Few people have been lucky enough to have an up-close-and-personal experience with an elephant, but for those who have, it is a life-changing experience. Despite their massive size (weighing up to seven tons, according to the International Fund for Animal Welfare – IFAW), elephants are one of the most emotionally sensitive, intelligent, gentle animals on the planet. They have sophisticated family structures, are loyal and can experience emotions like joy, love and even grief for a lost loved one, which is the message behind Slash and Myles Kennedy’s new song Beneath the Savage Sun. A song about the emotional devastation of an elephant who lost a loved one to poachers, something world’s remaining elephants are experiencing on an all-to regular basis.
We talked to Slash and Myles about how they got involved with elephant preservation, the inspiration behind their new song and what they hope to achieve through this work.
What experience or information inspired you to advocate for elephants?
Slash: I’ve been an animal buff for as long as I can remember, so I’ve always been aware of what elephants and many other species are going through. But we went to Africa not too long ago and being in that environment, for me personally, showed a really stark reality about how horrible the situation is. There’s this juxtaposition between how beautiful the elephants are and the whole environment and, just seeing them in their natural space versus this other violent, inhumane, cruel kind of network. And it really opens your eyes in that moment about it. It’s really horrible when you look at it from an elephant’s emotional point of view because you start to understand how intelligent and emotionally sensitive they are, and how the families work. And you start to really imagine how anybody in that kind of situation, how a human being would feel.
How did you end up writing the song Beneath the Savage Sun?
Myles: When a song musically is being put together there are these working titles, and the working title for this one was Elephantosaurus and I remember hearing it and it sounding sort of like an elephant moving. And for me, when we did that African trip, I met someone there who educated my wife and I about what was going on with both elephants and rhinos, and it really stuck with me and it was really heavy. So that was the genesis of it for me lyrically. The story is basically about an elephant who loses a family member or a child and how that affects the elephant and the internal dialogue.
Slash: Yeah, and I’ve known IFAW for a long time, and it’s not just elephants, they do all sorts of different things for tigers and rhinos and so when we had the song, the idea of doing a video for that, I called them because I knew that they would be perfect to collaborate with. So now there’s a way to donate to IFAW because the proceeds from every download go to them.
This song really seems to focus on poachers, is the ivory trade the biggest threat to elephants?
Slash: For the biggest land mammal on the planet, they have a hell of a lot of enemies. And none of them are natural enemies. You have these sports hunters. But the biggest thing that threatens elephants are poachers. And obviously it’s easier for them to bag an elephant and get the cash for it because there’s a lot of demand for the ivory. People don’t understand when they buy an ivory trinket, I don’t know if they think it grows on a tree, but an elephant is killed for that and that’s what we want to stop.
Slash: This has been going on for years and years and years but now we’re facing elephants’ extinction within 20 years. And these are things people don’t necessarily know about. But the more this information is forced down their throat, the more people are forced to face their own consciences. And I have a lot of faith in humanity and if everybody knew that every little piece of ivory was the result of a dead elephant, the more they’d stop. We’re the second biggest ivory consumer in the world. So if Americans stop, it’s going to have such a significant impact.
For instance, in the music industry, a good piano is going to be made with ivory keys and that’s something that’s not necessary to affect the sound. And I don’t think that people when they buy a piano automatically think of elephants. I won’t have ivory on my guitars or anything like that.
What do you think about Barnem and Bailey Circus’s announcement that they are going to do away with elephants in their shows?
Slash: The circus thing is such an old tradition and it’s great to see it going away. And you know why? Because of awareness. People finally coming together and going, “you know, that is not fair.” Same thing with animal cruelty in movies. It comes from years and years of plugging away at these inhumane things we’ve been doing so casually, because we’re too fucking ignorant to know better.
What about zoos?
Slash: I’m one of the people who is on the side of the anti-zoo people and I’m also a board member of the LA zoo and the reason that is: Because zoos at this point have become safe havens for all these endangered species and there’s a whole conservation effort that’s going on behind it. If things don’t change, the only way you’re going to be able to see an elephant is in the zoo. And they have breeding programs. So I support good zoos. Most of the big zoos globally have really conscientious, hands on, intelligent zoo staff who are very aware of the important things you need to sustain any of these species, not just elephants. So it’s a lot better place then before when I was a little kid and you just found animals in rooms with bars. I remember being a little kid and being at the London Zoo and seeing just cement floors with bars in the front and a big cat, pacing. We have an elephant at the LA Zoo who was an orphan, who, if they didn’t find a home for him, was going to get killed in Thailand. So we took him in and excavated a third of the zoo to build an enclosure for him. And then we had all these activists coming after us and it was a big city battle. What they wanted to do was put him in a sanctuary, which is safe, but for a young bull elephant, it didn’t seem like the way to go. It’s a really cool spot and we managed to get a couple of females. And, you know, on behalf of zoos, I was glad that worked out and the zoo was there.