King of the Elephants Regains His Freedom in India

By Lee Cuesta

In 1953, a baby boy was born—weighing roughly 176 pounds (80 kilograms)—in the forests of India.  Using their trunks, his mother and the other females assisted him to his feet so that he would begin nursing.  He didn’t know yet how to use his own trunk. It dangled without purpose, and sometimes he tripped over it.

A few years later, this strong, young bull was full of exuberance and imagination.  He was a free soul; he had no name because he belonged to no one.  He enjoyed the dappled sunlight through the forest canopy, and relished the soft cushion of the jungle floor.  His favorite foods were moist, tender roots and dark green leaves.  Now his trunk was a mighty tool that he could wield with precision.  His mother and “aunties” had raised him well, and in several more years he would begin his solitary life, or join together with a few other bachelors. When he was old enough, he would find a matriarchal herd in order to mate and reproduce.

Gajraj takes his first steps of freedom at the Elephant Conservation and Care Center.

But all of this abruptly changed. Suddenly one day he was captured. He heard loud explosions like he’d never heard before. The entire herd began to run in chaotic directions.  He couldn’t keep up.  His eyes expressed the terror and confusion he felt.  What was happening?  Where was his mother?  He wanted to protect her, just as she had protected him many times.

Capture and Training

Kartick Satyanarayan, co-founder of Wildlife SOS in India, confirms the plausibility of this scenario. During a recent interview via Skype, he told me: “The poachers for live elephant trafficking try to target herds where there are female elephants with very young calves. If they have very young calves, they cannot move very far because the calves cannot walk long distances, and their speed is very limited.  So the herd moves very little. The aunts and the mother actually look after the calves; so they move a few kilometers, and they wait there, near a water hole or something. Their movement is rather restricted. So then, the poachers target those herds, and they try to use both firecrackers and loud sounds to drive the herd in a direction where they get separated from the calf.  The calf falls into a pit because he’s not able to keep pace with the rest of the herd. So then they can steal the calf and separate it, and harvest the calf out of that herd, and move away. Of course it leaves the complete herd distraught, highly traumatized. And the calf is also traumatized by being separated from its mother at such a young age.”

Now they gave him a name.  This strong, young bull was no longer free; he belonged to humans.  With cruel irony, they called him Gajraj.  “His name means ‘The King of the Elephants,’” according to Nikki Sharp, Executive Director of Wildlife SOS in the USA.

Kartick continued: “Then these little elephant calves are put through a very brutal, painful, and barbaric process of training.”  The owners tie them up and beat them to teach the calf who’s boss.   The trainers often use spears and sharp objects, and keep the calf chained for several months on end, on hard concrete in order to have the spirit broken, Kartick explained.  “And once the spirit is broken, then the animal is trainable and ridable.”

He added: “When people want to buy an elephant—illegally—they place an order, and then somebody causes the elephant calf to be poached from the wild. And then that elephant calf is tied up in the middle of the jungle somewhere, in a hidden location, beaten for several months, and in about a year it’s trained to do certain, basic things. Then it’s sold off. Wherever it goes, they subject it to further training, which means further cruelty and pain and suffering.”

Spiritual Significance

So Gajraj became a temple elephant.  Kartick said, “And a lot of the public who are devotees or temple visitors, who have faith in these temples, do not understand what is the background of the elephant.  They want a blessing from the elephant, but do not understand that even for the elephant to lift its trunk and give them a blessing, it’s been trained to do so through a very cruel and painful process. Everything is negative reinforcement only, and there’s only two tools that are used in the traditional methods of management in India to train Asian elephants, and that is pain and fear.”

Gajraj was sent to Ujjain, an ancient city beside the Kshipra River in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. An important Hindu pilgrimage destination, the Bade Ganesh Temple is located there, which houses a colorful statue of Ganesh (or Ganesha), the elephant-headed Hindu deity.  When I asked Kartick about the spiritual significance, or value, placed upon the elephants in India, he replied: “Ganesh is our elephant god, and he is the god of good beginnings.  He’s got a human body and an elephant’s head. He can have four, eight, and two arms—sometimes even more.  And in each of those arms he’s probably holding something, or he’s holding it in a certain position; that indicates something spiritual or religious.  Most people in India believe in Lord Ganesh, at least all the Hindus do.  And they think that the elephant itself is an embodiment of that god.”

Kartick continued: “A lot of temples try to get an elephant into the temple, and keep it there, captive, because then it adds to the value of the temple, increases the visitation to the temple, and also increases revenue to a certain extent.”  Kartick agrees that it’s a total contradiction to view the captive elephant as the embodiment of the god, and yet treat it so cruelly and inhumanely.

Then in 1965, at the age of approximately 12 years, Gajraj was given as a wedding present to the Queen of Aundh on the day she married King Bhagwant Rao. So he was made to travel 800 kilometers from Ujjain to Satara, Maharashtra, which took almost a month and a half, according to hindustantimes.com.

As the god of good beginnings, Wikipedia states, Ganesh is honoured at the start of rites and ceremonies, and so as a wedding gift, Gajraj represented a tremendous blessing upon the marriage. Wikipedia also calls Ganesh “Obstacle Remover.” A statement from Wildlife SOS says, “Gajraj played a vital role in the celebration. Ever since, the elephant has been a star attraction at the temple of Aundh, playing an important role during annual festivities and temple processions. Temple devotees see Gajraj as an icon of worship, as explained in the words of the Queen herself.”

Gajraj at Aundh prior to his rescue.

Care During His Captivity

“Often, people offer sweets and other artificial snacks to the elephant to seek blessings. However, for Gajraj, it is no blessing but a curse, as such foods can cause intestinal complications as well,” said PETA’s India director of veterinary affairs, Dr. Manilal Valliyate. Members of PETA (People for Ethical Treatment of Animals) found Gajraj chained near popular tourist spots like the Shri Bhavani Museum and Yamai Devi temple in Aundh, Satara, according to hindustantimes.com.  “Being chained for most of his life has had a detrimental effect on Gajraj’s health. He has lost weight and has nutritional deficiencies,” said Dr. Yaduraj Khadpekar, senior veterinarian with Wildlife SOS.

During his half century in captivity, “standing on unnatural surfaces for long periods of time has led to Gajraj’s footpads wearing out, which can be exceptionally dangerous for an elephant – making him prone to developing wounds and abscesses underfoot,” states a report from Wildlife SOS.

In addition, according to a statement from Save The Elephants, “Gajraj’s tusks have been chopped over a period of time without taking any permission from the forest department under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.”  Kartick commented: “I am not sure of the details of what happened to the ivory, but I do know, I can see—it’s quite visible—that he has had his tusks chopped off.”

His chopped tusks are visible in the photos that accompany this article.  The redness that appears at the ends of his tusks is not an injury, but instead the color of vermilion, which is red paint that was applied by the villagers because he was a temple elephant.  Nikki Sharp told me that “what appears to have happened with this particular elephant is that his tusks were growing and criss-crossing; so he wasn’t able to lift his trunk up. So actually, they were doing the right thing; they shortened the tusks so he could lift up his trunk. But I’m not sure if they did it in a humane way or not.”

