Around the world people watched yesterday as Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga finally reached an agreement. Kenyans are celebrating - and those of us who love Kenya hope that a foundation for a new and constructive era has been put in place. While the price has been high, we have been reminded about the value of democracy, fair play and long term stability.

Amboseli  baby climbing. (©ElephantVoices)We urge Kenya's leaders to maintain good spirit during the hard work and reconciliation efforts that lie ahead - the current enthusiasm and the desire of the Kenyan people for peace should be of inspiration. Poverty and desperation do not make a viable environment for engendering harmony between people and animals. Agreement between the political camps means that we can all get back to working for a more prosperous future for all.

And what about wildlife conservation in general? In a previous comment on our blog on WildlifeDirect Ann asks what the accurate situation is. In truth it is highly variable, species to species, country to country, and place to place. From our perspective the future is dependent on how people deal with the fact that resources are in limited supply and are dwindling.

Are we individually and collectively willing to put enough aside for other creatures, like elephants, gorillas, and chimpanzees as well as the myriad of less charismatic species that share our planet? It is as simple and as difficult as that.

Amboseli elephants with Kilimanjaro. (©ElephantVoices)

Despite the recent spearings, Amboseli is a success story. The work of Amboseli Elephant Research Project (AERP) over 35 years has contributed substantially to the conservation of the ecosystem's elephants, which today number around 1,500 individuals. The challenges are many for those in Kenya Wildlife Service, the local community and AERP who work tirelessly to achieve this success. While poaching for ivory is not a problem, at least not for now, confrontations between people and elephants can be. It is more than fair that local people feel that a share of the money generated by wildlife tourism helps to improve their lives - which is one reason why AERP and the Amboseli Trust for Elephants has initiated numerous community projects.

For the lives of Amboseli's elephants and the many other species, including people, who inhabit the ecosystem, the conservation struggle is certainly worth the effort. The benefits don't stop there, however, for millions of people from around the world have visited Amboseli and have benefited from the joy of seeing these magnificent animals - and millions more have watched and learned from Amboseli's elephants on TV documentaries.
Elephants on row. (©ElephantVoices)

Studying elephants and being in their presence is a continuous reminder of why elephants deserve our attention and support. Experiencing their affection, compassion and loyality for one another and witnessing their extraordinary teamwork is a humbling lesson in the meaning of humanity - or perhaps a better term would be "elephanity".

'It is not possible for a free man to catch a glimpse of the great elephant herds roaming the vast spaces of Africa without taking an oath to do whatever is necessary to preserve for ever this living splendour.'
Romain Gary, Roots of Heaven, 1958

Best wishes, Petter and Joyce
Elephants in sunset. (©ElephantVoices)

While the political temperature seems to be cooling down a bit, Amboseli is getting hotter and drier. Both the short and long rains failed last year, and with only a few millimeters of rainfall since we arrived on 16th December, Amboseli is quickly becoming very dusty. We can see it on the elephants, as well as on our equipment and we can certainly feel it on our bodies!

Petter  taking photos through roof hatch. (©ElephantVoices)The burning sun bakes our old Landcruiser and our skin is beginning to look like a lizard’s! The temperature in the car is over 35 *C, and in our tent well over 30 *C despite the makuti roof. Amboseli  elephant calves playing Elephant calves are always ready for a game and climbing on top of one another is a favorite sport. And older calf lies down inviting younger calves to clamber on top. Our playback experiments are moving forward and we have now completed 55 of the 60 we had planned for.ElephantVoices  team recording in AmboseliNew shocks and some preliminary repairs on our field vehicle have kept it going without causing us additional problems, but substantial rattling and squeaks remind us about the long list of repairs needed when we are back in Nairobi. We are grateful for any contributions toward the USD 2,000 we expect will be required to get our field vehicle back into acceptable shape. You may enjoy watching a short video clip of a young musth male approaching our car, shot by Petter. The camera used is just a small pocket type Casio Exilim, but you can see how big male elephants look even from the roof of a 4-wheel drive. Musth males can be unpredictable (or predictably aggressive!) but generally if you don’t disturb them they won’t vent their pent up testosterone on you either…….

Greetings, Petter and Joyce


Tourists  and elephants in AmboseliAmboseli is one of Kenya’s highest revenue earning parks. Its popularity stems from the picturesque backdrop of towering, snow-capped Kilimanjaro and Amboseli’s elephants - made famous through long-term study, popular books and numerous documentary films. The fees paid by the hundreds of thousands of visiting tourists visiting Amboseli each year helps to cover the cost of running other lesser-known national parks, whose protection is equally essential to biodiversity conservation.

In December, as we were trying to accomplish our playback experiments, we had to take several hundred tourists into consideration. In the evening aggregations of elephants crossed the main road traveling from the swamp to the woodland in a spectacular moving display. Here elephants and people intersected. Tour buses can be very annoying, driving too fast, crowding the animals and leaving their car engines’ running – disturbing the elephants and destroying any opportunity for recordings!

The tourist boom the last few years has encouraged the alarming mushrooming of tourist facilities on the boundary of Amboseli, blocking migration routes and threatening to destroy the small park. Powerful individuals have blocked bringing a halt to these developments.

Amboseli elephants dustingAs the election violence escalated we watched as the number of minibuses declined, until by the time we departed there were almost no visitors left in the park. Tortilis, Amboseli’s high-end camp, was deserted during peak season, its manager left wondering what to do with the smoked salmon and the champagne. With violence continuing unabated, Kenya’s tourism sector won’t be bouncing back any time soon.

A substantial percentage of Kenya’s population survives on the tourism industry. Many camps and lodges will fold and with them the livelihoods of thousands, even millions of Kenyans. With very little income for the parks, one can only hope that Kenya Wildlife Service will be able to continue to do the important job of protecting our already threatened wildlife in the face of the increasing poverty and desperation in the communities surrounding the parks.

