Some time ago we received an e-mail from Nicole Pursley in Texas, where she writes: "Hi, my daughter and I watched the documentary "An Apology for Elephants", and learned about the bull hook used on these animals. We went to Scarborough fair in Waxahachie, Texas, today and saw these poor elephants giving rides. Thankfully because of the movie my daughter saw the bull hook and refused to ride because she did not want to support the abuse. I asked the man with the hook why it was needed and of course he denied the actual reasoning for it. He then processed to poke the elephant in its side saying "see, it doesn't hurt them". My six year old just started crying - it was just heartbreaking! With your cause being so successful, can you point me in the right direction to bring awareness to these elephants?"
The story touched me very much, and I immediately wrote back to Nicole thanking her for the kind words, giving her some advise in regard to who she could get in contact with locally, and asking her if we might publish her and her daughters story on ElephantVoices. Nicole and her daughter Ella had experienced the infamous Trunks & Humps - a circus company out of Texas - which represents another sad story about the treatment of elephants.
Ella and Parker working together for elephants
Nicole responded: "My daughter was so excited this morning when I read your email to her. We would absolutely love for you to post her story on ElephantVoices!! Ella (my daughter) wants to take a picture with her elephant collection, after school today. I will also send you a few other pictures of the elephants yesterday and let you pick which ones you believe can help them the most. Thanks so much again. Ella has been wanting to help for a while now and I just did not know where to begin. After what we saw yesterday I knew I just needed to start somewhere. I will send you the email later this afternoon!"
And when the photos came, Ella's mother wrote: "Ella picked her newest stuffed elephant Parker to join in her picture. She told me as soon as people hear what they are doing to these elephants, they will help her fight back to save them. She tells anyone that will listen about the ivory trade and how many elephants are killed each year because of it. We constantly look at your website and Facebook page to read updates about the elephants - good or bad. With you helping her get this story out it will encourage and inspire her to keep spreading the word!"
Every step toward better treatment of elephants is a victory
This story is about is a little girl deciding to do something when she sees something that she doesn't feel is right. The suffering of many elephants in captivity is enormous. Ella can help by telling others about the brutal disciplining and the tools used to keep these big, intelligent animals in line. She can help in many other ways also - some mentioned on the page What YOU can do here on ElephantVoices.
We see it as a victory every time a compassionate individual, young or old, writes to us feeling inspired to put efforts into trying to improve the situation for elephants. There are so many passionate voices out there - but many more are needed! And the voices of children are often the most powerful.
Awareness and public pressure are pushing those responsible for keeping elephants in captivity in the right direction. Some accept that they just cannot provide acceptable conditions and allow their elephants to move to a better home as long as that is an option.
Thank you Ella and Nicole for contacting us - continue to spread the word! I can see that Ella's friend Parker and his companions are having a good life - but there are so many elephants in captivity who don't! And certainly many without companions...
In June, faciliated by the Humane Society International, I was invited by the Chinese Association of Zoological Gardens (CAZG) to attend a two day meeting of 47 Chinese Zoo Directors in Shenzhen, China. My invitation followed the bad press that China received in relation to the importation of baby elephants from Zimbabwe late last year. At least one of these babies died and another became seriously ill. Zimbabwe had earlier given assurances that it would stop the capture of baby elephants for captivity and the news of the shipment and deaths and rumour that more babies were awaiting capture and export, prompted an international outcry.
The CAGZ was eager not to be caught up in such exposure again and I was asked to give a 90 minute presentation on the topic of "The Importance of Animal Behavior in Import Decisions". The trip to China offered an excellent opportunity to also speak about another topic involving elephants and China and Petter and I decided that I should extend my stay to include Hong Kong and Beijing to talk about elephants, poaching and the ivory trade.
Celia Ho, the "Elephant Girl" arrived soon afterwards and we had a really nice meeting just the two of us, in which she presented me with an origami elephants with the words “Every Tusk Costs a Life, Don’t Buy Ivory” written on it.
The following morning, 16 June, Iris Ho and I took the train to the border and crossed into mainland China and on to the Zoo Director’s meeting in Shenzhen. I spoke to the Directors on 18 June, using the occasion to introduce the audience to elephant society and behavior, why the capture and importation of baby elephants is a very bad idea and why elephants don’t do well in captivity. You'll find my summary slide here. I also asked the Zoo Directors to educate their visitors not to buy ivory - but it is fair to say that they didn't particularly like the Every Tusk Costs a Life campaign artwork I showed them. I was forgiven, one of them said, for not knowing that the artwork spelled China in Mandarin...