According to hindustantimes.com, “Gajraj developed partial blindness and a toenail abscess which could spread to the bone. He also has abscesses in the hip and his foot pads suffered severe degeneration.  In April this year, the state government-appointed veterinarians said that the elephant was suffering from weakness and untreated prolonged abscesses on his hindquarters and elbows, as well as other painful foot conditions, and that his custodian had failed to maintain basic health-care records.”

Retirement for a Geriatric Elephant

Gajraj entering the Wildlife SOS Elephant Ambulance in July.

For these reasons, Gajraj was taken to the Elephant Conservation and Care Center (ECCC) in Mathura, Uttar Pradesh, near Agra.  This occurred last month (July, 2017), with permission from the royal family of Aundh.  The royal family did not protest against any of the removal operation. In fact, they bid Gajraj farewell. “I am happy that the elephant is going to the rescue centre and I am confident that he is in safe hands,” said the Queen of Aundh, Gayatri Devi Pant Pratinidhi (according to hindustantimes.com).  The ECCC is a collaborative project of Wildlife SOS and the Uttar Pradesh Forest Department.

“Gajraj was seen as a religious icon by local devotees, but his removal won’t necessarily cause disruption in the community’s cultural and religious fabric. The temple still exists and so do their religious beliefs,” stated a spokesperson from Wildlife SOS.  “Gajraj (is) suffering from severe ailments and in need of expert veterinary care. The royal family of Aundh willingly handed him over to us for lifetime care as they understood that it was in his best interest to do so. Gajraj was with the royal family for decades and he is still very precious to them; so it is unlikely that he will be replaced by another temple elephant.”  In a way, their relinquishing of Gajraj was a convenient way for the royal family to extricate themselves from an escalating liability.

“With advancing age, Gajraj was found to be suffering from several medical issues like foot and hip abscesses, severe degeneration of foot pads and partial blindness, making him a candidate for geriatric lifetime care.  The Wildlife SOS Elephant Conservation and Care Center is equipped with veterinary facilities for elephant treatment and is currently providing lifetime care for over 20 rehabilitated pachyderms.  Gajraj can now live a retired life for the rest of his life; however long his geriatric body can support him,” according to a statement from Wildlife SOS.

There is some disagreement about Gajraj’s actual age.  A press release from Save The Elephants calls Gajraj “a 63-year-old ailing elephant.”  The writer of a Hindustan Times report is confused: in the first paragraph, the reporter states that Gajraj is “a 70-year-old male elephant;” yet in the next paragraph writes that in 1965 at the age of 12, he was given as a gift to the queen at her wedding—which places the current age of Gajraj at 64 years. Kartick told me, “Our assessment of Gajraj is that he looks like he’s between 70 and 75 years old.”  Either way, this bull elephant is close to the end of his life, with lots of health concerns.

“PETA did a good job with getting the story out there and letting people know about what was happening with that elephant,” Kartick said. “So we’ve had thousands of emails and requests asking us to step in and help. So when the Forest Department finally got to us and asked us if we could help, we did.”

How hard is it to remove an elephant from a temple?  Kartick replied: “It can be excruciatingly painful and challenging, and can be extremely dangerous because contrary to what many people think, a lot of the Indian public is largely ignorant about what happens to an elephant before it becomes a temple elephant. They do not understand that every single elephant in a temple has actually been removed from the wild, separated from its herd as a little calf. And then these little elephant calves are put through a very brutal, painful, and barbaric process of training.”

Now Gajraj safely resides at the ECCC in Mathura. Baiju Raj, Director of Conservation Projects for Wildlife SOS, stated: “It is a tremendous responsibility to take care of a geriatric elephant like Gajraj. We will provide him the best of care.”  Geeta Seshamani, co-founder of Wildlife SOS, said: “Gajraj will be provided long-term medical treatment and lifetime care at the hands of our experienced team at the Elephant Care Center.”

Gajraj takes his first dust bath at the ECCC in Mathura.

Kartick added: “Within a few short minutes of stepping into the centre, we could see a marked change in the behaviour of the elephant. He immediately took to the new surroundings, gorging on fruits and taking dust baths.”  In a July 24 update, Wildlife SOS reported: “Last week we held a ceremony to remove Gajraj’s bell as a symbolic way to complete his journey to our Elephant Conservation and Care Centre (ECCC) in Mathura, ushering in his retirement and fully closing the circle on his previous life.” In a photograph, Kartick smiles for the camera after removing the bell.

Kartick smiles after removing Gajraj's bell.

Soon Gajraj will once again enjoy the dappled sunlight through the forest canopy, and relish the soft cushion of the jungle floor. Of course, it will remind him of his abbreviated childhood in the forests of India, so many years ago. According to a statement from Wildlife SOS: “After his initial period in quarantine, Gajraj will soon start going out on walks with his mahout, and get a chance to explore the sights and sounds of his new home beyond his spacious enclosure. This couldn’t come at a more perfect time, with the rains just beginning in Mathura, and the elephants’ walks covering a vast expanse of lush green vegetation, and an array of exciting flora and fauna for Gajraj to discover and investigate! While the concerns regarding the condition of his feet might keep Gajraj from going on long walks immediately, we know that when the time comes, he will take as much delight in the free space to roam and wander just as much as all our other elephants do.”

Gajraj entering his pool.

Meanwhile, Gajraj has discovered the joy of his very own, private pool in which he can lounge and relax. “Although he was initially wary about entering the water, we eventually managed to coax him in with bananas and muskmelons, and once inside, he was quick to realise just how wonderful it feels to be completely submerged in the pool – not just because the water is cool and soothing, but because of the weightlessness he probably experiences that takes the strain off his legs and extremely worn out feet,” states the Wildlife SOS website. In addition, the vermilion on the ends of his tusks has gradually washed away as a result of these baths.

It continues: “Gajraj is still getting a large amount of the staple diet he was used to in captivity – sugarcane – and we are gradually introducing other varieties of fresh green fodder crops into his diet. He also gets a delicious array of seasonal fruit including mangoes, watermelon and bananas, as well as corn and pumpkin. Gajraj has been prescribed nutritional supplements by our vets that he receives daily to complement his diet and promote his recovery.”

Furthermore, the ECCC staff is “introducing him to the safe and humane process of target training which will in the future allow us to easily treat Gajraj’s feet and carry out a host of other treatments with his happy and willing cooperation. Gajraj is an extremely smart elephant and has taken quickly to the basic stages of target training, so we’re proud to say that we can see him progressing pretty fast in his training – which will soon make it much easier for us to treat the abscesses under his feet.”

A Legacy for the Future

The retirement with the royal family’s permission of one geriatric elephant—and his relocation to a sanctuary—may seem to have little, or merely symbolic, significance.  But Gajraj represents an elephant population that faces extinction, and the young ones continue to be poached for live elephant trafficking.  “So basically, if you look at the whole world, we’ve lost 98 percent of the wild population of the Asian elephants,” Kartick stated.  I asked him, “Do you think that it depends upon this generation or the next to prevent their extinction?”

Kartick responded, “Absolutely. It is really this generation or the next that can do something if there is to be hope. Otherwise, in five years, we could have no elephants. Our children and grandchildren might have to be shown elephants on photos and videos and Youtube, and there wouldn’t be any elephants left in the world.  That is not a distant chance; it is a very real possibility if we are not careful.”  He added, “It is frightening and it shows how much on the edge we are, and it’s a very fragile system and a very fragile state for this planet and for its denizens.”