Clouds over  Amboseli

While we hope that the people controlling Kenya’s future will talk their way out of the deadlock – we will continue to work for the best for elephants, knowing that the future of Kenya and the planet will be poorer if these amazing animals are not to be seen.

Thank you for your continued support!

Greetings, Joyce & Petter

Since ElephantVoices was launched late September time has flown, as usual, and most working days have been spent on the computers in our office/lab and home at the edge of Rift Valley. We have also had a few days on different occasions in Amboseli. We are happy to say that there will be many more field days in 2003.

These days we are also busy planning our new tent in the Amboseli Elephant Research Camp, a task that is purely enjoyable. Included in the job is the design and building of necessary furniture - in Kenya we do not have the IKEA option. The new tent will give us better working conditions in the years to come and a solar-based power system for all our equipment is going to be utilized to its limits!

In the beginning of September an unusual kind of celebration took place in Amboseli when, together with the project’s founders Cynthia Moss and Harvey Croze, and Harveys wife, Christina, we celebrated the 30th Anniversary of the Amboseli Elephant Research Project. The so-called “AA family

Joyce and Petter are going to Sri Lanka from 8th to 21th September, to have a look at some of Sri Lanka’s elephant populations together with a research team led by Lalith Seneviratne. Our main focus will naturally be elephant communication, acoustic recordings and comparison of African and Asian elephant calls. We will also be comparing ideas regarding the resolution of human-elephant conflict. Lalith and his team have come up with some new solutions which we hope to be able to apply around Amboseli. Several national parks will be visited including Uda Walawe, Yala East, Yala, Horton Plains, Minneriya and Wasgomuwa National Parks.

During the three last days of their stay they will join a symposium on Human Elephant Relationships and Conflicts in Colombo. The conference has drawn much interest from all parts of the world, and has attracted a record 82 (and some still coming) abstracts from people interested in elephants and their conservation. The abstracts have come from different parts of the world. Joyce will present our paper on visual, tactile and acoustic signals of elephant play.

Cheers, Petter/SEVP

Over the last year ElephantVoices has focused a lot of attention on the development of a three-year project that will contribute toward finding solutions and tools to mitigate human elephant conflict. Petter, Hamisi Mutinda, and Joyce together wrote a proposal on behalf of the Amboseli Elephant Research Project that has recently received financial support from the US Fish and Wildlife, Born Free Foundation and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). The project will be executed in affiliation with Kenya Wildlife Service and in close collaboration with Centre for Wildlife Management of the School for Field Studies. Petter will as main project initiater and member of its Steering Committee chaired by a KWS representative continue to follow the project, and be responsible for reporting to funding bodies and further grant proposals.

The kick-off of the project took place on 1 August with Winnie Kiiru as Project Manager and John Kioko as Project Researcher. Updates from the project will be included under the ElephantVoices Tools in Conservation section/HEC or Harmony, The Big Challenge.

The ability of a rapidly growing population of people to co-exist in relative harmony with wildlife is of major importance for the future of Amboseli’s elephants, as it is in most areas of the world that still boast populations of the world’s largest land mammal.

Cheers, Petter/ElephantVoices

Hi all,

I am in a philosophical mood today. I am generally full of enthusiasm - a trait that runs in my family, but I must admit to feeling disheartened when I look at the state of the planet. I am curious about what you think about the following: Elephants are a species of extremes. They are the world's largest land mammal, and arguably among its most social, most intelligent, most long-lived, most charismatic and, particularly Asian elephants, among its most endangered. Elephants have been called a flagship species - because if we can protect them, put aside enough space for them, we are saving whole ecosystems.

Joyce Poole. (©ElephantVoices)Yet, almost everywhere you look, elephants are losing ground to the onslaught of human "progress"; elephants are under threat because one species, Homo sapiens, is taking more than its share of the planet's resources. I often think to myself, if we cannot save elephants, then what hope do we have of saving the myriad other species that are threatened with extinction?

Yesterday, as I watched the news and listened to fishermen protesting the closure of wild salmon fishing along the west coast of the US, I was reminded of the time when Japanese carvers protested the closure of the ivory trade because it threatened their businesses. Yes, it did, it will, but then again, if we continue to consume and consume, won't everything get used up at some point anyway? And then what? Why can't we put on the brakes now and save what we've got? Why can't we reduce our population growth, even our population size!

We are the largest brained species on the planet. We are the most intelligent, but you have to wonder at the individual and collective decisions we make. If the scales are always weighted toward the rights and needs of humans, in the long term we will be the ultimate losers. In the corridors of power, in the board rooms, the international conference rooms, politicians and policy makers, need to start making sensible decisions, they need to act now for the future of our planet, for our future. We need to make our voices heard. We can make a difference, we must!


'There was still in Africa a marvelous, irresistible freedom. Only it belonged to the past, not the future. Soon it will go. There'll no longer be herds swirling against the forests and crushing them in their passage. The elephants were the last individuals.' Romain Gary, Roots of Heaven, 1958

Comments from TheTeach on a previous ElephantVoices post have inspired me to post a few reflections.

What each and one of us have to do is to decide what we believe in - which values we want to stand and fight for - which attitudes we want to show towards other creatures like elephants. But in the industrialized world we can afford to think like this. In many poor countries millions of people have a different reality in their everyday life - they're struggling to survive. Human-elephant conflicts and destruction of habitat often symbolizes that we're not able to accept certain limitations in terms of resources and land - and that local politicians and the global community not have been able to find the balance between the needs of people and other animals. Bad governance, corruption and lack of land use planning and/or it's implementation are often strongly contributing factors, but let me not go into that.