On 19th I flew from Shenzhen in southern China to Beijing, where I spent the last four days of my China trip, primarily in the care of IFAW and, most particularly, Qi Zhang, or “Sabrina”. She came to meet me at my hotel that evening and took me on my only real touristic experience, which was a delicious meal at a classic Chinese restaurant, a visit to Tianamen Square and a drive through a hutong by bicycle rickshaw.
On the morning 20th I was met at my hotel by Chunmei Hu, a young Chinese student who has just graduated from Veterinary School and hopes to work in an animal rescue center. I had "met" Chunmei via email earlier in the year when the news of the death of the Zimbabwean baby elephant broke in China and made waves around the world. Chunmei and I have been corresponding since then about the plight of elephants in Chinese Zoos, and she wanted me to speak at a symposium of Zoo Watch China. She took me out to lunch prior to the gathering where I met some of her animal welfare colleagues including Prof. Ping Mang from the Academy of Chinese Culture.
Professor Mang coordinated the symposium which included several presentations on the state of elephants in Chinese Zoos as well as some of the legal problems related to the law - or lack thereof - for animal protection. The photographs and videos that were shown were completely heartbreaking. It may be a good thing that I didn’t see them before I gave my talk to the Zoo Directors. I had been given clear instructions not to mention any Chinese elephant welfare examples, to avoid embarrassing the Directors, but I don’t think I would have been able to keep silent had I seen the images first. The symposium was well attended by journalists and I gave a couple of interviews after the Symposium including with China Daily, also covered in it's US version and the Global Times.
The schedule of 21 June began at 10:00 a.m. with a meeting with the Head of the Department of Wild Animal Protection and the Head and Deputy Head of the Division of Wild Animal Conservation and Management to discuss the ivory trade. It took quite a bit of effort to achieve the meeting and I had been forewarned that this Ministry, which is home to both the CITES Managament Authority and the CAZG, is known for being very conservative on issues related to animal welfare and ivory trade. When I broached the topic of China’s involvement in the illegal ivory trade they responded with a list of arguments that can only be read as denial.
For example, I was told that since 1900 colonials killed 8 million of Africa’s elephants; that some 800 tons of ivory is being traded on the Internet by the United States and other countries masquerading as pre-ban ivory; China has very good law enforcement/regulations and, therefore, it is not China that is at fault, but her neighboring countries; rumors of the hoarding of ivory and rumors of high prices are killing the elephant, not China (i.e. it is rumor-mongering that is leading to escalated poaching not facts); and when I asked how they were going to meet CITES recommendation to reduce demand, I was told that China has good education to restrict people to purchasing just legal stock.
The meeting was useful in that I learned that to change the status quo we cannot rely on bureaucrats associated with China's CITES Management Authority. I was reminded again that CITES is an international body mandated to regulate trade in wildlife products; it is not a wildlife conservation body. These individuals are too pro trade to be able to admit that their Ministry is failing to control the ivory trade, nor to be able to see that that failure is ruining China’s reputation in the eyes of the world.
In the meantime, on the same day, far away in the Philippines, the crushing of a five-ton ivory stockpile was underway. This event was covered by the New York Times, which made mention of my trip.
On my last day in Beijing, 22 June, I gave a final lecture which was held in the Auditorium of the National Academy of Sciences. The event was organized by IFAW and their team coordinated by Sabrina did a fantastic job. Imagine my surprise when we pulled up to the Academy of Sciences and there, attached securely to the side of the building, was the most enormous banner announcing the lecture with pictures of elephants and me:-).
As I was speaking to the interpreter in a side room, the air suddenly began to vibrate with the sound of “Ele-Beats”. Sabrina had found it on our website and downloaded it for people to listen to as they registered. There was no need to check the sound system – the woofers were certainly fit for low frequency elephant rumbles! When I walked into the 300-seat auditorium I had my next surprise. The screen was enormous – stretching the entire width of the room and Sabrina and the IFAW team had put together a slide show of elephants and the history of Joyce. I was astonished!
As “Ele-Beats” played on and on (and on!), the auditorium gradually filled up with parents and small children, primary school and secondary school students, teachers, scientists, professors, members of the press and Li Bingbing’s assistant, Eline, whom I had been looking forward to meeting. And then it was time to speak to this vibrant crowd.
