Extraordinary Look Into the Plight of the Vanishing Elephant

The elephant is a creature of such power--both real and mythopoeic--that it inspires a life-affirming awe in most people. The elephant's ivory tusk can be made into kitschy but popular trinkets. And therein lies the rub that has contributed to the elephant's rapid decline.

The May National Geographic takes an extraordinary look at the plight of the elephant, and the conclusions are at once comforting and disturbing. Because of heroic efforts by environmental organizations and governments willing to ban the trafficking of ivory, the once skyrocketing price of ivory has dropped to 1970 levels, and poaching has slowed.

But as the Earth's growing human population continues to spread out over the planet, elephants are being squeezed from their habitat.

The photographs in this layout are dazzling, even by National Geographic standards, and in some cases more hard-edged than usual.

One gatefold features a seemingly impossible shot of a huge pachyderm swimming underwater. Another depicts a large herd sloshing through a lagoon. There are also gruesome shots of carnage, a portrait of a proud American family that paid to shoot a bull elephant on safari--a sad practice, but one for which less-than-great white hunters contribute as much as $25,000 a shot to wildlife preservation and local economies.

Perhaps the most disturbing photo is of government troops fighting a gun battle with poachers. In 1989 Richard Leakey took control of Kenya's wildlife service and issued shoot-to-kill orders against poachers. Since then, more than 100 poachers have been killed--"giving Kenya's elephants a fighting chance."

But one has to wonder if National Geographic's caption would be quite so cheerful, if, say, elk were endangered and 100 impoverished Montana farm boys had been gunned down by government troops while trying to scratch out a living poaching those creatures.

The main story, by Douglas H. Chadwick, is filled with intriguing information about these animals, such as the recent discovery that elephants can communicate over several miles using super low "infrasound." It is also full of disheartening observations. The loss of habitat progresses so quickly that there may soon be no elephants in the wild, Chadwick writes.

REQUIRED READING

With Madonna getting so much attention these days, it only seems fair that her pal Sandra Bernhard--who was doing peculiar self-absorbed cinema projects long before Ms. M--get a bit of limelight too. The June Movieline--Movies as a Way of Life, profiles Bernhard in her San Fernando Valley home (which has wrought iron gates designed by Pee-wee Herman).

The piece, by reporter Pamela Des Barres, ends with Bernhard asking, "Isn't this interview for that free magazine you get at movie theaters?"

"Oh my God, no, doll!" Des Barres replies. "Movieline is an elegant $2 magazine!"

"That's good, honey," Bernhard says, "because I'm an elegant $2 girl."

* The Los Angeles Times isn't the only publication focusing on childhood and child care this week. Fortune magazine's cover asks the question: "Can Your Career Hurt Your Kids?"

Recent research into the effects of how we are raising our children "may be totally ignored because it has been deemed politically incorrect," the magazine asserts. Yet, in sorting through the evidence, Fortune answers it's own question: "Yes."

Few of the experts cited in the article would go as far as the conservative researcher who believes that day care is like the drug Thalidomide, "a new threat to children that not only imperils the body but also distorts and withers the spirit." But many see problems for children who are reared by others as well as for latchkey teen-agers, who, some studies show, are much more likely to smoke, drink and use drugs than kids with a parent in the home.

Yet, given the realities of contemporary life, quality day care and flexible work schedules would seem to be the best solution to the problems of parents who can't afford to raise their own kids. So Fortune investigates companies that put a premium on the future labor force by acknowledging that its employees may also be parents.

ESOTERICA

Northwest Relocation News caters to the reported hordes of Southern Californians who are fleeing the Golden State for the greener pastures of Oregon, Washington and Idaho. The quarterly publication features profiles of communities in these states, interviews with residents and photos of cheap, mid-range and expensive homes in the areas featured. The price for four issues is $24. (P.O. Box 3702, Sunriver, OR 97707, (503) 593-2219). That seems a bit steep. But some people say the same about living in Los Angeles.

Don't slam the door on the way out.

SHREDDER FODDER

When we last heard from Guns N' Roses, the band had decided to take the spin-doctoring trend a step further than the standard publicist-power jockeying and require that journalists seeking an official audience sign a contract giving the band total control of what is written about it.

The June Spin magazine prints the contract in full, which reads in part ". . .You shall submit to us for our written approval, which we may withhold for any reason, all such material concerning us. . . . In the event we shall disapprove any such material concerning us, you shall have no right to use the same."

It is one of the more humorous items to appear in magazines in some time. Peruse the contract and keep it in mind whenever you read anything about the band.

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