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The Elephant Controversy That (Thankfully) Never Was

IMG_2719By Quad Squad Grandpa Steven Weisenburger

Hello, Quad Squad Fans. I asked Ashley if I could write this post and since Fathers Day is right around the corner she consented.

Ashley, recently wrote the post How to Buy a Gift For Someone Who Has Everything, which apparently was about me. I didn’t know I had everything but now I do!

That post created a bit of controversy about cruelty to elephants.

If you read the post you know she talked about considering buying a piece of elephant art for me for Fathers Day. 

Some of her followers politely commented about how elephants were being a7766_7abused and treated cruelly in order to train them to paint. Someone even sent Ashley a link to a video that showed how elephants were being mistreated to teach them to paint. 

She was heartbroken and as I’m a huge fan of the elephant myself I was very upset as well.

Ashley and I discussed the matter and she decided to amend the post and remove the reference to the elephant art

Later that day as I replayed in my mind the images of the cruelty revealed in that video, I found myself getting more and more upset about it. Then I thought about the NOVICA mission statement, which is completely about Social Venturing and making a difference in the lives of 75,000 unknown artisans in the four corners of the world; It made me wonder how they could justify getting behind elephant art knowing these majestic creatures where mistreated.

It bothered me so much I decided to ask. 

So I jumped on Google and found the CEO of NOVICA was, Roberto Milk. I then fired up my gmail account and sent off an email telling Mr. Milk about some of our readers reactions to elephant art, the video that was sent to Ashley and our concerns. 

As I pushed the send button I wondered if I would even get a response back. I thought to myself, “A single email from some complaining grandpa in Utah, sent to the CEO of a $20 million dollar corporation had a pretty good chance of going in the trash bin.”

So I pushed the send button with zero expectations of ever hearing back.  Well I can’t begin to tell you how surprised and delighted I was 7 hours and 8 minutes later, to receive a response from NOVICA CEO and Co-Founder Roberto Milk.

I was even more thrilled with what I learned about the elephant artists who’s work NOVICA promotes. Below is Mr. Milk’s response in its entirety. 

Hi Steven, 
The elephants we work with are part of a conservation center supported by Richard Lair, who is a prominent figure in the conservation of elephants of Thailand.  The elephants express themselves freely and that’s why our paintings don’t have flowers or some of the other “mahout” guided realistic paintings that you see on the internet.  We don’t support those activities because the mahout forcefully guides the elephant by the ear to paint the photo-real flowers and elephant self portraits.  Ours are a bunch of free abstract lines, totally in the style of the individual elephant. We also often stock out of the paintings because they only do them when the elephants feel like doing them.  
The elephant conservation centers we work with is very needy of funds, it is very expensive to upkeep elephants, so the paintings are one way that they raise funds for their own upkeep.  Here is some info on Richard Lair pasted below. 
Best regards, 
– Roberto
Ashley and I were both elated to get the news that the elephant artists NOVICA promotes are treated with respect and care. And I thought it was hilarious that they often run out of stock because the elephants don’t “feel” like painting and no one forces them to do it.
So I want to thank you for reading this post and say how impressed I am with NOVICA and how their entire business is based around supporting so many people from all over the world. Mankind would be better served if more of Corporate America would follow in NOVICA’s footsteps.  
I’ve bookmarked this site and will certainly do as much business with them as I can when it’s gift giving time and encourage you to do likewise!
Below is the attachment included in Roberto Milks email response to me.
Richard Lair

Richard Lair was born in Lompoc, California, and emigrated to Thailand in 1980. He is a leading figure in the elephant conservation community, and has worked with a number of government and non-profit organizations. Richard Lair is the author most recently of “Gone Astray: The care and management of the Asian elephant in Domesticity” a report commissioned by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. He is an Advisor and International Relations Officer for FIO’s Thai Elephant Conservation Center in Lampang.

The AEACP would like to extend its gratitude to Richard Lair for his invaluable support, enthusiasm and advice. This project would not have been possible without him.