Photo from Joyce and Petter visit to Thailand  February 2006. (©ElephantVoices)It's "unpolitical" to talk about the lack of political drive worldwide to discuss and deal with the human population growth, but from my perspective this topic will have to come higher on the agenda if we want to keep elephants (and other wildlife) for future generations. Poverty reduction is another key, closely connected to population growth. Elephants are certainly also about tourism and revenue, and thereby work places and economical growth, so in principle we would all gain on conserving them. OK - let me stay out of more politics for now - and go back to some of TheTeach's comments. Hairy  Asian elephant. (©ElephantVoices)

Since Thailand introduced anti-logging laws in 1988/89 many elephants have ended up on the streets with their mahouts. I do agree that many mahouts have a close and compassionate relationship with their elephants, but it is also a fact that the methods used to "break" the elephant to get them to do what's expected in the first place is brutal and unacceptable from an elephant welfare perspective. Some projects are working on getting street-elephants or abused elephants back to semi wild conditions - we visited one of these projects a couple of years ago. One very interesting aspect with this particular project is that they employ and retrain the mahouts as field staff, to secure them a job and also make the transition for the elephants more easy.

Another remark: Thailand probably have around 3,000 captive (so called domesticated) elephants today, and less than 2,000 wild, compared to respectively 11,000 and 30,000 fifty years ago. But such figures and percentages are symbolic for the destiny of the elephant also elsewhere.
Male flirting with females in Minneriya National Park, Sri Lanka. (©ElephantVoices)
Male elephant flirting with several females in Minneriya National Park, Sri Lanka.

Keep up your efforts TheTeach and others fighting for elephants - they need our help!

Best wishes, Petter

Manori and I had two fantastic last days - one in Kaudulla N.P. and one in Minneriya N.P. In Kaudulla we were fortunate to observe some very interesting defensive behavior during which we were confronted by a wall of elephants. One young female expressed her alarm at our presence by wide-eyed staring and by excited squeaking.

Sri Lanka elephants. (©ElephantVoices)

In Minneriya we were treated to an aggregation of 53 elephants. The group split and reformed as elephants went about their business: cooling down in the reservoir, splashing in the water, young males sparring, a musth male testing females, calves suckling and getting lost.

Sri Lanka  elephants. (©ElephantVoices)

Sri Lanka elephant shrine. (©ElephantVoices)As the crow flies these two national parks are about 8 km apart, but it takes almost forty minutes to drive from one to the other. Along the way Manori and I stopped to pay our respects at the many shrines to Ganesh.

Kaudulla and Minneriya are separated by forest reserve, which includes a couple of small villages, and are surrounded by a mosaic of different habitat types - some protected, some unprotected. One of the goals of our project will be to understand how the elephant population is using this landscape so that the authorities can better provide for their conservation and at the same time reduce conflict with people. In order to do that we need to know exactly how many elephants there are, and who is moving where, when. We also need to know whether the population is increasing or decreasing. Because the habitat is primarily forest it isn't possible to get an accurate count. The only way to get solid answers is, therefore, to get to know the elephants individually - which is why we have been so very busy taking ID photographs.

Later in the year we will be able to introduce you to some of these elephants via an online identification database. In the meantime, just looking at the elephants gives a couple of clear indications. If the population is growing it is at a much slower rate than in Amboseli, as there are relatively fewer calves and juveniles to adults. And males over approximately 20 years old are covered in bumps caused by buckshot. They are the big raiders.

It's been an extremely interesting and busy visit. In addition to getting to know the elephants we had a number of important meetings and discussions with the Wildlife Department and others. Link  to  Dilmah Conservation I gave two lectures - one to the Wildlife Department staff in Minneriya and the other in Colombo to the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society.

On our last day Manori and I had a meeting with Dilmah Tea, whose Conservation Foundation is supporting our work. I planted a tree on the grounds of their main office in Colombo to commemorate the beginning of our joint endeavor for elephant conservation.

Sri Lanka elephants. (©ElephantVoices)

It's been a great pleasure to experience the Sri Lankan warmth and enthusiasm - everyone we have met has been very welcoming and helpful. This includes the management and staff at Hotel Sigiriya, who have welcomed us back to our new "home". Petter and I are looking forward to what lies ahead with renewed commitment. Working with Manori is a great pleasure and we feel fortunate to have the opportunity to learn from someone with so much experience. Manori moves in an unusual circle of wildlife and elephant enthusiasts and we have slipped into this crowd with ease!

Trumpets, Joyce

The next CITES meeting will take place in March 2010 and may determine the future survival of elephants. The situation is now dire in many African elephant range states as the number of elephants slaughtered for their ivory soars, in some places escalating to levels only witnessed 20 to 30 years ago. This update from Science Daily is from August 2008 - and the situation is growing worse by the day. A recent article in Scientific American gives a detailed picture of the wholesale slaughter and can be read/downloaded if you are registered as a user on ElephantVoices. Everyone needs to make their voice heard!

Kenya, in concert with many countries, has for years taken a strong position against the ivory trade. With several failing states as neighbors, however, and no stranger to crime and corruption in high places herself, Kenya is suffering from an onslaught of poaching, and the grim stories are making headlines around the world.

Other countries, including neighboring Tanzania, are submitting proposals to CITES that could spell the end of elephant populations as we know them. The killing of elephants for their ivory is currently the cause of enormous losses in numbers as well as enormous suffering to individuals and their families, and many populations could go extinct during the next few years if something isn't done to reverse the trend. You can read more about the many dramatic consequences of poaching here.

You can help to stop the killing of elephants by ensuring that your country votes against any further sales of ivory and against any downlisting of populations at the next CITES meeting, and by supporting all good forces that work to stop the trade in ivory and its demand. The 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties in CITES will be held in Doha from 13 to 25 March 2010.

ElephantVoices standpoint is that all elephants should be on Appendix I of CITES and the commercial trade in ivory should be banned.

Copyright: WildAidIn this day and age the best way to do this is through the web, posting on Facebook and YouTube, sharing and cross-posting.The ivory trade is unsustainable. Elephants are in jeopardy because people covet their tusks. In a collaborative effort ElephantVoices is working to get the facts and figures out to decision-makers, and to spread the word in hopes of reaching potential buyers of ivory.