While Wildlife SOS is not in the business of collecting elephants, as Kartick says, but rather in the business of educating the public concerning conservation for multiple types of Indian wildlife, they are buying land for the sanctuary to accommodate more elephants that they rescue. “Yes, we are in the process of doing that, and it such an uphill battle,” he said.

The land will cost over 1.7 million dollars, and so far, they have raised half that amount with contributions.  I asked, do you need additional funding?  He replied, “Absolutely; it is a tall order that we have. We have to raise a lot of money in order to make this possible.  So if your blog can incorporate some of this and help us attract some investors, because this is a social investment.  If people come forward and understand that we would all live a life, and we would consume and consume and consume all our lives, reproduce, and then die, and be gone. But we will not leave anything behind if we go at this rate. So we really need people to come forward and join us in making this a legacy for the future.”

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Permission is granted to reprint this article in its entirety with the condition that its source (this website) and its author (Lee Cuesta) are both acknowledged.

(All photos are used by permission from Wildlife SOS.)

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Seven Viking Days and Once: Once Are Selling Briskly!

Bill, my friend and colleague, loves books, and he’s so excited about Seven Viking Days that he is the only person so far who has bought TEN copies!  Also, this is the first time that Bill has bought ten books from the same author!  He also bought a copy of Once: Once.  Both of my books sold very briskly with the Holiday discount before Christmas.  Bill made this comment about Seven Viking Days: “The icons in the book are an inspired idea.  And I think this is a book for Adults and Children: The stories are so thought provoking and the illustrations beautiful, colorful and unusual.”  I already autographed all of the books he bought.  The first, of course, was for Bill himself.  On a Thor’s Day (i.e., Thursday), here’s what Bill texted to me: “FYI, Sold a Seven Viking Days book at dentist today, 2 more will order online, and a third is having her local Viking Lodge order one.  Debbie from my dentist office called to tell me she showed the book to her husband who is chief of the Portland Viking Lodge. He thought it was great & plans to use it for their Cultural Moment at the January Lodge meeting. Debbie will take pictures & get them to me for you.”

My friend, Jorge, got a copy of Seven Viking Days for his preschool daughter, Naila, for Christmas.  I autographed the book for Naila, and she’ll enjoy listening to her papa read it while she gazes at the vibrant, full-color, 3-D illustrations.  My good friend, Lori, took the photo of Jorge with me, and both Lori and Jorge commented that they felt they could actually touch the three-dimensional (3-D) illustrations. In fact, the original illustrations ARE 3-D, which were then photographed for the book.

Lori bought two of my Seven Viking Days books: one for her personal library, and another on her grown daughter’s behalf.  And ALSO she took one to show it to her friends in her Taco Tuesday network!  She’d already told them about it, and so the people in her network wanted to see it in order to buy one.  Word-of-mouth is awesome!

Jon, Stan, and Rebecca also purchased books, which Mia and I signed.  Jon and Stan were both present when I was signing Seven Viking Days and Once: Once for Rebecca.  They were both so excited, they immediately said they wanted them. So the next day, they bought the books, and I signed them.  Stan bought only Seven Viking Days because he already owns Once: Once.  Rebecca had quite a big influence on my book sales!  Besides Stan and Jon (who, by the way, bought another copy of Once: Once), she also told Kelley about my books, and showed them to her, and so Kelley bought one of each.  Kelley was so thrilled and excited to get the books, and she expressed to me such abundant gratitude, that it was really fun to sign my books for her!  Word-of-mouth AND social media are awesome!  And here is what Rebecca wrote to me after giving Seven Viking Days and Once: Once as Christmas presents: “My parents were really excited to read your book.  My mom marveled at the illustrations and is looking forward to reading it tomorrow.”  Thank you, Rebecca!  Thank you so much for spreading the word about my books not only to your family, but also to your friends. I appreciate you!

As you can see, lately there’s been a lot of buzz about my book, Seven Viking Days.  I just got together with the illustrator, Mia Hocking.  We are selling and signing so many books right now, it’s hard to keep up!  The photo shows Mia signing her autograph. Although she is currently a member of the Sequoia Gallery in Oregon, and has her studio there, she used to have her own, called Misfit Studio. There were a number of reasons for this name.  One of them is that Mia’s passion is mixed media — recycled — visual art. She combines these misfit materials, giving them renewed purpose, and creates artwork that is layered, textured and has three-dimensional depth. The result are works of art that don’t fit easily in any category or genre, like misfits.  This is the style of art that brings Seven Viking Days to life. Here are three examples. Of course, one is Thor’s hammer, and the other two are the first and last pages of the book.  Mia gave to me the original art for these two pages, and they are hanging side-by-side on my wall at home.

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November Secrets

This week, there is a lot of buzz on the Internet about voting machine fraud and manipulation.  In my novel, titled Once: Once (or 11:11), I predicted the use of voting machine fraud to sway an election.  This was published in 2001.  Here is the excerpt:

“The referendums are already on the ballots, correct?”

“Yes, sir,” Javier replied.  ”The Plan organizers in each state have seen to it.  But sir, that’s the reason I requested this meeting.  I need to explain….”

“I have no other choice.  Our so-called president is forcing me into it.  I do it for the sake of Mexico.  And you’re sure the referendums will pass in all six states?”

“Absolutely.  We reverse-engineered some state-of-the-art systems from an election management company located near me in California.  This is the kind of high-tech wizardry I love. Fancy gadgets.  You have nothing to worry about.  Our software supports the validation of voter eligibility, which allows us to manipulate it as necessary. So stuffing the electronic ballot box was never easier.  It also interfaces with voter information files and absentee balloting modules.  It permits pseudo-numbering of rural addresses, as well as street aliases. And it fully supports remote functions, such as early voting.  Everything is ready.”

“Very good.  I’ve always known that the best way to outsmart a democracy is through its own institutions.  The election process is like an Achilles heel, its vulnerable spot.  Since one single vote is so insignificant, nobody really believes that his vote helped determine the outcome of an election.  So we can report the results whichever way we want, and the population accepts it.  And our computers will back us up one hundred percent, from the voter registrations to  the ballot tabulations.”

“That’s correct, sir.”

“So then, as soon as the US government refuses to recognize it, I launch my invasion to provide military support to enforce the decision.  And each state that’s represented in the Plan has its own secret militia, already armed, while the rest of the population is restricted by more gun controls.  It’s perfect. My glory.  My son, you are sitting beside the next president of Mexico, a much larger Mexico who has regained her historic boundaries.  I’ve decided that November 11 is the official date for my invasion.”

IN  THE modern era, November 11, or 11.11, is Veterans Day.  And I’ve questioned why Veterans Day is always 11.11, regardless on which day of the week it falls, unlike most other holidays, which got moved to Mondays.  Part of this answer is the fact that Veterans Day began as Armistice Day (also known as Remembrance Day), commemorating the day on which the armistice, or peace agreement, was signed between the Allies of World War I and Germany, for the cessation of hostilities along the Western Front, which took effect at eleven o’clock in the morning — the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” of 1918.

