisations and solutions to better care for them so they can move away from the critical and endangered lists. And before I go, here are some videos of the cutest baby elepants. Watch and smile!

In My Hands Today…

Partition Voices: Untold British Stories – Kavita Puri

Dotted across homes in Britain are people who were witnesses to one of the most tumultuous events of the twentieth century. Yet their memory of India’s partition has been shrouded in silence. Kavita Puri’s father was twelve when he found himself one of the millions of Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims caught up in the devastating aftermath of a hastily drawn border. For seventy years he remained silent – like so many – about the horrors he had seen.

When her father finally spoke out, opening up a forgotten part of Puri’s family history, she was compelled to seek out the stories of South Asians who were once subjects of the British Raj, and are now British citizens. Determined to preserve these accounts – of the end of Empire and the difficult birth of two nations – here Puri records a series of remarkable first-hand testimonies, as well as those of their children and grandchildren whose lives are shaped by partition’s legacy. With empathy, nuance and humanity, Puri weaves a breathtaking tapestry of human experience over a period of seven decades that trembles with life; an epic of ruptured families and friendships, extraordinary journeys and daring rescue missions that reverberates with pain, loss and compassion.

The division of the Indian subcontinent happened far away, but it is also a very British story. Many of those affected by partition are now part of the fabric of British contemporary life, but their lives continue to be touched by this traumatic event. Partition Voices breaks the silence and confronts the difficult truths at the heart of Britain’s shared history with South Asia.

What makes one a Singaporean

Yesterday was Singapore’s 57th National Day and as I was wondering what to write about the day, I started thinking about what makes one a Singaporean? Birth is one of course, but why do those who consciously become one do it? I know why I did it and you can read my story and journey here and here. While I was undergoing my process, I came across many who didn’t have any connection to the country and probably became a citizen only because of the privileges accorded by the red Singapore passport was far superior to their own birth country. They were not interested in the language of the country and by that I mean not making an effort to integrate and speak English which is the working language and one that brings together all the races, not interested in learning about the history and not even interested in its people.

So what makes one a Singaporean?

The first thing that comes to my mind would probably be words like obedient, hardworking and kiasu. These are words which probably describe a nation in which a competitive citizenry is obsessed with being number one in all that it does. A word that probably describes the Singaporean core perfectly is kiasu. A word that is Hokkien in origin, kaisu means being afraid to lose out and is Singapore in a nutshell. We need to win and be the first in everything, coming second is the equivalent of losing. This also translates to parents being tiger mums and dads who want their children only to get As in school and the only careers worth exploring are as bankers, doctors and lawyers.

The Singapore accent and Singlish are other Singaporean identifiers. When we travel, especially in the region, hearing the accent and Singlish being spoken takes you back home immediately and makes a connection in a foreign land.

Singaporeans are also very dedicated, especially when it comes to getting their favourite meal at the hawker centre or the latest Happy Meal toy, the biggest discount or the latest trend. We can stand in a line for hours just to reach the thing we want.

We are complain kings and queens and that’s probably a national hobby. With smartphone usage at a high, we love taking photos of those who we feel are breaking rules and post them on social media to complain. We blow stuff completely out of proportion just for the sake of our daily dosage of entertainment. Then after we’re done, we move on to the next better topic. But woe toward others, especially foreigners who complain about us or our nation. Then we get together to bash them up.

Singapore is a very safe place. As a woman, I can walk around the country even late at night, something I can’t think of doing in India. When we are out and want to save our seat or chope it as it we call it, we use our belongings to save the seat. So anything from a packet of tissue to an umbrella or even our office name tag or laptop can be left on the table and nobody will dare to dream to pick it up. It may be annoying to get your food and see empty tables, but all filled with tissue packets, but we put up with it and get on with life.

We are also a wonderful blend of old and new as well as traditional and modern. Old heritage buildings lie cheek in jowl with modern glass skyscrapers and it’s not unusual to see people wearing the latest fashions walking alongside those in a traditional kebaya or saree.

And of course, no post about Singapore can end without a note about Singlish and the fact that we can speak an entire sentence incorporating all four of Singapore’s languages. Our need for speed in everything and being first also means we speak so fast that outsiders need a translator when listening to us.

But all said and done, Singapore has its imperfections, but no country is perfect. We have to accept the good and the bad and make it even better together. So let’s get together and be grateful to this little red dot. Happy Birthday, Singapore! May you continue to prosper.

And as I always share, here’s this year’s National Day song. Enjoy…

In My Hands Today…

Seven Hundred Years: A History of Singapore – Kwa Chong Guan, Derek Heng, Peter Borschberg and Tan Tai Yong

Assessments of Singapore’s history invariably revolve around Sir Stamford Raffles’ arrival in 1819. Before this date – we’ve been told – “nothing very much appears to have happened in Singapore”. Pre-1819 Singapore was a sleepy, historically insignificant fishing village, little more than the “occasional resort of pirates”.

This ambitious book, co-written by four of Singapore’s foremost historians, offers an assertive re-evaluation of that view. Drawing on a multi-disciplinary range of archival, textual and cartographical records, as well as the latest archaeological discoveries, the authors cast a singular historical trajectory for Singapore over the past seven centuries, animating its history like never before.

Written in a compelling and accessible manner, and richly illustrated with more than 200 artefacts, photographs, maps, artworks and ephemera, this volume builds upon the foundations of an earlier book, Singapore: A 700-Year History. Extensively rewritten to incorporate ground-breaking research findings, Seven Hundred Years: A History of Singapore widens the historical lens and offers a vital new perspective on the story of Singapore.

Festivals of India: Muharram

This is the month of Muharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar and one of the four sacred months of the year when warfare is forbidden. It is held to be the second holiest month after Ramadan. The tenth day of Muharram is known as Ashura and as part of the Mourning of Muharram, Shi’i Muslims mourn the tragedy of Ḥusayn ibn ʿAlī’s family, and Sunni Muslims practice fasting on Ashura.

Muslims mourn the martyrdom of Ḥusayn and his family, honouring the martyrs by prayer and abstinence from joyous events. Shiʿi Muslims eat as little as possible on the Ashura; however, this is not seen as fasting. Alevis fast twelve days, each day for one of the Twelve Imams of Shiʿa Islam, to commemorate and mourn the Imams, as if a very close relative has died. Some, excluding children, the elderly or the sick, don’t eat or drink until zawal or afternoon as a part of their mourning for Husayn. In addition, there is an important ziyarat or a form of pilgrimage book, the Ziyarat Ashura about Ḥusayn. In Shiʿism, it is popular to read this ziyarat on this date.

The sighting of the new moon ushers in the Islamic New Year. The first month, Muharram, is one of the four sacred months mentioned in the Quran, along with the seventh month of Rajab, and the eleventh and twelfth months of Dhu al-Qi’dah and Dhu al-Hijjah, respectively, immediately preceding Muharram. During these sacred months, warfare is forbidden. Before the advent of Islam, the Quraish and Arabs also forbade warfare during those months. Muslims believe that in this month of Muharram, one should worship Allah a lot.

Muharram is a month of remembrance. Ashura, which means the Tenth in Arabic, refers to the tenth day of Muharram and is well known because of the historical significance and mourning for the Shahadat or martyrdom of Ḥusayn ibn Ali, the grandson of Muhammad. Muslims begin mourning from the first night of Muharram and continue for ten nights, climaxing on the 10th day of Muharram, known as the Day of Ashura which is considered the most important by both Shia and Sunni Muslims. Tomorrow, the 10th day of Muharram or the Day of Ashura will be commemorated. Shia Muslims observe it as a day of mourning to commemorate the death of the grandson of Prophet Muhammad, Hussayn Ibn Ali. The last few days up until and including the Day of Ashura are the most important because these were the days in which Hussain and his family and followers, including women, children and elderly people were deprived of water from the 7th day onward and on the 10th day, Husayn and 72 of his followers were killed by the army of Yazid I at the Battle of Karbala on Yazid’s orders. The surviving members of Husayn’s family and those of his followers were taken captive, marched to Damascus, and imprisoned there. This was because, according to legend, Imam Hussayn objected to the legitimacy of the Caliph Yazid and revolted against him leading to the battle of Karbala in 680 AD. Sunni Muslims believe that the religious leader Moses led Israel through the Red Sea and got victory over the Egyptian Pharaoh and his army of war chariots on the 10th day of Muharram. There is another belief that Adam and Eve were created by God on the 10th day of this month. It was also during this time that Prophet Muhammad migrated from Mecca to Medina, which is known as Hijrah, and so Muharram marks this important event as well.

In India, though both Shias and Sunnis observe Muharram, for the Shias, it is a day of observance and not joy, and thus, they are in mourning for the 10 days. They dress in black, attend special prayer meetings at mosques and even refrain from listening to music or attending events like weddings. On the 10th day, street processions take place in which they walk barefoot, chanting and whipping their chests until it draws blood to commemorate the sufferings of Imam Hussayn. Sunnis observe this day with fasting from the first to the 10th or 11th day of the month. This is voluntary, and the ones who fast are believed to be rewarded by Allah.