Grace Gabriel had organized a panel discussion afterwards and time for Q&A. So when I had finished speaking Grace, Jie Yu of the Nature Conservancy (who co-sponsored the talk with IFAW) and CCTV Host, Yue Zhang, (introduced to me as "China’s Oprah Winfrey" as I was to soon understood why!), joined me on stage. Yue Zhang spoke passionately about elephants and other animals and did a fantastic job of leading the questions and keeping the discussion lively. That hour-long Q&A was my next China surprise. I was blown-away by the caliber of questions from the audience – from both young and old, layman and professional. I have given many talks, but this was the most intelligent and compassionate audience I have ever had the pleasure to engage with.
So what did I learn and ElephantVoices achieve? And what can YOU do? I went to China not knowing what to expect. I, admittedly, went in despair over the elephant poaching horror and China's key role in it confirmed by facts and figures of ivory shipments from well reputed sources. The sad situation simply cannot be denied, even though many government officials are trying to do so. I am more convinced than ever before that ALL trade must be banned, to send the clear signals so much needed.
It is obviously impossible to know if my lectures, meetings and the many headlines that have followed have made any impression on those in power. However, having met so many outward and forward looking, curious people who care deeply about the world they inhabit, I have come away with more optimism.
We all know that the effort to educate people about the connection between the purchase of ivory and the killing of elephants needs to be widespread and massive. And we urgently need the Chinese government to be loud and clear in communicating that it is shameful and embarrassing for China to be seen by the global community as responsible for the buying of body parts that, accumulated, leaves tens of thousands of elephants dead in Africa every year. As a colossal investor in Africa, China has a lot to lose if the death and destruction continues. We can only dare to hope that those behind China's new "soft power" approach will take the lead in turning the fate of elephants around. We will all lose part of our pride, and our soul, if the killing of elephants doesn't stop.
You can be part of the tsunami needed to create change - to save elephants. You may not be able to inspire more diplomatic approaches, but you can write on Facebook, get a friend to post on Weibo, contact your politician, talk to a journalist - and participate in upcoming marches and other arrangements focusing on the ivory trade and what urgently should be done. In any way you can, try to ensure that the message is shared in a medium that can reach someone in China. Please include information that people should know about in that regard in the comment field below this blog post. Your suggestions and thoughts are welcome!
I'd like to send a warm Thank You to all my new friends in Hong Kong and mainland China - the hospitality and kind and efficient efforts by so many made a huge difference to my busy program. A special thank you to Jacqueline and William Furniss for hosting me in Hong Kong, and to the Humane Society International and International Fund for Animal Welfare for inspiration and support.
The powerful, thought-provoking HBO-documentary An Apology To Elephants debuts on Earth Day on HBO & HBO GO' in the US, Monday 22 April, 7:00-7:45 ET/PT. The film explores the beauty and intelligence of elephants, and tells the troubling story of their exploitation in captivity.
An Apology to Elephants is a call for compassion and better treatment, and a plea to save what's left of the wild in our world.
ElephantVoices' Joyce Poole are among those presenting what elephants are about, and why they don't thrive in captivity.
You can watch the trailer for An Apology to Elephants at the bottom at this page, read the synopsis here and set a reminder by clicking on the screenshot to the right. You should know that all these pages may take quite a few seconds to load.
ElephantVoices is launching a campaign against the ivory trade, which is causing the slaughter of tens of thousands of elephants every year. Elephant expert and Co-Founder of ElephantVoices, Dr. Joyce Poole, observes, "It is with a sense of déjà vu and deep sorrow, though little surprise, that following the torpedoing of the 1989 ban by the 'one-off' sales of ivory stockpiles, we find ourselves living through, and battling against, another elephant massacre." Two weeks before the delegates to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) meet in Bangkok, Thailand, to discuss the fate of elephants once more, ElephantVoices reminds the world that each new tusk on the market means more death, trauma and destruction.
"We are asking people to help us reach out to potential buyers of ivory who don't realize that elephants are dying in record-high numbers for trinkets and decorations. The only way to stop this wanton slaughter of elephants is to choke demand for ivory and stop the trade," states Joyce Poole.
ElephantVoices is basing its campaign on two powerful pieces of graphic art by New York artist, Asher Jay. The artworks, with the slogans, EVERY TUSK COSTS A LIFE; DON'T BUY IVORY and EVERY TUSK COSTS A LIFE; STOP THE TRADE, target potential buyers and decision-makers, and are also specifically directed toward a Chinese audience. "ElephantVoices is doing something unique by making the graphic art available online in several versions, so they can be shared on social networks and be used for T-shirts, bumper-stickers, posters and banners", says Executive Director, Petter Granli.