WHY  ISN’T the election on the first Tuesday in November this year?  Simply because Congress stipulated in 1845 that the uniform election day for all states would be “the first Tuesday of November,” but this was amended to state: “the first Tuesday after the first Monday” in November.  This was established to accommodate the meeting of the Electoral College.  And in modern times, even though the Electors now meet in their respective states to cast their votes, the nation has maintained the tradition of “the first Tuesday after the first Monday.”  So this year, since the first Monday in November was the 7th, then the election couldn’t be held until the 8th.

To receive a copy of my novel, Once: Once (Or 11:11), send me an e-mail, or contact me through Facebook.  These photos are of my personal book-signing of my novel for my awesome friend, Mel, and she’s holding her new copy of the book.

An international newspaper based in Manitoba, Canada, called my book “a thrilling novel of the complexities in Mexico … Like a story lifted off the page of today’s newspaper.”

Colorado congressman Tom Tancredo wrote:  “Many thanks.  Great read!”

The novel’s synopsis:  When the independence movement in Chiapas, Mexico, is postponed and a deadly ambush restores the spectre of religious intolerance, Subcomandante Josefa chooses a journey that will enable her to unravel her true identity.  In the process, she discovers an undercover conspiracy not only to recapture territory that once belonged to Mexico, but also to oust Mexico’s current president.  More profoundly, she must face the mystical dimension of this plan, signified by a single moment in time on a digital clock.  This story of epic scale provides a rare and stunning glimpse into the elements that render neighboring cultures so incompatible.

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“Seven Viking Days” already receives its first review!

Seven Viking Days already has been reviewed!  Its first review is by Midwest Book Review, and I am reprinting it here verbatim, with permission.

Seven Viking Days
Lee Cuesta
Infinity Publishing
1094 New  DeHaven Street, Suite 100
West Conshohocken, PA 19428
LCCN: 2015937660     $29.95
ISBN:  978-1-4958-0584-4
www.infinitypublishing.com

By D. Donovan, Senior Reviewer, Midwest Book Review

Seven Viking Days offers up Viking tales of Thor and others in a hardcover full-color children’s picture book that gathers these tales under one cover and adds vibrant details about Viking lives and history.

It would have been all too easy to just present Viking folklore alone; but the added value of this approach is that it tailors its stories to reveal Viking lives and society and thus takes the folktale format a step further by creating a lively history. The book will be published in October.

Mia Hocking’s lovely illustrations create a collage of images and backgrounds to accompany text that will lend to both parental read-aloud and leisure enjoyment by kids with basic reading skills who have moved beyond the one- or two-line elementary picture book format.

From the origins of Tuesday in ‘Tiu’s Day’ to how other days of the week and Scandinavian roots are still present in modern culture, Seven Viking Days uses repetition, icons for the days, discussions of days’ names and their roots in legend and story, and more.

The result is a gorgeous presentation of Viking vignettes that will interest adults as well as children.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

This review, along with others that are forthcoming, is the result of obtaining Advance Reading Copies, or ARCs, which I’ve been able to send out in order to receive prepublication reviews.  In fact, you can visit my profile at BookLife, which is a part of Publishers Weekly, by clicking on this link: http://booklife.com/profile/lee-cuesta-7094.  Or you can click on this link to go directly to the BookLife page for Seven Viking Days:  http://booklife.com/project/seven-viking-days-7626. Here is the most recent email message that I received from BookLife:

Dear Lee:

Congratulations! Your BookLife project (Seven Viking Days) been selected for review by Publishers Weekly!

In the coming weeks your review should appear in Publishers Weekly. When it does, you will be able to see it on BookLife’s review page:

http://booklife.com/reviews

Pretty exciting stuff!

In these photos, I am opening the box from the publisher, on the day it arrived, containing the ARCs.

Soon after this, I shared my excitement via email with Mia Hocking, the illustrator of Seven Viking Days.  This is what I wrote:

The books are fantastic!  They were delivered this morning.  They look fabulous, from the glossy front cover, which really pops, all the way through to the last page!  It is a real book!!  In fact, I noticed for the first time two additional, subtle spreads that you created, now that I’ve seen it in book form.  It is an awesome achievement, so full and overflowing with color.  Thank you so much for partnering with me!

Another photo shows my grandchildren holding an ARC, which soon their dad, my son, will present to a famous and prominent bookstore in Tennessee.

Thumbs up for a "cool book"!

Having the ARCs also has enabled Mia to show Seven Viking Days to local bookstores, such as Powells.  Mia told me that an acquaintance of hers “took an ARC to Skagway (Alaska) to give to the owner of the Skagway News Depot.  Mia wrote:  “I don’t know what to expect from this contact, but I do know Skagway and if nothing else, we would have international exposure should he offer to carry the book. Skagway summers are loaded with tourists with money to spend. Who knows, maybe we could take a trip to Skagway for a book signing event.”

She has presented it to other venues as well, where events are already scheduled, including an exhibit at the gallery where Mia is a member, and the events for our Launch Day, which is October 24.  More about these in an upcoming blog post!

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Press release announcing publication date, ISBN, LCCN, price, format and distribution for “Seven Viking Days”

Here is the press release that will be distributed as soon as I receive the Advance Reading Copies of Seven Viking Days from Infinity Publishing.  It contains all the pertinent data related to the new book.  Feel free to copy and paste from it, or reprint it entirely.  If you have any questions, send me an email.  The address is in this press release.

Headline: New children’s picture book displays the names of our days in context of Viking lifestyle

Blurb: Viking tales of Woden, Thor, Frigg, Saturn and more fill the newest full-color, hardcover children’s picture book from Lee Cuesta Enterprises and Associates, to be published October 24.  Pre-publication Advance Reading Copies and Complimentary Review Copies are now available.

  • Title:  Seven Viking Days

  • Author, Lee Cuesta;  illustrator, Mia Hocking

  • Publication date:  October 24, 2015

  • ISBN:  978-1-4958-0584-4

  • Retail price:  $29.95

  • Pre-order price (before October 24):  $24.99

  • Format: Full-color, hardcover, 8.5 x 11 inches, 32 pages

  • LCCN:  2015937660

  • Worldwide distribution through Ingram, Baker & Taylor, Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com

Viking tales of Woden, Thor, Frigg, Saturn and more fill the newest full-color, hardcover children’s picture book from Lee Cuesta Enterprises and Associates.  From these tales, Vikings named the days of our week.  Seven Viking Days engages children, parents and grandparents with vibrant, unique illustrations while telling these stories in the context of Viking lifestyle and society, including longships, houses with sod roofs, and the sauna.  It is a conversation between Sun and the Viking boy, Canute, and it reinforces with repetition and icons the correct sequence of the days.  The authentic origins of our days’ names resulted solely from the author’s thorough research into ancient Scandinavian myths and legends.  The book’s official publication date will be October 24, 2015.

The striking, intense illustrations are by Mia Hocking, a resourceful professional artist, whose passion is mixed media (recycled) visual art.  This book expresses her abstract style with a specific vision and purpose.  The Sequoia Gallery in Oregon has exhibited her work, which represents core life philosophies of environmental consciousness and personal journeys.