Over 80 celebrities have donated their time to public service announcements (PSAs) produced by our colleagues at WildAid. This organization is among the few with a substantial audience in a Facebook- and Google-free China - the country that is currently the biggest threat to elephants. Take a look at one of their PSAs about elephant, ivory and poaching starring famous Chinese basketball player, Yao Ming.

We wrote to AVAAZ months ago to encourage them to run a campaign against the ivory trade. Many others have obviously done the same, and we were yesterday thrilled to see their online campaign. AVAAZ has an enormous network of members and has the capacity to be heard. In just a day or so they have collected over 100,000 signatures. Let CITES members hear what we think about Tanzania's and Zambia's proposal for further sale of ivory!

Please sign on and send the message on to your friends.

Save the Elephants: STOP BLOODY IVORY!

Below you will find links and video related to the unfolding story of Kibo, a baby elephant who got stuck in a well and was rescued to be taken to Sheldrick's orphanage in Nairobi. Meeting a desperate baby trapped, and now seeing him thriving as "Kibo" at Daphne Sheldrick's orphanage, is heart warming. Kibo will one day be released back to the wild and, hopefully, live to a ripe old age in an environment free from the scourge of the ivory trade. In the meantime, he is an emissary, changing the hearts and minds of young school children in Kenya and, via the internet, people all over the world.

Trumpets, Petter

Amboseli elephant baby stuck in well - and then to orphanage

The elephant in the well - Kibo and his new life (With video below)

The rescue of a baby elephant

A young baby elephant fell late at night 28 January 2009 into a man made well west of Amboseli National Park, Kenya, near Sinya Mines.

Some local maasai found him and asked the Amboseli Elephant Research Project for help to rescue him. Together we tried to find his family, but they were not to be seen.

We had to get him up - he was injured, sunburned and exhausted.

Visiting Kibo one year after

Meeting a desperate elephant baby trapped in a well, and now seeing him thriving and playful as "Kibo" at Daphne Sheldrick's orphanage, is heart warming.

Kibo will one day be released back to the wild and, hopefully, live to a ripe old age in an environment free from the scourge of the ivory trade.

In the meantime, he is an emissary, changing the hearts and minds of young school children in Kenya and, via the internet, people all over the world.

Science Opinion Piece 12. March 2010: Elephants, Ivory, and TradeTogether with 25 other scientists we have authored an opinion piece on the ivory trade for Science, which you can access on this page. You'll also find a press release from Drs. Sam Wasser, Andy Dobson, Katarzyna Nowak, Joyce Poole, and Petter Granli.

The piece argues that CITES' member states should reject the proposals from Tanzania and Zambia requesting further sale of ivory. CITES (CoP15) starts today, Saturday 13 March.

Science Opinion Piece, Volume 327, 12. March 2010: icon Elephants, Ivory, and Trade (395.07 kB)

"Scientists Oppose One-off Ivory Sales and Urge International Trade Decisions to Put Science above Politics": icon Press release Science Opinion Piece: Elephants, Ivory, and Trade (63.42 kB)

You will find quite a few links to media coverage related to the opinion piece in Science here.

CITES -  CoP15 logoWe have uploaded a page with a few links to sources of information and updates from the ongoing CITES - CoP15 - in Doha, Qatar, 13 to 25 March. We will from Wednesday give you some updates ourselves - when time and connection permits.

Our objectives for being here at CITES do not allow much time for giving comprehensive updates, nor for relaxation, for that matter. This is partly why we have given some links to other sources for CoP15 updates and related information here, and why we continue to update this page with links to media coverage about ivory trade and poaching. Take the facts and reflections in this news piece as our "one and only" proper feedback about our perspective of CITES and the CoP15 "in action". I am well aware that many of you might find the below rather technical, but in trying to reach people with different level of insight this is how it has ended up...

Friday (yesterday) was a day off in terms of the official program, and gave us a chance to catch up with important e-mails and preparations for the days and activities to come. In the evening we participated in a strategy meeting and dinner with the Afrian Elephant Coalition (AEC). A few hours ago we went to the Official Delegates' Dinner hosted by Qatar's Ministry of Environment, but raced back to our hotel for some more time on the computer after a quick meal and a couple of important conversations.

Improved CITES work processes strongly needed

It's a fact that enormous effort and money go into lobbying CITES delegates. This mean that politics, horse-trading and "friendly favors" among nations sometimes overtake CITES mandate of "ensuring that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival." Admittedly, I don't have a good gut feeling based on how CoP15 voted against increased protection for the polar bear and the blue fin tuna.

CITES member states rely heavily on the Panel of Experts (PoE), selected by the Secretariat. Their reports on Tanzania's and Zambia's proposals for sale and downlisting (available here) were distributed, without peer review, only a few days before CoP15. They contain conclusions that we disagree with and some core facts that are wrong. We honor the hard work of the Panel, but we feel that elephants deserve a more open and less rushed process. Handing out such crucial documents a couple of days before the meeting takes place is simply unacceptable.

We have contested the Secretariat's conclusion that Zambia's and Tanzania's populations do not meet the biological criteria to remain on Appendix I in Statement from Save The Elephants & ElephantVoices regarding Tanzania's and Zambia's proposal distributed to CoP15 delegates on 18 March. The opinion piece in Science 12 March, Elephants, Ivory, and Trade, highlights the need for engagement of the wider scientific community in CITES decisions regarding the future of elephants.

We have spent most of today working hard to prepare a presentation that Iain Douglas-Hamilton, Sam Wasser and Joyce will give at CoP15 tomorrow, Sunday. It pinpoint some hard facts and figures about the ivory trade and Tanzania's and Zambia's evident role in it while also describing the long-term consequences of poaching on elephant populations. The presentation will, furthermore, document what we view as a clear relationship between CITES elephant petitions, one-off sales and illegal trade and poaching. We argue that it would be irresponsible to break the spirit of the nine year moratiorium or "resting period" on trade that was decided at CoP14.

