Monthly Archives: January 2014



A Guest Blog by Barbara Garrett

In the Summer of 2013, I followed my bliss  to South Africa where I  worked at the Knysna Elephant Park. Kynsna is a tourist attraction on the Garden Route in the Western Cape. _47503517_south_africa_knysna226I volunteered for AERU, the African Elephant Research Unit. AERU has been onsite at the Park since 2009, and is studying the behavior and welfare of elephants in a captive environment. (More information about the research HERE) Apart from starting my life over again and being born Cynthia Moss or Joyce Pool or Dame Daphne Sheldrick, this was the closest I was ever going to get to doing the thing I’ve always wanted to do: study elephants.

The first few days at the park are still a blur. On top of mind-numbing jet lag, having traveled some 30 total hours, it reminded me of boot camp (even though I’ve never been to boot camp, this had to be it), and there was an overwhelming amount of information to absorb in very short order about not only the extensive daily operations and rules required to run the Park, but also about the elephants themselves.


It was hard, physically challenging work at times - mucking stalls, dragging branches, hauling heaping wheelbarrows full of soiled sawdust up the famed “dung mountain,” over and over and over again. As a 52 year-old lifelong desk job worker, manual labor is fairly foreign to me.Fortunately I am in good physical condition so while the work was hard, I hung in there with the rest of the mostly 20-something year-old volunteers. It was actually quite energizing to start the day off with some old fashioned hard work!


The work in the field was not so much physically challenging, although we did sometimes have to walk long distances as we followed the elephants around their 60-hectare (about 150 acres) enclosure, as it was mentally challenging. Recording the behavior of seven indistinguishable (initially) elephants, or calculating the distance between a single elephant in relation to all of the others at 5-minute intervals seemed at first like the hardest thing I’ve ever had to learn. Elephants are unique and they all have individual physical characteristics and distinct personalities, and we had to know who was who out in the field - massive Sally, the patient and formidable one-tusked matriarch; Nandi, the second-in-command and largest female and her daughter, Thandi, with the Dumbo-like ears that billowed up like a sail anytime the wind hit them the right way, which always made her look like she was about to charge!; tiny nugget Thato, with the funny little tail, itsy, bitsy tusks and frilly, girly ears; sweet, independent Keisha, ears tattered and torn, battle wounds she earned in translocation as a scared, lonely, and starving days-old calf; Mashudu and Shungu, the adolescent boys, always play-fighting but each gentle and sweet in their own ways; and the teenaged bulls, Clyde and Shaka. (Read the backgrounds of these elephants HERE)

There is a whole bunch of work that has to be done every day and as a volunteer I could be (and was) assigned to any number of tasks on any given day. Each day started before dawn and ended after dusk and included several hours of collecting data in the field. But there was also Bana grass (or “elephant grass”) to be planted or cut and hauled into the boma (the elephant’s enclosure); fruit to be chopped; food buckets to be cleaned, sterilized and filled; tree branches (or “browse”) dragged in every night for the elephants to feed on throughout the night; and every night there was a round of research to be done up in the boma loft after the elephants were put to bed. The quiet evenings in the boma were very special (even the late, late shift – an hour in the middle of the night) - there is absolutely nothing quite like the sound of elephants snoring, farting, and rumbling to each other that will endear them to you for the rest of your life.

But when I wasn’t working, I got to do the thing I went there to do the most: I went out into the field to just be with the elephants. Following them up and down and around in the field, watching them as they foraged, interacted with the public and each other, wallowing in mud holes and playing was endlessly entertaining and interesting. And if I was lucky and they stood in one place long enough, I got to touch them, feed them fruit, and caress them – patting them gently on the side or stroking the soft, tender skin behind their ears, kiss them on the trunk, look them in the eyes, and whisper to them how much they were loved by me and so many others like me.