Lee Cuesta composed the text for the book.  One side of Cuesta’s family came from Denmark, sometimes called the “Heartland of Viking society.”  So this book reveals his roots.  An internationally recognized writer and author, he’s been published in periodicals such as World Pulse, Indian Life, and InSite. His novel was  published in 2001. Cuesta says, “I am so glad that Mia teamed up with me, because her style of artwork brings authenticity to the ancient Scandinavian legends.”

A Launch Party will be celebrated on the book’s publication date, featuring a Viking costume contest, free T-shirts, refreshments, book signing, and readings of the book by the author and illustrator.

Review copies:  Reviewers who would like to receive an Advance Reading Copy or a Complimentary Review Copy are invited to request them from leecuesta@gmail.com.  Review copies in eProof format  are also available by contacting  marc@infinitypublishing.com.  Author and illustrator photos, along with a PDF containing the book’s covers, are available upon request.

Pre-orders:  Seven Viking Days may be pre-ordered and prepaid before October 24, for delivery after October 24, for the price of $24.99.  All pre-orders must be sent to sevenvikingdays@gmail.com.  Visit www.leecuesta.com.

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Fundraiser launched at Razoo for publishing our children’s picture book

This will be the year of a major publishing event in our family.  October 24, 2015 is the official publication date of a children’s picture book with truly unique, vibrant illustrations by the artist, Mia Hocking.  Mia is a very good friend of mine, and that’s why I’m publishing this post on my blog.  She has launched a fundraiser at Razoo.com in order to have the book published.  I want to ask you to consider contributing to her fundraiser.  I just made my own donation, and I invite you to join me!

I wrote the text for this new book.  I’m a journalist and author, as you know, and also a grandparent and Baby Boomer.  For several years, I wanted to create a book that children will enjoy, while helping them learn the days of the week.  I wanted the book to engage their parents  and grandparents as well.  With Mia’s work, we accomplished this.  Entitled Seven Viking Days, this book explains the authentic, Norse origin of each day’s name, along with their correct sequence.  I am so grateful that Mia teamed up with me because her style of artwork brings authenticity to the ancient Scandinavian mythology.  You can see what I mean in the slideshow on our fundraiser page at Razoo.com.  Click on this link:

razoo.com/br/causes/Imaginative-Children-S-Folktale-About-The-Seven-Days-Of-The-Week

You’ll be taken directly to our fundraiser page, where you can see the slideshow and read all the details.  (If you prefer, you can also go to Razoo.com and then search for “Mia Hocking.”)

You can donate any amount when you click on the big, blue “Donate” button, or choose one of the pre-set amounts along the right-hand side of the page.  You could donate once a month through the end of April, or give a one-time gift.  You can see that we’ve already raised $497 with only three donors!  This is a chance to participate in this publishing event!

Also, please spread the news to all your social network!  And ask them to also forward it to all of their social network.  Post it on Facebook — which you have an automatic opportunity to do when you donate.  When you make a donation, then you can tell your friends that you’ve already contributed, and invite them to join you!  Which is exactly what I am doing: I have already contributed, and I invite you to join us!

You’re also invited to the Launch Party for Seven Viking Days on 10.24.15!

Thank you so much,

.      Lee Cuesta .

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Empty Nest Alert: Imminent

The significance of what I’m sharing in this post is that our empty nest is imminent.  Last month started with Championships.  November 1st was the 2014 NWAPA Marching Band Championships in Hillsboro, Oregon, at which my wife and I were enthusiastic spectators.  Our youngest son is a senior in high school this year, and he performed with the school’s Marching Ensemble, which was his fifth year in a row.  At the Championships, his school’s marching band won first place in their Class A division, and was the only Class A band to advance to finals!  We watched both of their performances that day, and if you’d like to see it, too, then click on this link to YouTube:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QHNUv7nuwL8&list=UU0RIgF-ALDvMkdyi2yKePvg

Of course, we are very proud of him, and proud of his dedication and his completing five years with the Marching Ensemble.  Among many other qualities, these five years have built into his character tenacity, which means steadfastness, persistence and determination.  My earlier observations on this blog about his school’s marching band were in December, 2010.  Here’s a link:

http://leecuesta.com/category/festival-of-bands-2010/

During this year’s championships, I made a couple more, final observations.  First, the band, together with the color guard, make use of distraction in order to set up the surprise flourish.  It’s just like how an illusionist often performs his magic trick. “Misdirection is a form of deception in which the attention of an audience is focused on one thing in order to distract its attention from another.” (1)  In other words, while we (as spectators) are focused on the band as they perform one maneuver on the field, we’re not paying attention to the color guard as they position themselves at another spot.  So when they suddenly wave their huge, colorful banners, it happens as a surprise.  “Managing the audience’s attention is the aim of all Theater, it is the foremost requirement of Theatrical Magic. Whether the Magic is of a ‘pocket trick’ variety, or, a large stage production in Las Vegas, misdirection is the central secret of all Magic.” (1)

Second, in a marching band, each person’s movement is completely unique, yet precise and perfect, which makes the whole perfect.  In other words, each individual’s precision makes the band as a whole, as well as the whole performance, perfect.  (Of course, true perfection is never achieved, but that is the ideal.)

This year’s show title was “My Muse.”  Accordingly, there were several stationary banners on the field containing words such as Nature, Love, Art, Hope, Dance.  As with almost all of his school’s award-winning shows, it included some pre-recorded narration.  The voices of a young woman and a young man alternately stated:  “My muse is power;” “My muse is love;” “My muse is speed;” “My muse is beauty;” “My muse is music.”  At the show’s finale, the woman’s voice concludes: “Whatever your muse is, grab onto it and never let it go.”

And this inspiration leads directly into our next major activity in November:  by the end of the following week, my son and I were on an Amtrak train en route to Campus Preview Day at Oregon Institute of Technology in Klamath Falls.  As I mentioned, my son is a high school senior, and he’s already accepted at OIT.  Did I mention that we’re proud of him?  (Just as we are of all our children.)  So as I stated earlier, this signifies that our empty nest is imminent.

A couple of the themes for my Lee Cuesta Live website are “Adventure” and “Discovery.”  This trip included both.  It was entirely by way of public transportation (almost).  It began on Portland’s transit system; then Amtrak; and finally a taxi to the motel in K Falls.  My son and I agreed that we like Amtrak because there is no TSA; we can walk around while traveling; there are food and rest rooms readily accessible (rather than having to make stops).  On the trip back, we ate lunch in the dining car.  I remembered why I like traveling by train.

As I read, sometimes he transcribed music on his notebook computer.  It was a great father/son trip for male bonding – three days, two nights together.

A text I sent to my wife:  Beautiful sunset north of Eugene!  Passing through gorgeous agricultural lands. So refreshing!

The sky was clear on the way down.  After crossing the mountains, we could see a nearly full moon rising on our side of the train, the left side, which meant we were heading due south.  We were perfectly on schedule until south of Chemult, where the train was delayed nearly one hour.  But the clock read 11:11 when we entered our motel room, which was a confirmation again of God’s blessing. (Any spontaneous 11:11 denotes God’s abundant provision and care, however you choose to define God.)