The "bigger picture" - and welfare for the individual elephant

Qatar is one of the sunniest places on earth, but we have hardly been outside. From our hotel windows we can see huge buildings shooting up all around - what probably is the richest country in the world, considering their oil and gas reserves, is a quickly growing financial powerhouse. It admittedly feels kind of strange to discuss conservation and wildlife surrounded by overwhelming signs of trade, luxury and (over)consumption.

While CITES mainly is about the "bigger picture" and trends, we shouldn't forget the welfare of individuals. During the last couple of days we have been through slides showing numerous ivory seizures, with three huge ones from 2009 representing 17,000 dead elephants. We have seen photos from markets or shops in Nigeria, Congo, Angola, Mozambique and Egypt exhibiting ivory equal to hundreds of elephants. During the presentation tomorrow gruesome photos of elephants whose genitals have been cut off will be shown for the first time. We cannot even imagine the trauma for families whose members are amongst the 30,000+ elephants that are estimated to be killed each year.

The fight against the ivory trade is in any case not over

It is late Saturday evening - during Monday we most likely will know if CITES will follow the Precautionary Principle and give elephants a much needed benefit of the doubt. Even with a positive decision the struggle is far from over, better law enforcement is another vital factor in this trade. The world society and African governments will have to put a lot of effort into closing down ivory suppliers and outlets, while authorities in China, Japan and Thailand must control and close down smuggling routes and illegal carving facilities. To change attitudes among willing buyers in the market place, educating people that ivory means dead elephants, is just one of many challenges we face.

We hope to bring you good news on Monday - but don't want to raise any expectations what so ever.

Petter, in Doha

Section of GB family in Amboseli wait for their one-tusked matriarch, Grace, to catch up. (©ElephantVoices)

We are extremely happy to report that elephants did well at CITES' CoP15 in Doha, Qatar. But, we are well aware that while the battle was won, the war against the ivory trade and for elephant conservation in general is an on-going one. Poverty, greed, poor governance, habitat loss and lack of law enforcement are among the many factors threatening the future of elephants and interacting with the ivory trade with devastating effect.

Our inspiration to fight on comes from the elephants themselves. We cannot win, though, if elephant range states are not willing to put a higher value on live rather than dead elephants. CITES is a convention set up to prevent the over exploitation of species by trade (though sometimes the opposite seems true); it is not meant to deal with issues of poverty, population growth or land use planning. Some countries always play the poverty card, though. While we do not buy the argument put forward over and again from southern Africa that elephants "have to pay to stay", we do recognize that we will lose elephants if local governments are not able to balance out the needs of people with those of elephants and wildlife in general.

Major achievement for elephants

As usual, elephants dominated the CITES Conference and at certain times the atmosphere was extremely tense. Requests from Tanzania and Zambia to down list their elephants populations from Appendix I to II and to begin to trade in ivory were both rejected. Tanzania and Zambia amended their proposals when they realized that they might lose the vote, but despite well orchestrated interventions by supporting parties they did not succeed in achieving the two thirds majority required. We firmly believe that down listing and "one-off" sales would have further stimulated the market for ivory, and led to more killing of elephants. They did succeed in getting another vote in the plenary session today, Thursday 25th, but the victory for elephants was upheld.

We feel that our participation was a major achievement for elephants and for ElephantVoices. While at CoP15 in Doha ElephantVoices and Save the Elephants prepared and distributed a statement to the delegates arguing that the biological criteria for down listing of Tanzania's and Zambia's elephant populations had not been met. We received an enormous response to a science-based presentation by Iain Douglas-Hamilton, Sam Wasser and Joyce which countered some of the claims by the CITES Secretariat. The day before the vote more than 350 CITES participants squeezed into the meeting room with tens more having to turn around at the door for lack of space. We heard from many delegates that the presentation was an eye opener, and it is probably fair to state that it had a significant impact on what transpired later. We believe that our presentation helped influenced the EU to vote against Tanzania and to abstain in the Zambian vote which meant that they did not get the 2/3 majority required.

A magnificent team for elephants

KWS' Patrick Omondi during CoP15 intervention Our main collaborator during CoP15 was the African Elephant Coalition (AEC, with 23 African elephants range states as members), and the informal group Kenya Elephant Forum (KEF) which includes key stakeholders in Kenya (Save the Elephants, Amboseli Trust for Elephants, Kenya Wildlife Service, Youth for Conservation, ElephantVoices and others) co-ordinated by Pat Awori. During our recent trips to Kenya we were able to participate in two meetings of the KEF and were in daily email contact with them leading up to the meeting. Our African friends did a great job, and KWS assistant director Patrick Omondi presented AEC perspectives in an excellent manner. We are proud being part of this magnificent team!

Over 4,000 fans are currently following us on Facebook, and during the heated discussions and thrilling vote Monday 12th we updated our Facebook Page several times - "live from the conference hall in Doha". We got lots of responses, and many interesting comments that will be reflected in our educational outreach and work ahead. Some of you might have followed the updated list of links about the ivory trade and poaching, list to CITES information and update sources and used our searchable Document Download Center to find documents relevant to the ivory trade and CITES.

After months of focus on the ivory trade we will have to re-direct some of our energy on several important welfare issues ahead. In ALL elephant work, though, whether we are talking about wild or captive elephants, the welfare perspective is one that we never forget.

We thank all of you following and supporting us in this endeavor - and look forward to continued contact!

The issue of space is at the core of most elephant discussions we are involved in - both when it comes to wild or captive situations. Without proper space for mind and movement elephants cannot thrive. It is as simple and difficult as that. (See Poole, J & Granli, P. 2008. Mind and Movement: Meeting the Interests of Elephants. (.pdf, 2.19 Mb))

In many range states private conservancies, elephant corridors and metapopulation structures are among ingredients for elephants future survival. We highly recommend anyone interested to read the IFAW publication "Elephants: Facts & Fables" (.pdf, 2.71 Mb). The publication seeks to shed light on what we really know, and don’t, about elephants, their dynamics, and conservation management in southern Africa.