As an elephant advocate in the U.S., I admit that I had moral and ethical conflicts about going to work at a facility where elephants are kept in captivity and are subjected to a constant barrage of tourists, day in and day out. And since I returned and shared my experience with others, I have received some hate mail for daring to call myself an advocate whilst supporting an elephant tourist attraction. I am against circus elephants and elephants in captivity in general – but like anything else, there are gray areas. Some zoos are better than others, by far; the same goes with circuses. Whereas I used to be completely anti-zoo and anti-circus and anti-captivity about every, living creature, I decided I needed to conserve my energy and choose my particular battle because all of the world’s animals are never going to be 100% free. So today, for the most part, I no longer advocate against elephants in captivity or in circuses. It’s not that I don’t care. I just choose to focus my attention on elephants being poached, something that is much worse by far  than keeping an elephant in captivity in a place such as Knysna.

My final analysis is that the elephants at the Knysna Elephant Park, many of whom came from truly horrible situations, are deeply loved, have the best possible care, and, most importantly, are safe from harm. The people who work at Knysna are committed and dedicated to their elephants. Most of the guides have worked there for years, having traveled great distances from their homes and families to live and work there. I became friends with the guides, the other volunteers, and the AERU staff. Everything about the place was transparent and all of my questions were answered.  Are the elephants captive? Yes. Do the guides carry bullhooks? Yes. Are the elephants used for tourist rides? Yes.  Nonetheless, at no point did I ever feel like this was a horrible environment in which elephants should be kept. I did not see any stereotypic behaviors. I did not see anyone abuse the elephants with bullhooks. There are tourist rides but only first thing in the morning when the elephants leave the boma and get taken out to the field. If I can anthropomorphize, the elephants there are content, and God knows they are better off than the environments from which they came.

While this experience is not for everyone – just getting there isn’t for the faint of heart – it was the single most exciting and interesting thing I’ve ever done, an experience that affected me on every level. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about “my babies” and my time there.  I will definitely go back, and when I do, I fully expect my special elephants – Mashudu, Thato, and Keisha – to remember me.

Barbara Garrett, January, 2014

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Help Save Elephants

Do you own ivory? Or know someone who does?

Robbie Marsland, the UK director of the IFAW, said:

“Many people have unwanted ivory trinkets and by donating them for destruction, they can be sure this ivory will not end up on the market again or have a commercial value.”

February 12-13, governments from around the world are gathering in London to discuss how to end illegal wildlife trade. The IFAW is urging people in the UK to hand in unwanted ivory ahead of the summit.  The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) has already collected some 50kg of ivory, donated in response to this appeal, to be crushed in central London next month. 

“At this key time when all eyes will be on London, the IFAW’s ivory surrender and crush will also help focus attention on the cruel ivory trade. Legal ivory trade often provides a smokescreen for more illegal killing of elephants and by donating unwanted ivory people will be making a positive contribution to elephant protection.”

Check out this LETTER HERE and consider copying/pasting/personalizing your own to send to your family and friends.



Please send a note like this to the IFAW headquarters ([email protected]) and US Fish and Game (click HERE for the online contact form)

To Whom it May Concern:

IFAW in London is asking for anyone to turn in their ivory to be crushed this February ( Is there any movement like this in the U.S.? How can we help get one started?
Thank you,
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The End of the First Month

It’s hard to believe we’re already coming to the end of January. A lot has happened for elephants this year.


On January 6, 2013, China destroyed 6 tons of ivory. This was the first time China — which according to CNN reports, accounts for 70% of global demand for ivory — had destroyed any of its confiscated ivory. Jianguo He, who has worked against the ivory trade for 12 years with the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), said witnessing the event was bittersweet:

“When you see six tonnes of ivory, you can’t help but think ‘how many elephants was that? What did those elephants die for? Ivory is not a necessity, it is simply a luxury item that people don’t need. Every ivory product means an elephant was killed. That means a loss of life and a loss of biodiversity. This is not art any more. People are exploiting nature for all it can give.”*

The sad truth is, this amount that was destroyed represents only a fraction of the amount housed in China. Some estimate*  there is closer to 45 tons of ivory stored in China!  Although this was a great first step, advocates pushed for China to do more. And on January 23, Hong Kong announced the plan to destroy 28 tons of ivory  in three batches beginning July 2014. That represents the tusks of about 11,000 elephants. The country plans to keep 1 ton of ivory for “educational and scientific purposes.”