"We urge people to share these messages far and wide, making them go viral. The poaching is endangering elephants, jeopardizing biodiversity, and threatening tourism, people's livelihoods and stability in elephant range states. The writing is on the wall for elephants and we must act now", says Joyce Poole.
Yellow Stars Shed Light
There are too many people buying ivory in too many countries. The current demand for elephant tusks is unsustainable and is swiftly mining Africa's elephants. The largest demand is in China and, hence, the Chinese government and her people have a special responsibility for taking a lead to end the decimation of elephants. China was permitted to buy a restricted amount of ivory from stockpiles, a decision by the international community that has caused immense harm to elephants. Ninety percent of the ivory available in China is from slaughtered elephants, illegally sourced, traded and sold. Chinese buyers deserve to know that tens of thousands of elephants are being killed to supply them with ivory. Every tusk costs a life.
China has the ability to raise public awareness and to enforce their strict laws to quickly strangle the trading, buying and poaching. China can stop her countrymen causing the destruction of Africa's heritage and biodiversity, while concurrently protecting her enormous investments on the African continent. We urge China to take action now to end any trade in ivory - we cannot afford to lose Africa's keystone species. 中国 Zhōngguó means China. Star power is needed to save Africa's elephants from extermination.
An elephant's 'ivory' tusks are enervated teeth composed of dentine that grow throughout life, adding two centimeters each year. They are not shed like antlers, they do not drop out and they just cannot be removed from living elephants. To obtain them you must hack them out with an axe. The tusks of male elephants are much larger than those of females. Poachers target elephants with the largest tusks, killing the mature, breeding males first. When they are dead and gone, poachers set their sights on younger males.
Elephant societies today resemble human communities after a prolonged war - most of the elephant patriarchs, the big tuskers, are gone. There are no role models for the elephant sons. As the number of adult males available to kill declines, poachers turn to the older females - the leaders of elephant society. They kill the family elders first, taking out the matriarchs, one by one. As the price of ivory increases with rising demand, the poachers slaughter the elephant mothers and daughters, causing the disintegration of entire families. An elephant's child, like a human child, cannot survive without the loving care of its mother. Africa's elephant orphans are succumbing in droves to starvation, grief and death. Ivory traders and buyers are wrecking havoc on Africa's elephant families. The world has a moral obligation to protect elephant societies, surely a crucial test of human values.
ElephantVoices was founded in 2002, and works globally for the interest of elephants. Its mission is to inspire wonder in the intelligence, complexity and voices of elephants, and to secure a kinder future for them through conservation, research and the sharing of knowledge. Co-Founder Dr. Joyce Poole is a world-renown elephant expert, and has studied them and worked for their conservation and welfare since 1975.
The National Geographic documentary War Elephants is due to air in most countries in Europe and Africa on Sunday 3rd June 2012, on National Geographic Wild. The US premiere was on 22 April. A Nat Geo Live! premiere screening took place in Washington DC on 14 March 2012, also announced on National Geographics Explorers Journal. The documentary led to several other media activities, such as an interview on Animal House and a live conversation on National Geographic Facebook page on 13 March, embedded at the bottom of this page. You can see a clip from the film through this link - with Joyce "Talking To The Elephants".
A few days after the screening on 14th March the documentary won a prestigous award in Sun Valley Film Festival - ONE IN A MILLION. This award honors feature length stories made for under a million dollars. War Elephants furthermore received merits for cinematography and wildlife behavior at the International Wildlife Film Festival in Montana. On 20th April Bob Poole talked about War Elephants on ABC Nightline. You may want to visit The Independent's Traveller's Guide: Mozambique, to read more about this fascinating country.
About War Elephants on National Geographic's website: "In Mozambique’s Gorongosa National Park, elephants are in crisis: Years of civil war and ivory poaching have left them frightened and hostile toward humans. In a new National Geographic Television film, the world’s foremost elephant researcher Dr. Joyce Poole, in a documentary by her brother, cameraman Bob Poole, works to build trust and retrain the animals away from their violent behavior."
Below you will find when War Elephants will be shown in different countries. The following countries are included under "Nat Geo Wild HD Eur Intl Feed", air time 3 June at 15.00: Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Faroe Islands, Finland, Greece, Georgia, Greenland, Hungary, Iceland, Israel, Italy, Kazakhstan, Kosavo, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lichtenstein, Lithuania, Macedonia, Malta, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sub-Saharan Africa (Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Republic of the Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cote d'Ivoire, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, South Africa, South Sudan, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe), Sweden, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan