August is the month when subscriptions to West Dartmoor U3A are due. So there was an even greater bustle in the air than usual, as members paid their annual fee of £15.00 and filled in the forms now necessary to cover the recent data protection legislation.
Having told everyone about proposed new interest groups to add to the existing list of activities, the chairman introduced David Lemon, the speaker for the day, whose talk was the main attraction. A year ago, David enthralled his audience with an account of a walk he did the length of the Zambezi.
His topic this time was the African elephant. Based, as it was, on his own observations, he soon had his audience in the palm of his hand, again. David said he had been brought up in Central Africa and from an early age his parents had encouraged him to venture out alone – as long as he was wearing a hat! Thus was his interest in and love of elephants born.
He described how he would find an elephant family and sit, watch and listen. He said that they are in constant communication and he realised that they are a matriarchal society, each herd governed by the oldest and biggest female who, he claimed, also had ancestral knowledge of where, for example, to find water. The gestation period for elephants is twenty-two months. Although the calves are able to be up and on the move within an hour of birth they have an extended “childhood”. Male elephants stay with the herd until they are about twelve years of age. Then they are banished to live with the bulls. When the herd becomes too unwieldy, a break-away group will be formed but a close relationship with the original group is maintained.
David explained how to tell the gender of elephants when the male genitalia is hidden deep within the body, what to do when confronted with an angry bull, and how to tell when the animal is not bluffing. His knowledge, anecdotes and photographs (of baby elephants in particular) combined to bring their current plight very much to mind.
David is involved with fund-raising for conservation. He said that fifty-five African elephants daily are going at the moment. He also said that he can understand the desire to own ivory, which glows from within. However he fears that a ban breeds a black market.
He supports the Lilayi Elephant Orphanage, but worries that there are no adult elephants to discipline and guide the young ones. Sadly, he is not optimistic about the future but it is to be hoped that with advocates like him, his pessimism will prove to be unfounded.
West Dartmoor U3A Meetings
WDU3A meets at 10am on the third Thursday of each month. Prospective new members are always welcome to come along to a meeting for a taster to find out what we do.