China, which accounts for 70% of the illegal ivory trade, still has a long way to go. But we are pleased to see how 2014 is starting out - and are hopeful that maybe this year will be the year of the elephant!

A shipment of more than 700 ivory tusks worth over $1 million was seized by customs officials in Hong Kong in early January 2013. PHOTOGRAPH BY BOBBY YIP, REUTERS

A shipment of more than 700 ivory tusks worth over $1 million was seized by customs officials in Hong Kong in early January 2013.


The fight for elephants began in November of 2012 when then Secretary of State raised awareness about the elephant crisis and the need to stop the slaughter of Africa’s elephants. President Obama gave an executive order in July 2013 earmarking $10 million for training and technical assistance in Africa to combat wildlife trafficking. He also created the White House Task Force on Wildlife Trafficking. Then in the fall of 2013, 18 global conservation groups announced a 3-year, $80 million Clinton Global Initiative Commitment to Action to stop the killing, stop the trafficking and stop the demand for ivory. They were joined by 7 Africa heads of state calling on consumer and transit countries to ban the sale of ivory. November 2013 the US crushed 6 tons of ivory and put $45 million in new funding to combat wildlife trafficking in the fiscal year 2014 budget along with a bill that would place a moratorium on all domestic ivory sales. On January 16, NY Assembly Members met to discuss this bill to ban the ivory trade here in the US. Many of you wrote letters and received responses like this. At the hearing this month, Assemblyman Sweeney was disturbed to hear that “New York has become one of the main points of entry for the illegal ivory trade,” and for that reason he wants to see a policy change on the local level. One outcome of the hearing may eventually be a push for a statewide ban on ivory sales. WCS will be supporting such action through its newly launched 96 Elephants campaign.*

It’s taken a few years, but we are excited to see the world’s second largest consumer in ivory taking large strides to combat the illegal ivory trade. We look forward to 2014 with hope that our leaders will vote YES to ban the sale of ivory. If you haven’t already, please send a note to your local government officials. CLICK HERE for a template (copy/paste and email to your local government officials) or if you live in Texas, sign THIS PETITION. 


WCS Executive Vice President for Public Affairs John Calvelli joins WCS VP for Species Conservation Elizabeth Bennett, WCS President & CEO Cristian Samper and Jane Goodall at the Clinton Global Initiative’s announcement of a 3-year, $80-million Commitment to Action to protect African elephants. Photo © Julie Larsen Maher/WCS.


Great strides have been taken in Kenya to fight back against poachers seeking to destroy the wildlife heritage of the nation as well as create political & social unrest. Last fall 2013, terrorist Al Shabaab attacked a mall in Nairobi. Later it was found at least 40% of the terrorist group funding came from the illegal ivory trade on the black market. Hand Off Our Elephants campaign backed by First Lady Kenyatta began an initiative to strengthen anti-poaching laws. We are pleased to hear that in January of 2014, a bill was signed that increased fines and added possibility of life sentences in jail. And it’s already bearing fruit: earlier this week, Tang Yong Jian, a Chinese national, who was allegedly attempting to smuggle 3.2 kilograms of raw ivory out of Kenya to China, was caught. He faces a $230,000 fine OR 7 years in prison if he doesn’t pay. Prior to the new law (Wildlife Act of 2013), Tang Yong Jian would have been free to go after facing less than a $1000 fine, a punishment that provided little deterrent to smugglers because ivory fetches around $2400 per kilogram in China.

Next door to Kenya, Tanzania is loosing the most elephants per year in all of Africa. The Selous, a World Heritage Site, is now known as “Africa’s Killing Fields.”  The Mikumi-Selous ecosystems have just 13,084 elephants left (compared to 39,000 in 2009), Ruaha-Rungwa ecosystems have just 29,090 elephants left, and the Kilombero Game Controlled Area have no elephants left. Tanzania also houses the worlds largest storehouse of confiscated ivory. Currently the country is asking CITES for an allowance for a one-off legal sale. But ivory cannot fund conservation. Take a moment to CLICK HERE and contact Mr. Lazaro Nyalandu, Minister of Natural Resources and Tourism, and ask him to destroy Tanzania’s ivory. In doing so, this would send a clear and critical message to the world, much like the ivory burn in Kenya in 1989.


Shared from IFAW: Ivory Burn in 1989 Kenya


We had our first official board meeting this month! We are busy writing our vision and mission statements as we begin the process of applying for nonprofit status. Our goal is two-fold: we want to raise awareness about the ivory trade elephant crisis through educational campaign and action events here in the States, and we want to partner with a local community in Africa to protect the elephants while supporting locals who may otherwise see the elephant as merely a pest or as white gold. Plans are underway for an educational campaign aimed at elementary students here in the US and we are having discussions are with an elephant orphanage in Africa about how Elephantopia can be a part of their mission to restore whole communities (both for elephants and the local people). With all the positive movements for elephants this January 2014, we are hopeful that this year will be a peaceful and protected year for the elephant.

Photo source unknown

Photo source unknown

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Happy Weekend: At the Watering Hole

Sit back, relax and enjoy a moment of wild African elephants at a waterhole. At 1 minute 40 a hippo joins in the fun! 

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Notes from the Battlefield

Last night I had the opportunity to watch the screening of Battle for the Elephants at the Houston Zoo with film producer John Heminway, Katie Carpenter and Dr. Peter Li on panel for discussion. It was a moving event - both the film itself and the conversations that followed. Below are a few thoughts and quotes from the night.


Battle for the Elephants Poster

Battle for the Elephants Poster

The film begins with this thought: at one point in time, elephants were used to measure the seasons - they would come and go signaling the start and end of the rainy period. They had no enemy. But then, they became their own worst enemy. Their tusks began to represent perfection, purity and money. No longer were elephants simply part of life in the African bush. Now they are worth their weight in gold: white gold. 

It all started a few hundred years ago. In the 1800s there were about 26 million elephants in Africa. Throughout the coming century however, ivory demand grew in places like the United States and Africa’s elephants dropped to 10 million by 1913. And by 1979, there were only 1.3 million elephants left on the continent. Today? There are an estimated 400,000 elephants left. Africa’s elephants, they symbol of a nation’s wealth and heritage, will be extinct in the near future if nothing is done to stop the illegal ivory trade.

The trade itself is fueled mainly by China - as the middle class continues to grow in wealth, they look back to their history and find a connection with their past through the cultural traditions of ivory carving. The problem? What once was a trade done by a few skilled artisans who hand-carved tusks (often taking 2 years to complete one piece of art) is now being done in factories housing hundreds of “carvers” who use electronic tools to carve into the ivory.

The documentary asks the question: is this craft or this species more valuable? Because both cannot survive. 

In the film, a good portion of time is spent in China examining the demand for ivory and linking it to both cultural and religious practices (one Buddhist is interviewed saying he believes the elephants are happy dying, knowing that their tusks are used for the Buddha). At the same time, the film examines Africa, the source of the ivory. Tanzania, home of the Selous, a world heritage site for wildlife and elephants, is now known as “Africa’s Killing Fields” by many conservationists as the country has lost over 66% of their elephants to poaching in last few years alone. The country is one of the poorest in Africa, and the elephant represents a way to change your lifestyle. Even the government officials seem to be corrupted by the white gold. The most horrific scene in the film is at the storehouses of ivory in Tanzania (the largest storehouse in the world valued over 50 million dollars) and seeing what is described as a genocide memorial: the end of the elephant. Tusks confiscated 20 years ago compared to those confiscated today show the impact poaching has had - it was once common to have tusks larger than the human body. Now, most of the tusks are easily held in one hand - baby tusks.

The video ends with this statement: we shouldn’t give up hope, but it is a race against time.

Battle for the Elephants Photograph

Battle for the Elephants Photograph


John Heminway has produced many documentaries - but he feels this film is different, stating that he has “never created a film that has had such an afterlife like this…” It has been shown at the CITES convention in Bangkok last year, in Nairobi this film encouraged First Lady Kenyatta to launch the HANDS OFF OUR ELEPHANTS campaign, it has been viewed by the US Senate with the senator from Delaware championing the cause, it has been shown at a congressional hearing at the US state department with copies sent to consulates around the world…Why has this film been different from other documentaries? Because the subject matter surprises people. Heminway states,

“most people didn’t know the story of supply and demand. The poaching fiasco is tally destabilizing the continent. Nations are being undone. Terrorists are funded from this activity.” Heminway concluded stating,  ”if you lose the elephant in Africa, you lose the heart of Africa.

Many questions about ivory in Africa were presented - and one new fact I learned was from Dr. Peter Li who said that “Ivory is being sold in China as an investment.” Not only is ivory a status symbol rich with cultural tradition, it is now a currency of investment! Dr. Li challenges China that if the country seeks to be the next world leader, then it must make the right decisions regarding the illegal ivory trade. He concluded his thoughts with this statement (which generated much applause):

“I consider the ivory trade as a criminal act - do we need to try to placate the demand? We all understood that slavery could not be tolerated. Did we try to improve it so we could still keep slavery? Or did we just end it? It [the ivory trade] must not be allowed to continue, it is totally immoral.”

All speakers agreed the best way forward is two fold: behavioral change and legal change in both Asia and Africa.

For China, behavioral change to decrease demand for ivory (by making it an embarrassment to own ivory through awareness campaigns) AND government action to tell the people of China to stop buying ivory. Being an authoritative government, a decree issued from them would definitely change the consumer’s purchases. Culture may be hard to change, but according to Dr. Li,

“culture is not stagnant. It is always changing. Think about the Chinese cultural tradition that women should have small feet, so they bound their feet. It was considered an art form. In the past. But not anymore. It was ended.”

Likewise with the ivory trade, it must be considered an art form of the past. But not anymore.

For Africa, behavioral change to address human-elephant conflict over land and food as well as rewarding those who protect elephants. Katie Carpenter noted that Tanzania looses more elephants every day than any other African nation. Why? Because many rangers are promised great pay for their work to protect the wildlife, yet are never actually paid. The corruption and the lack of incentive is the perfect recipe for elephant slaughters. Which leads to the legal side, getting governments to fight the international gang dealers who are running the illegal ivory trade in their countries. On Jan 10, Kenya’s wildlife law went into effect. Now if you are found in possession of ivory, you face the possibility of a half million dollar fine AND life imprisonment. This law needs to be enforced and other countries in Africa need to follow.

Overal, the picture is grim for the Africa elephant. John Heminway believes we will see pockets of extinction occur within the next few years. Last year, Burundi just lost their last elephant. The forest elephants are next on they live in a highly unstable political area of Africa where there is minimal protection. The forest elephant’s tusks are also a harder ivory, which is more valued by the Chinese. But as the world hears of these pockets of extinction, it can only be hoped that behaviors and governments will begin changing. Hope is not lost as people like YOU and ME get involved, tell the story, and create change. I leave you with this thought from J.R.R. Tolkien:

“There is some good in this world, and it’s worth fighting for.”

Photo source unknown

Photo source unknown


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Where Do We Go From Here…

In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Where do we go from here: Chaos or Community?”

