The Pachyderm Project: Entry One
Every day for the past two weeks, I’ve hung out with elephants.
Okay, maybe “hanging out” is an overstatement. Usually, the elephants were munching hay; I was snapping photos and plotzing. But for ten consecutive weekdays, I’ve spent between 30 minutes and four hours watching elephants.
I’ll keep up that routine for nearly the entire summer thanks to my work with the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo.
I’m working on the Zoo’s elephant behavioral research projects from May 23 through August 19 as a summer research volunteer. One of the projects involves observing the elephants in person, during the day; the other involves observing the elephants at night, through video footage. I’m also helping launch an awareness initiative around the Zoo’s conservation efforts, Future for Wildlife, and the programs entailed therein.
The whole time, I’ll be writing blog posts about my experience — both by choice and by requirement. To afford to participate in an unpaid program this summer, I applied for and earned one of Columbia University’s Work Exemption Program grants. My WEP grant covers the “summer contribution” — approximately $3,000 — which I would otherwise have to pay as part of my financial aid package. In exchange, I have to complete a reflection project: writing blog posts about my experience as the summer passes.
Luckily for me, I had an elephant-themed blog at the ready. So here we are: halfway through my shoddy first entry, explaining the work I’ll write about for the next 11 weeks.
Because of my lifelong passion for elephants, this opportunity fulfills one of my dreams. I will spend nearly 60 days not just watching elephants, but also helping them. My research will help assess the elephants’ wellness at the Zoo and find ways to improve their environment. My conservation work will raise awareness of elephants’ plights in the wild, in addition to those of other wildlife species.
In brief: if I do my job well, elephants at the Zoo and in the wild will benefit. Yes, I will also learn new research skills — by which I mean all research skills, since I know none. However, the biggest reward of this experience has little to do with my personal betterment. On August 19, I aim to feel that I have made a positive impact for elephants at the Zoo and wild elephants in Africa.
That’s a lofty goal, and one that I likely won’t be able to ensure when the time comes. But at the very least, I will gain tools to keep helping elephants in the future. Although I know little about my career path, I will always advocate for elephants. I’ve written it before and I’ll write it again: we cannot allow the extinction of such a beautiful, important species. We must show we are better than that. We must try to match elephants’ humanity.
I’ll get to spend my summer living out that principle. If you’re interested, I hope you’ll come along for the ride.