Elephants need our help and Richard Chiger has dedicated his life to making sure that happens.
“If people knew what was happening to elephants in captivity they would be horrified,” he says. “It goes on in India and Thailand and in circuses in the United States.”
“My passion has always been elephants,” Richard, 73, says from his home in Monticello. “I've loved and adored these animals as long as I can remember. They've always been the most important thing in my life.”
Which included elephant toys and books and trips to the local zoo with his father as a boy. Richard grew up in Brooklyn, graduated from Samuel J. Tilden High School in 1963 and headed off to college at SUNY Farmingdale.
“I majored in agriculture, but I left after only one year because I couldn't stand what they were doing to the animals. The cruelty drove me crazy.”
He eventually graduated from Long Island University in 1968 with a BS degree in Speech and Theater and a minor in Education.
“I ended up teaching sixth grade in Brooklyn and fell in love with the kids,” he says. “As much as I love animals, I love the children as well.”
In 1973, Richard moved to Monticello and two years later landed a job teaching at the Benjamin Cosor Elementary School in Fallsburg, where he spent the next 25 years before retiring in 2002.
“I developed a curriculum based on endangered species and humane education,” he says. “It mainly concentrated on elephants and whales and once a year we took classes to Cape Cod for whale watching.”
“It was very popular with the children,” he says. “I have former students, adults now, who stop me on the street and thank me for that program and that's such a nice thing.”
After retiring, Richard and wife Jackie took trips to India and Thailand to visit pachyderms in their native environment and what he witnessed left him changed.
“In India, we saw treatment of elephants that was just outrageous,” he says. “The elephants that tourists ride have been beaten into submission. That's how they are trained and it starts when they are just babies.”
“They break the elephant's spirit,” he says. “It's a process called 'Phajaan' and it's so cruel it's unconscionable. Google it.”
To combat such treatment, Richard does volunteer education work for elephant sanctuaries in California and Tennessee and gives guest lectures entitled “The Plight of the Elephant” at local schools and libraries and for service organizations.
Recently, the Monticello Rotary adopted “Prince,” a 35-year old elephant who lives at the PAWS sanctuary in California. The cost?
“Only $200 per year,” he says. “Now Prince will have a much nicer life.”
“We need to all get together and make the elephant cruelty stop or there won't be any more elephants,” he says. “They will be extinct.”
John DeSanto is a freelance photojournalist. Find more of his 845LIFE stories, photos and videos at recordonline.com. Reach John at email@example.com