Profile: Dr. Eve Abe, Ethologist
The massacre of Acholi people should also be taken to an equally high body - the United Nations. The same community can act and stop the decimation of Acholi people. State sovereignty as a defining factor in international law should not be used as a defining factor and barrier that allows oppression to continue unchecked.
BSN: Tell us briefly about your background and how and why you became involved in the elephants project?
Dr. Abe: I am an Acholi from Northern Uganda. My love for wildlife began during visits to Uganda National Parks with my father, Julio Peter Abe, a teacher, sportsman and administrator who had unwavering beliefs in education, culture and humility. My mother, Irene Atokena Abe, named me Lawino because of a dream. It is a name associated with beauty and defense of culture. In addition, when pregnant with me, my mother encountered elephants thus my life was fated to join with elephants before birth and carried through to my doctoral degree from Cambridge University. In My elephants and My people, the twin fates of Acholi people and elephants of Uganda (Â© Abe, L. E., 1994. The behavioral ecology of elephant survivors in Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda. Ph.D. Thesis, University of Cambridge), I maintain that nature and nurture molded my personality.
BSN: Tell our readers briefly about your elephant project? What exactly is the project about?
Dr. Abe: The elephant project aims to restore the relationship that existed between Acholi people and elephants. By use of stories and ecological knowledge that have been passed from generation to generation and re-establishing the respect that existed between these two groups whose history and livelihoods mirror each other. During childhood, I was privileged to observe elephants at close quarters. Acholi people and elephants share common cultural customs and ethics. And no elephant violated my space. Future generation should also do the same. It is the unprecedented restoration of the trust that existed between elephants and Acholi people. Children who have never seen an elephants should be able to tag gleefully and curiously and at a safe distance!
BSN: You have spoken about the devastation that the wars in Uganda have had on the elephant population and "lifestyle.â€? Give us an indication of the adverse impact.
Dr. Abe: The essence of an elephant family is the matriarch-the oldest female with several years of experience. As female calves mature and breed, the family units of elephants are led by the oldest female called the matriarch. For long old male elephants were hunted for their tusks however in the 1970s there was lawlessness and guns were turned onto older females who carried the largest tusks. In Queen Elizabeth National Park, in Uganda, the systematic removal of old males and females lead to destruction of the social structure of elephants. The role of matriarch is of major importance in the success of a family unit. Families composed of young, less experienced cows have difficulty finding food and water during times of stress and are less successful at rearing their calves than older cows are. Elephant family units act as a defensive unit for protecting and caring for young, risk prone calves. Matrilineal families promote calf survival as females cooperate in defending and socializing with calves. Families containing a large number of immature females, have higher calf survivorship. Amongst Acholi people, with the elimination of the matriarchs, young, inexperienced girls became mothers and lack the skill to look after families.
BSN: What are some solutions you propose?
Dr. Abe: The elephant is the symbol of Africa and totem of Acholi people who believe that their existence depends on the continual survival of the majestic animal. Future generations need to learn to live with elephants. This means re-learning how the Acholi people used to live with elephants and which is congruent with Acholi culture. Human and elephant recovery are linked. One cannot occur without the other. Elephants like Acholi people need to live in peace without constant fearâ€”in order to raise families in stable communities and in expansive habitat.
BSN: What impact could the proposed solutions have?
Dr. Abe: The proposed solutions can be realized when wars are wiped out. But they can begin now. By strengthening community traditions and re-building community that is congruent with ecology, we begin to erase violence and usher stability.
BSN: What can people who care all over the world do to help?
Dr. Abe: The majestic mammal is an endangered species like its kin the Acholi people. It was only after the elephant massacres, over several decades, taken to Convention on International Trade and Endangered Species of fauna and flora that it drew attention of world community. The massacre of Acholi people should also be taken to an equally high body - the United Nations. The same community can act and stop the decimation of Acholi people. State sovereignty as a defining factor in international law should not be used as a defining factor and barrier that allows oppression to continue unchecked. Only until the future of people and elephants are secured should ivory sale resume. Support is needed for young children to learn traditional ways that respect and are congruent with the land. And do everything to prevent further violence and trauma. The effects of trauma last for generations. We must stop it now so we can focus on re-building and healing.
BSN: Any final words?
Dr. Abe: The face of Africa is portrayed as of starved children -children labored with guns, poverty and diseases. There are good stories of happy families. Perhaps a focus should be on certain good issues. As the 12th child out of 17 childrenâ€”and there are several stories like mine. Nevertheless, it is hardly a human generation since my childhood and I never suffered from diseases and walked to and from school knowing that elders protected me. Focus on the process of change and recovery. Focus on the positive progression to old traditions of Acholi people and on the beauty of elephants and other animals that are not apart but PART and definitional to Acholi wellbeing.
Dr. Abe is a renowned Ethologist And Wildlife Consultant
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