The illegal ivory trade not only slaughters Elephants, but it also encourages terrorism, destroys African families, and motivates greed. We are striving for a future where elephants and humans live in community. This begins with education. Please help spread the word about elephants to your family and friends by sharing this blog. This blog and our Facebook page keeps you up to date on the elephant crisis in Africa and provides opportunities for you to take action (i.e.: writing letters to your government officials, organizing events to raise awareness in your area, helping communities in Africa through development projects and elephant orphan care…) And it all starts with education & awareness raising. Let’s create a community of people who love elephants. From there, we tackle the chaos the ivory trade brings to communities in Africa. Together, I believe we CAN make a difference.

African elephants in front of Kilimanjaro

(Photograph: Juniors Bildarchiv/Alamy)

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Happy Weekend - Funny Baby Elephant

This video taken in the Masai Mara in 2009 will get your weekend started with a smile!

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NY Assembly Response

Last week we asked you to send THIS LETTER to the NY Assembly (meeting Jan 16 to discuss the ivory trade). Your letters and comments make a difference. I hope this response we received back from our letter will encourage you as you continue to send emails, facebook messages, attend public hearings and the like as ele-advocates. What you do DOES make a difference. Thank you.

Thank you for your e-mail dated January 15, 2014, concerning the sale of ivory in New York State. As an elected official I have received a large number of letters and e-mails regarding this matter. I agree that immediate action is needed in order to rectify the situation.

The public hearing on January 19, in Manhattan, will be an opportunity for the New York State Assembly Standing Committee on Environmental Conservation to hear the concerns voiced by the public. It is only through open discussion that we can accomplish real change. As recently as this past September, the Wildlife Conservation Society started its 96 Elephants campaign, for the purpose of making and changing laws, bolstering species protection, and furthering public education about the link between ivory consumption and the elephant poaching crisis. If you have not already, I encourage you to visit to find more information about what can be done.

As a supporter of animal rights, I believe wholeheartedly that every animal should be provided with an equal opportunity to survive and thrive. Despite the continued efforts of activists and legislators, the ivory trade continues to be a prevailing threat to the survival of many species, not just elephants. While there is much being done to protect these precious creatures, a lot more work is necessary to truly undo the damage.

Again, thank you for expressing your concerns about the harm of elephants through the sale of ivory and providing insight into ways in which we can solve this problem. The only way to ban the sale of ivory permanently is to gain widespread support. If I can be of any further assistance, please contact my district office at 718 442 9932.


Matthew J. Titone

Member of Assembly

853 Forest Avenue

Staten Island, NY 10310

(718) 442 9932 office

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According to AP (African Parks - “a business approach to conservation”), 50 years ago Chad was teeming with 50,000 elephants; today the number is down to 1,200. Inside Zakouma National Park, once hailed by National Geographic as a “refuge for elephants,” poaching between 2005 and 2010 reduced the elephant herds in Zakoyma from 4,000 to just 450. In late 2010, the park implemented a new plan to protect its most threatened inhabitants from poachers, deploying year-round patrols including aerial support and fitting elephants with satellite collars to track their location. Park rangers were also provided with horses and weaponry, and a rapid response team was formed that can immediately react to any poaching threats. The payoff?According to the AP CEO Peter Fearnhead, NOT A SINGLE ELEPHANT HAS BEEN HUNTED in Zakouma in OVER TWO YEARS! And now, for the first time in five years, elephant calves are being born. There are TWENTY-ONE NEW CALVES!


We are hopeful that this is just the start of good news and a good future for Chad. President  Idriss Deby ended his speech on Tuesday night  with these words:

“you can count on my personal engagement and my willingness to make sure that the preservation of the environment will be one of the most important areas of work in the future in central Africa and particularly in Chad.”

This hope goes beyond just Chad. As the world continues to wake up to the seriousness of poaching - the inhumane animal abuse that it is, the devastation it wreaks on local communities in Africa, the funding it provides terrorist organizations - we can only hope that more countries in Africa will invest and partner with organizations like AP.

(Read more details about this by clicking HERE. We also thank The Dodo for bringing this article to our attention.)

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