The next morning, we awoke, ate breakfast at the motel, and walked the short distance to OIT for Preview Day.  The presenters were very articulate in all the sessions we attended (sometimes with parents and students together, other times separate).  The sunshine was beautiful all day, and it’s a very pretty campus, relatively small, with nice facilities.  OIT boasts small class sizes (perhaps 14 or 15 students), with a strong emphasis on learning how to do, not just theory.  It also offers concurrent degrees – the opportunity to obtain two Bachelors degrees within five years, including internships – which my son plans to achieve.  My son said he likes Klamath Falls because it reminds him of Colorado Springs, where he was born and where we lived until he was eleven.  When the Preview Day was over, he was “stoked,” and said that now he can’t wait for fall term 2015.

He also made an awesome friendship that day with a senior from OIT, who gave us a ride to the Amtrak station on the morning of the following day, which started out foggy.  On this return trip, we were able to see in daylight what we passed through in the dark two days earlier.

A text I sent to my wife:  Passing beside rocky canyon with a stream below in a pine forest. Now sunshine.

Some fall colors were still in the leaves.  The train passes directly beside Odell Lake at the summit of the Cascades.  Also quite close to K Falls is Crater Lake, which is the second deepest lake in North America.  And I noticed a couple differences between the east side and the west side of the Cascades.  Of course, there was bright, magnificent sunshine east of the summit; the sky became immediately overcast on the west side. All of the trees on the east side are pines; the forest on the west side consists of fir, hemlock and spruce.

After getting off the train at Union Station, we had perfectly timed connections with the transit system in Portland as we returned home.  An awesome trip!  Which signifies that our empty nest is imminent.

Live in the present, yet do not be present.

Lee Cuesta
Footnote:  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Misdirection_%28magic%29

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Looking For Canute

When you click on this link, you will find the illustration and text that are the first appearance of Canute, a Viking boy, in a new children’s picture book being published next year by Lee Cuesta Enterprises and Associates:    Page 5 (Text © Copyright 2015 by Lee Cuesta; Illustration © Copyright 2015 by Mia Hocking; Dan Klimke/DK77.com; Photography.)

It’s a book for parents and grandparents who love to cozy up with their child and read through a book that you both will love due to the luscious illustrations and the captivating stories.

As a writer and a grandparent myself, I wanted to produce a children’s book to help them learn the names of the days, along with their correct sequence.  Then a good friend and colleague at the time mentioned that the names of our days have Norse origins … and it clicked in my mind!  I composed the text, and teamed up with Mia Hocking, whose unique artwork brings authenticity to the ancient Scandinavian mythology.

Now the book is done, copyrighted, and its official publication date is October 24, 2015.

That is:

10.24.15

Precisely twelve months from now.  One author and book publicist says we should begin the marketing plan one year before publication:  “For best results, start your plan a full year before your publication.”  So we are right on schedule:  the countdown begins to 10.24.15 !!

Mia and I agreed to not show Canute’s face in any of the illustrations.  Now, because the face of Canute, the Viking boy, never appears in our new book, we want you to show us what it is.  We are “Looking For Canute.”  It’s a contest that will culminate at the book’s launch party on Saturday, 10.24.15.  I’ll give you more details about the Launch Party as the publication date approaches.  In the meantime, each month I will post another illustration from the book showing Canute … maybe along with other samples of Mia’s tantalizing illustrations.

As you look at these views of Canute, how do you imagine his face?  We want you to send us either photos or drawings, whichever you prefer.  Send your entries to sevenvikingdays@gmail.com.  Lee Cuesta Enterprises and Associates will award one prize in all three categories:

1.  Photos

2.  Drawing (by ages 14 and younger)

3.  Drawing (by ages 15 and older)

No purchase necessary.  Void where prohibited.  Family members of either Lee Cuesta or Mia Hocking are not eligible.

The title of our new book is not – I repeat, is not – “Looking For Canute.”  I will reveal the book’s title in a future post.

As you may know, I had one book published previously, a novel based on the religious persecution in Chiapas, and the autonomy movement in the American Southwest.  I learned from that experience that a book needs to be publicized, reviewed and endorsed before its publication date, not after.  The publicist I cited above also stated:  “Once a book has been published, it is difficult to start a publicity campaign.”  So that’s why we are starting our marketing plan right now.

First of all, we are setting up the new website for the book.  The domain name is already registered, but I will announce it in a future post.  It will include our “Looking For Canute” contest, the 10.24.15 Launch Party details, and the Media Kit, among other important items.

In addition, we will conduct a fundraiser at razoo.com immediately.  This is very significant in order to raise the funds we need for the book’s printing and publishing set-up cost; advance readers copies (ARC’s), or galleys, for book reviews; the Launch Party, including venue, refreshments, T-shirts, officially published books ready to sell, and three prizes for the “Looking For Canute” winners.  Also, we need to produce a short video for the fundraiser, which may include reading through the book, like LeVar Burton or Mister Rogers, with sound effects.  So the video will be initially at razoo.com, and eventually at YouTube.  In next month’s post, Mia and I will give you all the details about the book’s fundraiser.  Please join with us!!

Then comes social networking:  Facebook; Twitter; my websites; Mia’s website; the new website; press releases; mom’s groups; grandparents’ groups; Nordic affinity groups; librarians’ groups; Baby Boomer tabloids; etc., etc.  We will market and distribute the book worldwide, focusing especially on the USA, Canada, the UK and India.

After the fundraiser come the endorsements and book reviews.  And finally the Launch Party on Saturday, 10.24.15.  Hope to see you there!!

Lee Cuesta

Footnote:

Jacqueline Deval is the author and book publicist that I cited above.

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Perfect Late Summer Day on Scappoose Bay

Before I saw her, I heard her rustling in the tall grass on the bank above me.  I looked up, and then I saw her.  Her rump, back, neck, head, with ears standing tall and alert: a doe.  She stopped when she spotted me.  I raised my pocket-size video camera, on a lanyard around my neck, and recorded a glimpse of her.  I was in a kayak, several yards below her, on Scappoose Creek.

My kayak was a bright yellow Necky Rip 12.  It includes a rudder, or a “Built in drop down skeg,” (from its official specs at the Necky website), which is not used for steering, but to keep it on a straight course.  I found this to be a very nice feature.  Wikipedia includes a paragraph about the use of the skeg in kayaks; however, this paragraph states:  “Typically, these are retractable, and they are not a rudder.”  So now you know: a skeg is not a rudder after all.  To view this kayak up close, click on this link –

http://www.neckykayaks.com/Kayaks/Recreation/Rip_12/

We pulled into the Scappoose Bay Marina just before 9:30 in the morning.  Scappoose Bay Kayaking is situated below the main parking lot, where all the pick-ups with empty boat trailers are parked.  It’s located in Warren, Oregon, just off of Highway 30.  I had made a reservation online, and so our kayaks were already waiting for us at the dock.  The “boat handler” who was assisting us supplied a laminated aerial photo as a map, and he recommended that we paddle east, and then into Scappoose Creek, since it was our first time on the bay.

