Traffic and Tusk

Elephants Moving Through Grass. Photo: Nick Brandt.
Friday, November 2, 2012. Colder yesterday, mainly overcast. The buses were working, and the subways – from 34th Street north on the West Side and from 42nd Street north on the East. There were far fewer cars because the city only allowed cars, including taxis, with three or more passengers, across the bridges into Manhattan. That meant New Jersey, Connecticut, out-of-town and outer boros. The result was miraculous, compared to the day before. Traffic was lighter than usual for a Thursday.

I went down to Michaels and Fifth Avenue was moving very quickly. There were also a lot of people on the streets. That is not remarkable for a weekday in New York, except that is not what it’s been like in the past four days. South of 34th Street in Manhattan and elsewhere around the city and across the bridges, many people are still without power.  Yesterday was the first day Michael’s was open this week. Many staff members were unable to get to work. The restaurant was busy although not its usual packed room.

The Explorers Club.
In some ways the city is back to normal. Walking up Lexington Avenue on my way home last night, I could see the restaurants in the 70s and 80s were crowded and the atmosphere was cozy. Yet, south of 34th Street it was dark and bleak.

Most everything this week that I would cover was cancelled because of the storm. However, there was an event slated for last night, a “Friends of Tusk USA Dinner” at the TriBeCa Rooftop that didn’t get cancelled – although they moved the location up to the Explorers Club on East 70th between Park and Madison Avenues.

History. The club house was built in 1912 by Stephen Corning Clark, grandson of the man who built the Dakota. The Clark fortune began with Stephen Clark’s grandfather who was also the business partner of Isaac Singer who invented the Singer Sewing Machine. Stephen Clark inherited and still owned the Dakota at the time he built the house at number 46. His youngest son Robert was killed in the Second World War. And it was Robert’s mother who  created the annual Park Avenue Tree Lighting in memory of her son and those who died in the War. 

The family had owned the house for fifty years when they sold it to a stock market investor known as Edward (Eddie) Gilbert who later was involved in a stock market scandal and never made the final payments on the house. In 1964 the family sold the house to the Explorers Club. A member told me last night that Lowell Thomas, the famous radio news broadcaster who was a founder of the club, paid off its mortgage.

For those who are curious to know such matters: the club house  is in beautiful condition, its rich paneling and double-height windows of leaded glass are still in perfect condition.
I didn’t know about Tusk until Wendy Breck, one of the board members of TUSK USA, invited me to the event about Saving the Elephants (my term, not theirs). Tusk was founded in 1990 in the UK in the midst of a devastating poaching crisis in Africa of the rhino and elephant populations.  At the center of the matter were two issues: poverty from unemployment and greed with its human folderol about the value of elephant tusks. Elephants back then were being slaughtered at the rate of 100,000 a year.

Tusk was able to bring that rate down decisively. Now two decades later, the crisis is even greater because of the demand in Asia and moreso in China where carved pieces of ivory bring fantastic prices and are valued by some people as second only to gold. The market has become so lucrative that now the poachers (murderers) herd the mammals, with grenades and kill them with AK47s., chop off their tusks and leave the carcasses behind.
Elephant Mother & Two Babies. Photo: Nick Brandt.
Tusk approaches its work with a larger view of the issues at hand in Africa. Besides protecting wildlife Tusk supports sustainable development for communities and schools with an environmental  curriculum for schools here in the USA. They have developed a USA branch because there are so many here who have traveled to Africa and want to be involved. Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge is their patron and has been totally committed to their programs including a trip to see some of the Tusk projects.

Wendy Breck introduced me to Bryan Christie, a journalist who has been following this story for the past few years. Last month National Geographic ran Christie’s article on his discoveries about the ivory trade. Christians and Buddhists play a big part in it. So too, do Muslims who participate in the kill for the loot to sell to the aforementioned.
Elephant with Tattered Ears. Photo: Nick Brandt.
I’ve been vaguely aware of this outrage for a long time although like so many other matters of ecology and survival I had no idea how one could do anything about it. I told Mr. Christie when I met him that I was so angered by it all that it was hard to process emotionally. He told me this was most people’s response.

At the center of this massacre are the Chinese who are very actively investing in Africa for all of its rich resources. Add to this the irony that the Chinese interest in Africa has had a positive effect on the local economies. They are therefore attractive business partners/associates/employers. In China, members of the government are said to be personally investing in factories where they can turn out these “valuable” ivory pieces and sculptures to open up the market. And make more money. (With which to buy American and Australian real estate?)
Elephant With Exploding Dust. Photo: Nick Brandt.
The Tusk members that I met are united in helping the African people out of the business of murdering their heritage for some “religious” and/or greedy individuals who actually believe that a piece of a murdered elephant will bring them good luck and God’s Love.

You see? I told you; it becomes an emotional issue. If you have the same reaction or something similar, you can learn more about Tusk and participate in their work which has an even larger interest in spreading the Greater Good for the people of Africa and its precious wildlife by visiting: www.tuskusa.com.
Elephant Drinking. Photo: Nick Brandt.

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