Written by the renowned Professor Rudi van Aarde, director of the Conservation Ecology Research Unit of the University of Pretoria, South Africa, the book features magnificent photography and is intended to better inform discussions of public policy and management as they pertain to elephants.

Many of you will have already heard the excellent news that the shipment of animals, including two elephant calves, from Zimbabwe to a North Korean zoo has been called off - thanks to concerted effort by many individuals and groups, both internationally and in Zimbabwe.

Our sincere thanks goes out to all of you - organisations and individuals – for adding your names to the weight of opposition to what would have been a disastrous arrangement for those animals!

The deal created an angry storm, and over 50 organizations from around the world signed our letter (180.02 kB) to the Director General Vitelas Chadenga of the Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Management Authority. The letter was followed up by numerous media - some of the links are listed at the bottom of this page.

The Zimbabwean authorities have said that arrangement was genuinely intended to raise urgently needed funds for habitat conservation, in particular cutting fire-breaks in Hwange National Park, where most of the animals had been captured. Furthermore, they have stated that they do not intend to undertake another capture of this nature.

However, this Statement of Reassurance is still not confirmed in writing – it is something that, together with other organisations and individuals, we are trying to secure. We see it as vital that this objective is achieved, partly since it is known that several other countries have expressed their interest in obtaining wild animals from Zimbabwe.

In the meantime there was an urgent need to ensure that the majority of the captured animals were released back into the wild as soon as possible. This operation took place a week ago coordinated by the Tikki Hywood Trust. The giraffe and zebra are being taken to a private game farm within Zimbabwe.

Unfortunately, the two juvenile elephants cannot be released immediately. Instead, they are going to be integrated into a group of other rescued elephants, at Wild Horizons Wildlife Trust - with the intention of releasing the group to the wild when they are ready to survive independently. This may take several years.

Releasing/caring for these animals, and the two elephants in particular, obviously carries a significant cost. The total of US$27,000 is made up of:

  • Immediate release of most of the wild-caught animals $3,000
  • Two years care for the 2 young elephants $24,000 ($6,000 per annum per elephant)

Together with Born Free Foundation and Tikki Hywood Trust we are currently reaching out to people and organizations that might be able to help in covering these costs. If you are in the position to contribute PLEASE contact Shelley(at-sign), Andrina(at-sign) or Stephen(at-sign)

Once we have the assurance that Zimbabwe is banning the practice of capturing and exporting wild animals, we will try to raise funds for the much needed maintenance of fire-breaks in Hwange National Park. Many thousands of wild animals could be affected by devastating fires in Hwange if these fire-breaks are not kept up - and due to financial constraints in Zimbabwe the wildlife authorities do not have the resources to cover these costs themselves.

We congratulate the Zimbabwean authorities for considering the lives of these animals and cancelling their export to North Korea. We urge them to permanently ban the practice of animal capture for captivity - doing so would win Zimbabwe significant goodwill around the world.

Media and people around the world are taking part in the heated discussion about a possible and extremely controversial new road through the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. The road would in reality cut off vital migration routes (see some migration maps on this site) within the Serengeti Mara ecosystem, and will as such be a disaster both from an environmental perspective and for the tourism revenue both Tanzania and Kenya are so dependent upon. It will also affect the situation for elephants, and obviously have a major impact on Kenyas Maasai Mara National Reserve.

It is hard to imagine that the Tanzanian government, despite recent statements, will continue to move forward on this with open eyes, especially when there is an attractive, alternative route for a new and much needed highway link between Lake Victoria and Arusha. While not ideal, this road does not pass through world famous and World Heritage Site Serengeti. It does not help the government that the Environmental Impact Assessment Report (1,8mb) prepared for Tanzania National Roads Agency seem to be a very superficial document.

If the Tanzanian government continue to move forward with this road of mass destruction, we believe they strongly will regret it. We know that a huge number of institutions, organizations and individuals are trying to help the authorities to see and understand what is at stake - and we keep hoping that facts and respect for one of Tanzanias most important assetts will prevail. ElephantVoices obviously support all efforts trying to get the authorities to change their initial decision, and urge others with influence to contribute.

Numerous media articles and other sources of information about the proposed road can be found through a Google search, and many also through the Facebook page Stop the Serengei Highway. Here are a few direct links well worth checking out:

Tony Sinclair and Kristine Metzger from University of British Columbia, Canada, Biodiversity Research Centre, have put together this short and educational presentation regarding the consequences of constructing a major highway through the northern part of the Serengeti National Park.

You will on YouTube find an amazing number of films, video clips and slide shows from Serengeti - one of the wonders of the world. The above is made and posted by Bill Cowger - "Serengeti Mega Herd Migration Scenes". The one below is posted by timsmithdv.

Wednesday, Thursday and Friday next week (1 to 3 September) we're attending the international symposium Compassionate Conservation, Animal Welfare in Conservation Practice, held at the University of Oxford. The symposium is arranged by The Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) and the Born Free Foundation, and includes more than 40 speakers representing a variety of perspectives on this important conservation topic.

Joyce is presenting our talk "Elephants on the edge: The use and abuse of individuals and societies". Presentations from the symposium will be posted on Compassionate Conservation' website, and we will also post a video version of ElephantVoices' presentation on

Abstract ElephantVoices' presentation:

The lives of individual animals matter, because what we do to them has consequences for their well being and for the health of the complex societies in which they live. The continued existence of populations of social species, like elephants, is dependent upon the endurance of friendships and the integrity of families and clans. In the name of conservation and "sustainable utilization" these individual building blocks of societies are often forgotten, purposefully ignored and disposed of as organizations and nations barter away lives to supply the ivory trade, provide for a hunter's bullet and supply captives for zoos, circuses and elephant-back safaris.