My companion wanted to try the Hobie Mirage Revolution 13, also known as “Rev 13” by the guys at the kayak shop.  It is essentially a sit-on-top kayak – with pedals.  Of course, it also comes with a paddle.  So the Hobie Rev 13 equals paddle plus pedal.  Or just drift with the current, which we both enjoyed.  My companion commented that the Rev 13 feels very stable in the water, due to its MirageDrive pedal with a dual-fin suspended beneath the kayak.  Hobie’s website describes the MirageDrive with Glide Technology as “sheer efficiency.”  It states:  “With the largest human muscle group now in play, kayaking becomes easier and more efficient than ever. …The Click and Go mounting system allows you to quickly remove the MirageDrive for cleaning or storage,” or to switch to another style of fin.  To see more about this kayak, follow this link –

http://www.hobiecat.com/mirage/mirage-revolution-13/

The entire staff at Scappoose Bay Paddling Center provides excellent, professional customer service.  A boat handler personally assisted each of us, my companion and me.  On the dock, they helped us get into our kayaks, and then, somehow, they were right there, waiting for us, when we returned, to help us get out again.  Before we paddled away from the marina, they instructed my companion on how to handle the Hobie Rev 13, because this was the first time that she’d used one.

Glistening mud (or silt) on the banks greeted us as we paddled away from the marina, around the short row of houseboats, and into the main channel headed east.  We saw an abundance of herons, standing on the glistening silt, stalking their prey.  This was due to the fact that the tide was going out – the times of high and low tide were posted on a white board inside the kayak shop.  We were surprised that the Columbia River, of which Scappoose Bay is an offshoot, would be affected by the tide this far upstream.  Sometimes a heron took flight, with its huge wingspan, as we drifted by.

The water’s absolutely placid surface impressed me; although it sounds cliché, it provided a smooth, mirror-image reflection of all the details along the shore, including the blue sky with a few clouds.  There was no strong wind, only a light breeze; in fact, I could feel the breeze only when I stopped paddling because I was paddling at the same speed as the breeze.  The morning began with very warm sunshine; but during the course of our outing, it became briefly overcast, and then sunny again.

The sheer quietness also impressed me, a stillness that was interrupted by the sound and sight of fish jumping, of which we saw many.  We witnessed a huge fish jump twice with a big splash each time, once very close to me.  At one point, I imagined a fish jumping right into my kayak!

We left the main channel and paddled into the calm, unruffled Scappoose Creek.  Tiny dragonflies hitchhiked on our kayaks.  We paddled comfortably upstream, enjoying the undisturbed tranquility.  I realized that at this spot on the earth, there was absolutely no other person – just my companion and myself.  I adore this kind of solitude (which is one of the main reasons I find kayaking hugely appealing).  I wish it could last longer than a brief, morning paddle.  That is a goal that I have:  to be able to extend this kind of experience.

Soon we reached a place where the creek divides, apparently split by an island.  This was our midway point, the spot at which we needed to head back.  It’s the time to briefly rest and restore energy with a nutritious snack:  apple slices, cheddar cheese, sausage, carrots, water, pumpkin seeds – shelled and seasoned.  As we rested without paddling, we began to drift backward with the current.  So I turned my kayak around to face the direction that I was floating.  As I continued drifting, my kayak was being steered by the slow current:  a combination of the tide going out and the creek’s current.  For the moment, I didn’t need to paddle.  So I continued to snack while I was drifting.

That’s when I encountered the doe.  I heard rustling in the tall grass.  I looked up, and then I saw her.  I said to my companion, not too loudly so I wouldn’t scare the doe, “Can you see the deer?”  But there was no response.  I lifted my camera to shoot a short video.  By this time, I had drifted a ways downstream, and I was close to the bank.

I wanted to turn my kayak around to see why my “buddy” hadn’t responded.  I pushed away from the bank with my paddle, and it was grabbed by the thick, soggy silt.  But I jerked it free.  With my kayak turned to face upstream, I could see that my companion was quite far back; no wonder she hadn’t heard my voice.

I waited for my buddy to catch up to me, and then we continued together.  Reaching the mouth of the creek, we tried paddling into another tributary.  I went ahead to test the depth, but it appeared too shallow, especially for the Hobie with its “propellers” beneath the hull, and it was becoming shallower by the minute.  So we turned around – while the 13.5-foot Hobie could still be turned – and headed back into the bay.  It would be a very different experience with a higher tide, and much more of the area inundated.

At this point, I felt my left leg begin to ache, and I wondered why.  It almost never happens when we’re kayaking.  And then I realized that we had remained in our kayaks for the entire length of the outing.  We usually beach our kayaks at the midway point and take a break, getting out of the kayak to stretch our legs.  But this time, we weren’t able to do that.  That is also why this was the driest paddle of my experience so far.  By not beaching the kayak and getting out, even my feet stayed dry!

During our return trip, my companion commented:  “I can just imagine doing this,” implying that she loved the Rev 13, and that if we lived closer to water, she could imagine just dropping the kayak into the water, and going for a paddle, whenever she wanted.  It combines the benefits of bicycling with the pleasure and peacefulness of being on the water.  I said that next time, I will rent a Rev 13, too.

It was an excellent, late-summer day, along with superb customer service and equipment provided by the Scappoose Bay Paddling Center.  This is a complete paddling center offering rentals, lessons, tours, sales and accessories.  The shop is clean, bright, modern, and well-stocked with kayaks from Hobie, Necky and Eddyline.  Here’s the link to visit their website –

http://www.scappoosebaykayaking.com/kayaking

Or you can call toll-free:  1.877.2PADDLE.

Before our outing, the young woman helping us mentioned that we might see some turtles along the way.  There are photos of local turtles and eagles under the glass on the counter.  When we returned, I commented that we saw neither, although I did see the deer.  A young man was standing nearby—I think it was Bru—and he asked if we saw the Scappoose Moose.  I fell for it, with an uncharacteristic display of gullibility.  Then he clarified: “Some people call them cows.”  Then the young woman (I think her name is Heather) gave us a card entitling us to one hour free rental after renting four times.  A little bit later, I overheard her talking on the phone about reserving an activity for around twenty students; Scappoose Bay Kayaking also partners with Next Adventure.

A very important sidenote: while driving home, we noticed Fultano’s Pizza—same as the one in Cannon Beach—along Highway 30 near Scappoose; we will stop there next time we come kayaking here.

Soon you may be able to see video footage of this trip, including the Hobie Rev 13 in action, at my YouTube channel, Lee Cuesta Live.  Here’s the link to my channel –

https://www.youtube.com/user/leecuestalive

And I encourage you to read my intermittent posts about my kayak adventures, which began with “Lives Not Governed By The Monotonous Routine.”  (Here is the link:  http://leecuestalive.com/?p=110 .)

Lee Cuesta

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Walk in their shoes

I realize now that unwittingly I’ve been conducting an in-depth, long-term experiment over the past ten years.  You see, I have a second job, in addition to my writing, speaking, blogging, kayaking, grandchildren, reading, cooking and advocating for Asian elephants.  I am currently employed by the largest home-improvement retailer in the world, which means I might spend eight hours a day walking continuously on solid concrete.  My feet take abuse.  In fact, when I get off the concrete, and walk on true, uneven earth, it feels like a foot massage.

