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.
Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique, is the location of ElephantVoices' latest elephant monitoring and conservation project. In 2011 ElephantVoices was invited to Gorongosa to assess the elephants and to begin a process of habituation so that encounters between elephants and visitors can be peaceful. Habituating elephants to tourist vehicles is important because without income earned from visitors, this beautiful, biodiverse habitat cannot be protected. With today's pressure on natural resources, and ivory poaching at a new peak, ensuring the survival of Gorongosa is imperative.
Understanding and respecting the signals of elephants
In 1972 Gorongosa was home to over 2000 elephants, but between 1977 and 1992 civil conflict took the lives of most of these individuals. Elephant meat was used to fed soldiers and ivory was sold for the purchase of arms and ammunition. By the time peace was restored less than 200 individuals remained. Today, thanks to intervention by the Mozambican Government and the Gorongosa Restoration Project, there are roughly 300-400 elephants in Gorongosa, and their numbers are gradually increasing. Yet, the survivors haven't forgotten their gruesome experiences and they are still, understandably, wary of people and they continue to avoid large areas of the national park.
We habituate elephants to vehicles by approaching them slowly and turning off the car engine at the first signs of fear or aggression. By doing so we show them that we understand and respect their signals, that we mean them no harm and that we are not afraid of their bravado.
Elephants are the quintessential drama queens; they revel in making a big deal about almost anything. And they display some of the most dramatic and terrifying defensive behavior. This makes for good television and some of our initial encounters with elephants in Gorongosa were filmed for National Geographic's documentary, War Elephants. It is fair to say that the editing of the film overdramatized our interactions for the TV audience. In reality we met very normal elephants behaving much as we expected them to. And the many elephants that we met on more than one occasion quickly learned that we did not represent a threat.
Gorongosa Elephants Who's Who & Whereabouts
In October 2012 we begin working with the Gorongosa elephants in earnest. We will start by learning as much as we can from other people. This is a new place and new elephants for ElephantVoices and we have a lot to learn from those who live and work in Gorongosa. Most important, we will learn from our experiences with the elephants.
We will bring with us customized versions of the same online tools developed by ElephantVoices for our Mara elephant conservation initiative Elephant Partners. With these tools we can register each elephant and collect observations in a systematic and efficient way. In collaboration with the Gorongosa Restoration Project and the National Park management we will, in time, make the Gorongosa Elephants Who's Who & Whereabouts Databases available to the public to explore, learn from and contribute to.
Each elephant in a population is an important individual and we will begin the process of identifying and registering elephants, one by one, and populating the Gorongosa Who's Who Database with photographs, physiognomic characteristics, and life history information. Along the way we must learn who is fearful, who is aggressive and spend extra time with these individuals to build their trust.
As we build up our knowledge of individuals and their families, we will work toward estimating the size and structure of the population. For example, what proportion of the population is male and female, young and old? Since this population has come through a period of extreme ivory poaching, a large portion of the population is tuskless. How many tuskless elephants are there? What are their ages and what does demographic pattern reflect about their past and mean for their future survival?
More knowledge as basis for better protection
Observations of individuals and families will be uploaded to the Gorongosa Whereabouts Database so that we can begin to understand the patterns that define this population, allowing management to better protect them. For example, we need to know who spends time with whom, where they go, when and why.
As we get to know the elephants we will also be training rangers and guides how to collect elephant data and how to approach elephants, with both the interest of people and elephants being a priority. Based on what we learn, we will be engaging with other Gorongosa research scientists and the management team to determine possible future elephant studies and conservation strategies.
Kerstin Bucher is one of the first people to name a Mara elephant and, thereby, also supporting this ElephantVoices initiative in the world renown Maasai Mara. Kerstin lives in Germany, and has visited Kenya several times. We asked her to write about the background for her compassion for elephants, and how she chose to give the name "Sian" to f0115 in the Mara Elephant Who's Who database.
Thank you, Kerstin!
Article written by Kerstin Bucher
I have been interested in elephants, especially in African elephants, since I was a little child. I remember that I owned a book about animals, and there was a black and white photograph of a huge and magnificent elephant with beautiful tusks. The caption said that elephants will be extinct within a few years because of poaching. I was so sad and I never expected to see a wild elephant in its natural habitat as an adult.
Then, in 2004, I visited my uncle in South Africa, and we spent five nights in the Kruger National Park! The first evening, watching a big group of elephants at a waterhole in front of our camp, brought tears to my eyes. I will never forget the experience of watching them and hearing them trumpeting and rumbling!
Two years later I watched a heartbreaking documentary about elephant orphans in Kenya and I wanted to help them. In December 2007 I fostered my first elephant baby, called Dida. Since then I have fostered many of her friends, too. Several visits to Kenya intensified my wish to support elephants and to learn more about these gentle, gray giants.
In the beginning of 2010 I joined Facebook. Suddenly I met many like-minded people from all over the world. It was a fantastic feeling to communicate with them because my family and many of my friends couldn't understand my feelings for elephants and my wish to try to protect them. In my first months on Facebook someone attracted my attention! Her name was Joyce Poole. I remembered her name because just a few months before I had read an autobiography by Richard Leakey, "Wildlife Wars", about his time as the Director of the Kenya Wildlife Service in Kenya. He wrote about a young American woman working together with Cynthia Moss at Amboseli National Park who studied the famous elephants there. Her name was Joyce Poole. Joyce and I became friends on Facebook and I joined her group, ElephantVoices. On Facebook I learned that elephant poaching is increasing again in all African countries, including in Kenya.
During the last year many elephants were killed in the famous Maasai Mara, too, and people began to say that if nothing is done elephants will be in danger again to a frightening extent. This was a very disturbing feeling for me, especially as a fosterparent of many elephant orphans. How could we raise orphaned elephant babies to such an uncertain future!
I love the Maasai Mara and its wonderful and peaceful elephants. In the beginning of 2011 Joyce Poole and her husband, Petter Granli, started a new project in the Maasai Mara with the goal of protecting elephants and their ecosystem by involving people in the monitoring of elephants: Elephant Partners. As part of the project they have created a Who's Who of the Mara elephants!
Anyone can join this project by contributing pictures and observations of the Mara elephants! I was very interested in this initiative, but unsure if my pictures were good enough because I am not a professional photographer. I contributed some of my pictures to Elephant Partners and these have helped to build the Who's Who (for example, see the three-tusked female f0245) and the Whereabouts. I hope I can help to protect the Mara elephants. I like this project because I feel I am doing something active for the elephants - I am not only being a passive donor.
I met the lovely female f0115 in the Mara recently and decided to name her Sian. Why Sian? Sian is a Maasai name and one of my fostered elephants was called Sian. Sian was the daughter of an Amboseli elephant cow called Soila, who disapeared one day. Her little calf, Sian, was found abandoned. Soila was probably killed by poachers when she crossed the border to Tanzania. Sian was such a beautiful, gentle elephant, but she was too small and too thin for her age. She became weaker and weaker and died last year at the age of only five. She had a pulmonal malformation, and the more she grew the less oxygen her body received! For me she was a very special elephant and she touched my heart deeply. I am still crying when I look at pictures of her!
f0115 is a very beautiful and dignified female elephant! I had the possiblity to watch and follow her over many hours and days on my last stay at the Maasai Mara. She, too, touched me deeply and I enjoyed every single minute with her and her little family. I was thinking about many possible names for her, but finally I decided to name her Sian! Somehow I hope a piece of my little Sian is living on having named f0115 after her!
Petter and I just returned from a fabulous field trip in and around the Maasai Mara. We had a wonderful time and we learned a lot, too! We had far too little time just being with elephants, but in the context of involving others in conserving the Mara elephants, that was ok. One main goal during our tour through the ecosystem was to present the unique Mara Elephants Who's Who & Whereabouts databases - developed as part of the Elephant Partners conservation initiative.
The Mara Elephants Who's Who is populated with over 750 elephants and the Whereabouts hold some 400 sightings of elephant groups; both are continuing to grow by the day. The Mapping functionality, which draws on both databases, is completely searchable and highly informative. With each additional sighting we learn something new - and we hope that you will, too.
Elephants respond rapidly to change
The Mara ecosystem represents a patchwork of different habitats, management strategies, and human interventions that create a mosaic of threats and opportunities for elephants. We are beginning to learn how elephants respond to these, and it is fascinating. Some areas are almost entirely occupied by family groups, while males prefer other areas. Although this is typical of elephants, the pattern in the Mara is, to a large extent, influenced by human activities. And these are in flux. The new conservancies are providing safe havens for elephants that didn't exist only a few years ago; migration routes have been blocked by settlement; agricultural areas are on the increase offering nutritious forage; and poaching is on the rise. The elephants are learning and responding rapidly.
We started our field trip in Mara Naboisho Conservancy on 6th October, where we joined a couple of Norwegian groups hosted by Basecamp Wilderness who had requested a special introduction to elephants. There we also continued our work with African Impact and their volunteers, and gave a lecture on elephants to the students at Koiyaki Guiding School (KGS). Founded seven years ago, KGS is a very successful endeavor - educating local youth for careers in the tourism industry. Through KGS the percentage of local employees in camps and lodges is growing. These students are important ambassadors for the Mara, for wildlife and for elephants! We also spent a day on Ol Kinyei Conservancy where we met with Jake Grieves-Cook, Porini Camps.
Between 13-19th October we worked in Nairobi with our programmers to perfect an Android-based mobile phone application, the Mara EleApp. The App allows for the collection and upload of field data on elephant group sightings, injury and sickness as well as detailed mortality information.
Diminutive female elephant on Olderikesi
On 20th October we drove to Olderikesi Conservancy on the eastern side of the Maasai Mara National Reserve. There we were generously hosted by Calvin Cottar at his 1920s Safari Camp and were introduced by Keith Hellyer to the challenges of the area. While there we were able to add 6 groups to the Whereabouts and 16 new elephants to the Who's Who, including a diminutive female elephant, f0341. The elephants on the eastern side of the Mara gather in large groups and two of those we observed were aggregations of at least 70 elephants.
We spent the next few days back on Mara Naboisho Conservancy in the company of three ElephantVoices donors/volunteers: Junia Machado and Ana Zinger from Brazil and Elena Fieni from Italy. During our stay there we had the pleasure of meeting a group of 85 elephants. Although we knew many of the individuals, about half of the families were new, including a right-one tusked female with an old wound on her right hind leg, probably caused by a spear years ago. We also spent more time with African Impact and introduced to field coordinator, Lincoln Njiru, one of the ten phones for data collection donated by IFAW.
More training of scouts and guides
On 26th October we drove west to Olchorro Conservancy where we stayed at Richard's Camp and met with Richard Roberts, Iain Douglas-Hamilton (Save The Elephants) and Mark Goss who are coordinating the new Mara Elephant Project (MEP). We also had the pleasure of flying with Iain and Richard to look for elephants and areas hit by poaching and conflict. We were introduced to some of the MEP scouts and had the opportunity to watch a parade by conservancy scout recruits.
On 30th we drove to Olare Orok Conservancy where experienced the kind hospitality of Ron and Pauline Beaton. While there we also met with Conservancy Manager, Rob O'Meara, and his wife, Sarah, and Warden, James Kaigil. Sarah shared her Olare Orok elephant photographs with us to help us build up the Mara Elephant Who's Who, and is also organising the use of a phone with the Mara EleApp on Olare Orok and Motorogi Conservancies.
In the hope of meeting new elephants we were taken to neighboring Motorogi Conservancy by the Warden. We were delighted to find a group of 30, which turned out to be Big Mama and her large family. It was wonderful to see her there - she has now been spotted in four separate areas of the Mara and our knowledge of her home range is expanding! We also stopped in to visit guides, Meshack Sayialel at Porini Lion Camp and Ping'ua Nkukuu at Mara Plains, to explain the functionality of the Mara EleApp and to encourage their participation.
Meeting up with old friends - and making some new
We proceeded on to the western side of the Mara where we were guests of Sanctuary Olonana. There we met Marcus Westberg who shared his beautiful photographs of elephants in Mara Conservancy. On 4th November we met Asuka Takita at Mara Conservancy headquarters to catch up with her news and to explain to her the use of the Mara EleApp. From there we proceeded over Mara Bridge and through the Mara Reserve to Basecamp near Talek. Along the way we covered new ground and discovered "new" elephants. We were also pleased to meet a few individuals who were already in the Who's Who. Among others, we met the well-known asymmetrical tusk matriarch, f0576, as well as f0246 with a newly broken left tusk.
The following day we trained Basecamp Guide, Agness Kilena, to collect elephant observations and to use the Mara EleApp.
The end of a fascinating Mara tour
On 6th we proceeded to our final destination, Siana Conservancy, where we stayed with Nick, Betsy, Will and Gini Cowell. Siana has experienced substantial ivory poaching this year and it was not surprising to see that the elephants there were wary. Gini is now working with us, representing Elephant Aware, collecting vital data on the elephants who use this part of the ecosystem.
On our way out of the Mara we passed by Sekenani, to follow up our contact with Park Warden, James Sindyio. During an informative two-hour meeting we discussed all kinds of issues, and collected our permit to access the Reserve when needed. Approaching Narok we made one last stop at the Kenya Wildlife Service District Office to meet with KWS Veterinarian Dominic Mijele. Dominic treats many elephants in the Mara and beyond and we felt that he would be a good person to have the last phone.
Plenty of challenges ahead - join Elephant Partners!
The Mara ecosystem is facing plenty of challenges, with human population growth, poaching and over-grazing to name a few. The need to find ways for humans and wildlife to live in more harmony is ever more critical for all stakeholders - including elephants. Telling both sides of the story is what Elephant Partners is about. By engaging people in the lives of elephants, we are building a community of people that care. Together we'll ensure the survival of the Mara elephants and their habitat. Help us make Elephant Partners go viral - participation of many is key to the future of the Mara elephants! Join us on Facebook, and spread the word.
We deeply appreciate the support and collaboration of the many people and entities mentioned in this informal travel report - and we very much look forward to be back. Thank you!
During January and February we (Petter and Joyce) spent some very productive weeks in the Mara ecosystem getting the pilot phase of Elephant Partners up and running. Our primary purpose during this trip was to learn as much as possible about the Mara elephants and the challenges they are facing, while fine-tuning the scope of the project and testing out equipment and technical solutions for data collection and upload. We visited five different conservancies and three group ranches, met up with many stakeholders and potential collaborators, trained quite a few conservancy scouts and guides and held lectures about elephants, their behavior and the Elephant Partners initiative.
Joyce's trip started on Mara Naboisho Conservancy, where we plan to establish a base for the project. Mara Naboisho is a new 200 sq km conservancy, initiated by Norwegian-based Basecamp Explorer/Foundation and 502 Maasai landowners. Mara Naboisho is an amazing area in terms of wildlife and habitat, and together with neighbouring conservancies a crucial landscape for protecting the world famous wildebeest migration between the Serengeti and Maasai Mara as well as for general movement of wildlife, including elephants.
Joyce spent several days on Mara Naboisho training instructors of African Impact. The organisation offers volunteer work in Africa and Elephant Partners is on their list of opportunities. African Impact is also helping us to test out techniques and equipment for monitoring elephants and sharing information.
During those few days together we added 47 new individuals to Elephant Partners ID registry and resighted quite a few who we had seen before. The most exciting resighting was the beautiful female f0096 who was last seen in 1998 40 kilometers away.
While at Mara Naboisho Joyce gave a lecture to a women's group and another to the newly graduated conservancy scouts. She also discussed the development of educational material by ElephantVoices for the Koiyaki Guiding School.
On Mara North Conservancy Joyce was generously hosted by Karen Blixen Camp and spent three days training Cille Willumsgård, a young Danish woman who is collaborating with us as part of her Master's field work supported by Karen Blixen Camp. Petter joined Joyce and Cille there and we discussed the project with the Conservancy Manager, Marc Goss. During the three days with Cille we added about 35 elephants to the registry and Cille has since then built the number up to over 150 individuals. She will be sending her photographs to us later this month so that these individuals can be incorporated into the overall Elephant Partners ID registry. It will be interesting to see how many of these individuals have already been registered. We know of at least two: a crazy looking female with 3 tusks (photo below) and a magnificent male (video below). However, Cille observed both of these individuals inside the Maasai Mara National Reserve rather than on Mara North Conservancy.
The photographs really help us to understand where individual elephants are moving, and we are very curious to know how far afield the elephants from Mara North go. These particular elephants face enormous levels of conflict with people. Understanding their movement patterns will help to mitigate the threats and ease the relationship between people and elephants.
Mara female with three tusks - f0245.
We left Mara North Conservancy and spent a day on Mara Conservancy, where we held discussions with manager, Brian Heath, and veterinarian, Asuka Takita, who has contributed hundreds of ID photographs to Elephant Partners. On our way out of the conservancy we met the magnificent musth male who Cille later photographed - the male in the video above right.
By evening we were back on Olare Orok Conservancy, where we were hosted by eco-friendly Porini Lion Camp. There we held discussions with the Conservancy Manager, Rob O'Meara, introduced elephants and the project to scouts and guides and gave a lecture on elephant behavior and conservation to them. Naturally we also spent quite a bit of time just watching and photographing elephants. Among the many elephants we met was a resighting of f0004 who Joyce photographed in 1998 in Musiara. We also met a large group of elephants that included a female who had been photographed near Governor's Camp in 2007 by our friend Doug Aja! Each photograph is a piece in the jig saw puzzle!
From Olare Orok we spent a few more days back on Mara Naboisho before proceeding to Ol Kinyei Conservancy, where we discussed the Elephant Partners initiative with Manager, Sammy Lempusia. We were fortunate enough to meet an elephant family group who we then sighted again on Mara Naboisho several days later.
From there we drove on to the rather bumpy main road between Sekenani Gate and Narok, met up with Stephen Kisotu of Friends of Conservation and proceeded with him to Maji Moto Group Ranch. We spent three days with Stephen who introduced us to some of the opportunities (primarily the remaining corridors) and threats (mainly human-elephant conflict) facing elephants on the eastern side of the Maasai Mara. Stephen Kisotu introduced us to Maasai elder, Salaton ole Ntutu, and we more than enjoyed our stay at his Maji Moto Camp.
Salaton was well conversant with the problems facing elephants and people and together we discussed how to alleviate conflict by providing water for elephants away from the village (elephants come to the Maji Moto spring at night and depart early in the morning, endangering children on their way to school). We had fun and interesting visit to Enkiteng Lepa School, assessing how Elephant Partners possibly can contribute toward the conservation of elephants through education via the big network of schools in the Mara ecosystem.
From Maji Moto we went on to Naikarra Group Ranch, where Stephen (with whom we stayed) introduced us to the remaining elephant corridors and the growing human-elephant conflict due to land being turned over to agriculture. Stephen explains the conflict in the short video clip (right), while we were visiting an area of new settlements in traditional "elephant country".
We departed Naikarra arriving back at Mara Naboisho in time to meet Richard Roberts who flew in from Ol Chorro Conservancy. Richard is setting up a rapid response team to reduce human-elephant conflict and related elephant mortality on the western side of the Mara.
His initiative will be receiving help from Iain Douglas-Hamilton of Save the Elephants, who will be placing tracking collars on 10-15 elephants to monitor movement patterns in relation to conflict. We will be collaborating closely with both of them.
Joyce departed from the Mara the following day and spent the next day in Nairobi discussing Mara elephant plans with Iain while Petter remained in the Mara and got stranded in the bush with clutch problems! After sorting out the clutch and holding several more meetings Petter proceeded to Nairobi to initiate the building of online housing for all of the elephant information we hope to collect and share with you.
We look forward to working with the many people we met on our journey - a harambee spirit (Harambee is a Kiswahili word meaning working together for a common purpose) is vital for the conservation of the Mara elephants and a successful Elephant Partners!