The sentiment that wildlife must "pay to stay" underlies a widespread attitude in which individual animals, societies and species have no business being here unless they prove themselves commercially useful. Yet, with this undermining of respect for other sentient beings, what will happen as human populations continue to soar and wild animals and their habitats inevitably dwindle? Instilling understanding of the interdependence of life, and accountability and compassion for the lives and interests of other beings, must be incorporated into our conservation philosophy to ensure the health of our planet, its web of species and our own survival.

Last week we were part of something new and exciting - the long overdue recognition of a new brand of conservation - compassionate conservation. This fundamental topic was discussed during a symposium at University of Oxford 1 to 3 September - with 150 participants from 22 countries representing all continents.

Will Travers of Born Free put it so well: "The shared commitment of individual people to individual animals lies at the heart of Compassionate Conservation. Individual animals, species, habitats and ecosystems, sustained, protected and nurtured by individual people, families and communities throughout towns, countries, regions, continents."

The lives of individual animals matter, because what we do to them has consequences for their well being and for the health of the complex societies in which they live. The continued existence of populations of social species, like elephants, is dependent upon the endurance of friendships and the integrity of families and clans. Yet, in the name of conservation and "sustainable utilization" these individual building blocks of societies are often forgotten, purposefully ignored and disposed of as organizations and nations barter away lives to supply the ivory trade, provide for a hunter's bullet and supply captives for zoos, circuses and elephant-back safaris.

If you want to listen to our take on what compassionate conservation means for elephants take a look at our presentation presented at the symposium. And share, share - we want to spread the word.

The Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) and the Born Free Foundation hosted the Compassionate Conservation Symposium, at Lady Margaret Hall, a college closely associated with WildCRU at the University of Oxford. Copyright: Compassionate Conservation

The ivory trade is, once again, the biggest direct threat to the welfare and survival of elephants. Between now and the 16th Conference of the Parties in Bangkok in 2013, ElephantVoices will be working hard on messaging: We want the people who might be tempted to buy ivory to make the connection between their purchase and the deaths of individuals.

As Manchester University political scientist, Rosaleen Duffy, recently commented, "Rather than focusing on poverty as a driver of poaching, we need to look at wealth. Poachers are servicing markets in the wealthy world, in this case in East Asia".

Back in 1988 Joyce Poole and Cynthia Moss helped to initiate a highly successful media campaign, whose slogan was, "Only Elephants Should Wear Ivory". Joyce travelled to Japan and Hong Kong, then the primary markets for ivory, and spoke to ivory carvers and merchants and government authorities. The public awareness campaign and Kenya's highly publicised burning of 12 tons of ivory captured the world's attention. Demand for ivory plummeted and the market collapsed. The killing of elephants all but stopped - for a few years.

Due to rapidly increasing human populations everywhere, elephants have been pushed into smaller and smaller spaces, and it is certainly true that this has led to conflict between people and elephants in many areas. In the mid 1990s the media began putting out a simplified massage: "there are too many elephants". The indirect message was - the elephants have recovered, it's OK to buy ivory again. Many African countries began playing the "poverty card" claiming that elephants were exacerbating poverty and that the sale of ivory would help people. The result? A resurge in the demand for ivory. It began slowly and has gathered pace.

And now? It's wide-spread elephanticide once more. But this time there is a new and uneducated market. The explosion of wealth in China is a driving force behind the increased demand for ivory and the rising slaughter of elephants. And, with ivory available, there are willing buyers all over the world. This is why YOU can make a difference. It is not about stopping poachers in the bush, but about stopping buyers in the towns. We urge all of you to use your voice to help us to get the message out. Especially those of you with a network in China and Eastern Asia - help us by translating our posts into Chinese, Japanese. Use your own network to pass the message on; influence anyone who might be tempted to buy ivory, or who might have any say in how your country votes on elephants at CITES. We won a victory in Doha in March this year, but the struggle for elephants survival will continue.

Together our voices can put an end to the killing of elephants for their tusks.

The ivory trade - It's SO much more than numbers.......

Wildlife managers, conservationists, and those who argue for keeping a vibrant trade in ivory, like to talk numbers. How many tons of ivory can elephants produce through natural mortality? How much money can be made from the sale of ivory? How many tons are held in ivory stockpiles? How many elephants are killed to supply the illegal market? Are elephant numbers increasing or decreasing in this country or that?

But very few of these experts talk about what these numbers mean to the survival and well being of individual elephants. The welfare implications to these individual building block of societies are not even acknowledged as people, organisations and nations barter away lives at international conferences.

More than 1,5 tonnes of ivory shipped from Tanzania was recently seized in Hong Kong. DNA will confirm which populations were mined by the killers attempting to satisfy the growing Asian market. An editorial from the 11th September edition of the Tanzanian newspaper, The Citizen, remarks that 11.6 tons of the ivory seized over the last 18 months originated in Tanzania. The article calls on the government to take urgent measures to disassociate the country from trafficking networks.

Eleven and a half tons is only the tip of the iceberg. Smuggling occurs when there is a fair chance that contraband will reach its destination and figures suggest that only 10-15% of shipments are detected. The true figure is likely to be more like 116 tons.

One ton of ivory = 135 dead elephants
and much, much more...

  • Males with big tusks killed = skewed sex ratios
  • Elephant with big tusks killed = Loss of older, experienced members of society
  • Mothers killed = catastrophic for lifetime survival and well being of her calves
  • Matriarchs killed = compromised survival of remaining members
  • As these older, more experienced elephants killed = fabric of elephant society destroyed
  • Enormous suffering

Slide from our talk at symposium Compassionate Conservation, 2 Sept. 2010,
that many forget the enormous welfare implications behind the cold
figures related to the ivory trade.

Go directly to talk here.