Fortunately, I wear top-quality basketball shoes – high-top for ankle support – from Nike, along with top-quality insoles from Dr. Scholl’s.  Yet even so, my two feet suffer.  What about our big-brain, mammal companions who – in captivity – might spend their lives with their four, bare feet on solid concrete?  I can relate to them in a small way.  When I release my feet from their shoes, and elevate them in my recliner, I feel an ache, not quite painful, as sensation returns to them, as if they had been numbed by the pounding.  At the same time, I feel occasional, intense stings in my toes.  When I remove my socks, I notice a large callus of hard skin on the inside of my left foot, between my heel and the arch.  My right foot has a much smaller callus in the corresponding spot.  The nail is cracked on the big toe of my left foot, and it’s taking a long time to grow out.  When I walk barefoot across linoleum, I can feel that the pads on the underside of my toes are toughened.

By comparison with what captive elephants experience, this is very mild.  Dr. G.A. Bradshaw reports that “Pet, the elephant at the Oregon Zoo, was euthanized at fifty-one.  Her feet were so damaged that she was forced to wear sandals and used her trunk as a crutch.  Having lived decades on concrete surfaces, she developed severe degenerative joint disease in all four legs.” (1)  Once again, the Oregon Zoo is implicated, this time in Dr. Bradshaw’s seminal book, Elephants on the Edge.  In this blog I have previously documented conditions at the Oregon Zoo (see my post for June 2014, two months ago).

An overview entitled “Oregon Zoo Health Status” from the HelpElephants.com website states:  “Each of the 6 Oregon Zoo elephants suffers from foot disease (cracked nails, abscesses, lesions, ulcers, fissures, fractured toes). (The number does not include Hugo, who also had suffered from chronic nail infections prior to his death.) The problems require frequent to almost daily intervention from keepers to flush infected areas and debride (cut away) necrotic (dead) tissue. Even the youngest elephants suffer from foot problems. Chendra, an orphan from Malaysia, developed foot problems within 2 months of coming to the Oregon Zoo.(2)

The Help Elephants report continues verbatim:

Pet (born ~1955, wild; died 8/2/06 at Portland Zoo)
This wild-caught female died at age 51 from foot disease (osteomyelitis) and arthritis. She suffered for years from severe foot disease – recurrent lesions,, abscesses, ulcers, defects, cracked and undermined nails, etc. that required almost daily intervention from keepers. Her records contain voluminous notes about cleaning out infections, lesions and pockets in her feet and constant debridement of lesions– cutting away of dead, necrotic tissue. There are numerous references in the records to pain that Pet is in after what vets term “atraumatic foot trims.” They note that she remains in “prolonged lateral recumbency after foot trimmings. At one point (Dec. 21, 2002) vets note that a lesion covering 20 percent of Pet’s caudal sole would not be debrided as “it would leave no protective layer for Pet to stand on. On 24 Dec 02, the records indicate that the 10 cm defect on this foot has left the fatty tissue under the skin exposed. Pet’s feet are so damaged that she is frequently made to wear sandals.

Chendrawasi (Chendra) – (born ~1993 wild)
This 13 year old female was orphaned and hand-reared in Malaysia. She is on loan from the Malaysian government.

Chendra’s records show a strong case for how quickly elephants’ feet become damaged once in captivity as there are records included of her foot condition prior to coming from Malaysia. Within just two months she begins to have chronic foot problems. stereotypcial Also, she was radiographed with no defects upon coming to the zoo and within a year has problems with fractured toes probably as a result of overgrown nails. …Her pacing is special concern given the hard flooring she is now on for the first time. Main immediate concern is foot ulceration due to excessive wear. Vets. Recommend extra bedding in her stalls to ease the transition for her feet from “forest and river ground to the hard flooring of captivity.”

On April 19, 2003 vets note a “classical nail abscess” which is “pretty alarming in an animal this young and small.”

“Rose-Tu (Rose or Rosey) – (born 8/31/94 at Portland Zoo)
Although she is a young elephant, Rose has foot problems, cracked and overgrown nails, sole fissures and bone fractures in the P2 and P3 digits of her back feet. Records attribute to “possible substrate problem” or “repetitive stress injury.

“Sung-Surin (Shine) – (born 12/26/82 at Portland Zoo)
This female was born at the Oregon Zoo. She has chronic foot problems. The records start in 1996, when she is just 13.5 years old. AT that time she has an infected nail lesion on her right front foot that is chronic through end of records (2005). This nail lesion/abscess has frequent “blowouts.” By July 04 the lesion has extended to the space between nails 4 and 5. She also has fractured and abnormal toes.

Foot problems are mentioned in nearly every entry in her records 1996-2005. Several mentions of “copious bleeding” after debriding foot ulcer. In Nov. 1999, a power sander was used to “rough up” the bottom of her sole. Foot condition steadily declines over this period. In Feb. 2004, a change in the angulation of her right limb is noted and vets believe it is beginning of degenerative joint disease (DJD). Also note that it appears that she is dragging her foot when she walks.” (2)

But the Oregon Zoo is not alone.  Dr. Bradshaw also states:  “Foot ailments are among the most common and debilitating symptoms of elephants in zoos and circuses.  In contrast to the almost continual movement of free-ranging elephants on grass and soil substrates, some elephants in captivity spend twenty hours a day on unyielding concrete and asphalt, with very little room and exercise.  A thirty-plus-year study by the Amboseli Elephant Research Project (AERP), based on more than thirty-four thousand sightings of wild elephant groups containing up to 550 individuals, found no chronic foot or weight problems in the Amboseli elephant population.  In contrast, a survey derived from public records by the animal protection organization In Defense of Animals (IDA) showed that in forty-six AZA accredited zoos, holding 135 elephants, 62 percent of the elephants have severe foot disease and 42 percent have joint disorders.  Toni, a wild-caught Asian elephant at the National Zoo, was euthanized at the premature age of thirty-nine.  Her feet, like those of most other zoo elephants, were cracked, infected, and had nail abscesses…  Mel Richardson, [the veterinarian] who observed Toni shortly before her death, noted:

‘…the concrete; the packed unyielding abrasive substrate inside and outside; the lack of exercise and normal use of the elephant’s feet and limbs—climbing, digging, walking, wading into streams, kicking logs, and foraging …. [Elephants] evolved to travel miles each day on uneven natural substrate using their feet to find and apprehend food.  To keep them healthy we must provide that opportunity as well.’” (3)

Similar conditions exist among captive elephants in Thailand, Nepal and India.  In my blog post next month, I hope to go international by sharing comments from Carol Buckley, who not only oversees the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, but also heads Elephant Aid International, which conducts foot-trimming missions, such as a recent one to Bardia, Nepal.  In addition, I hope to share a report based on information from the Indian newspaper, Deccan Herald, which involves Compassion Unlimited Plus Action (CUPA) in Bangalore.

My ten years of eight-hour days on solid concrete have left their mark on my feet.  But the condition of my feet seems like nothing when compared with that of my big-brain, mammal companions who, as Dr. Bradshaw observed, might spend twenty hours a day on unyielding concrete and asphalt – with bare feet.

Footnotes:

1.  Bradshaw, Elephants on the Edge, pp.105-6.

2.  http://www.helpelephants.com/oregon_zoo_health_status.html

3.  Bradshaw, Elephants on the Edge, pp.104-5.

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