But let's just stick to what we know - the 11.6 tons. How many lives does that represent? The average weight of tusks in trade is something like 3.7 kg. Some elephants have only one tusk so the standard is to use 1.8 tusks per elephant. Therefore, 11.6 tons is equivalent to some 1,742 elephants. But, if estimates are correct it could be ten times that - 17,000 deaths - just based on Tanzania. And we know that the killing is far worse in parts of central Africa.

The Domino Effect

The tusks of adult males are seven times the weight of those of adult females of the same age. So poachers start mining a population by killing adult males. The result? The sex ratio of poached populations are highly skewed toward females. Data show that populations being poached in Tanzania today are already highly skewed, which means that perhaps two thirds of the 1,742 (or if you want to extrapolate, 17,420) elephants who died were female. Let's use a round figure of 1,000 (or 10,000 for the extrapolators) adult females. What happened to the children of these mothers?

Elephant calves are heavily dependent upon their mothers. Calves under two die if their mothers die. Indeed up to the age of 8 or 9, being orphaned is catastrophic for lifetime survival and well-being. Most adult females have at least two offspring under the age of 9. So for each female who dies, you can count at least one calf death and frequently two. It would be safe to assume that the number of elephant deaths may double the figure represented by the seized tusks. The 11.6 tonnes is likely to represent the deaths of 2,500-3,000 elephants (or 25-30,000 elephants).

We may not know these individuals by name, we may not recognize their faces, their voices, their smell. But they had families - sons, daughters, mothers, grandmothers who remember them, who have suffered and continue to suffer. These individuals care what we are doing to their societies.

Do any of our policy and decision makers care? Do the ivory merchants and the ivory buyers care? Do you care?

The time for compassion is NOW

We believe that that time for change is now! There are too many people on our planet to continue to promote greed for the body parts of animals. We must begin to engender compassion for the other individuals who share our world.

Some telling headlines from recent media coverage you should read - you find these articles and many others here.

  • Demand from wealthy makes elephants unfair game
  • Tanzania: Ivory Seizure Wake-Up Call to Wildlife Officials
  • Hong Kong: Ivory tusks worth $10.85m seized
  • South Africa: Top parks official accused of poaching
  • Uganda: Elephants suffer as UWA top brass fight

Screenshot Nature Vol. 467, 16 September 2010 Global reactions against the proposed highway through the Serengeti continue to pop up - and many distinguished scientists and organizations have added their voice. ElephantVoices brought forward part of the discussion and some sources of information in a news piece 16th July 2010.

One of the arguments mentioned in a thorough and constructive opinion piece, which appeared in the 16 September issue (Vol. 467) of Nature, is how the proposed road would allow easy access to poachers. Unlike some other populations in Tanzania, the elephants of the Serengeti have so far been largely spared the curse of illegal ivory hunters - due in part to its inaccessibility. A major commercial road through the heart of the Serengeti could easily change that, which added to other disastrous consequences of the proposed road would further demolish Tanzania's position as a responsible leader in conservation. You will find the Opinion Piece in Nature here (633.8 kB).

In early 2011, ElephantVoices launched "Elephant Partners", an elephant conservation project in the Maasai Mara ecosystem. The goal of Elephant Partners is to develop a working model for citizens to monitor and protect elephants. This initiative is made possible through support from the generous organisations and inviduals listed at the bottom of this page.

The concept is to connect individual people - guides, scouts, researchers, photographers, tourists, people of the Maasai Mara and all those who care - with the lives of individual elephants. Through use of the Internet and social and educational media, our intention is to develop a community sharing knowledge of the Mara elephants and working together to protect them. This page, via the links on top of it, is a gateway to the unique online databases, which are core tools for this conservation initiative.

Elephants are important for the survival of the Mara

As an iconic landscape species elephants are important to the survival of the Mara. They play a key role in the ecosystem and, through tourism, in the local economy. Their great size, sociality, intelligence and charisma make them important Ambassadors for other threatened species. Yet, the Mara elephants are currently threatened by habitat loss, human-elephant conflict and ivory poaching. Many elephants are killed each year and an even greater number are wounded by spears, arrows and snares. By engaging people in the monitoring and protection of elephants, we hope to engender enthusiasm for the collective custodianship necessary to protect elephants and the ecosystem.

The data collected will include group size, location and composition and will determine the habitat use and migration routes used by individual elephants. These data will help wildlife managers protect elephants and to determine the corridors vital to their survival. Elephant Partners will make these and other baseline data available to the public. Furthermore, the project will help focus attention on the newly formed conservancies and bolster their important work; the future of elephants and other landscape species depends upon their commercial success.

Follow and support the Mara elephants

One of the main components of this initiative is a fully searchable online database for storing information, photographs and identifying features of each elephant - the Mara Elephant Who's Who - so that anyone can get to know them as individuals. This database will be populated by ElephantVoices, with photo contributions from those of you residing in or visiting the Maasai Mara. You will find an article about The Mara Elephant Who's Who and how to identify elephants published on National Geographic's A Voice for Elephants 16 August 2013, with photos and educational video.

Via the online interface of a second Mara Elephant Whereabouts database people can upload their own observations, photos and comments on the Mara elephants (their behavior, movements, interactions, conflicts, threats, etc.). This database is related to an advanced mapping functionality showing selected location data. You have to be a registered user to access the above databases - they are both password-protected.

Furthermore, in November 2011 we launched the Mara EleApp. This app, for Android-based phones, will provide an efficient way for people to collect and upload observations directly to the above mentioned Observations database.

To achieve its vision Elephant Partners must serve and belong to everyone: The many conservancies (Mara Triangle, Mara North, Lemek, Ol Chorro Oiroua, Enonkishu, Motorogi, Olare Orok, Mara Naboisho, Ol Kinyei, Olderikesi, see map), Kenya Wildlife Service, Maasai Mara National Reserve, members of the local community, the tourism sector and members of the general public. Kenya Wildlife Service, the Mara Elephant Project and the Koiyaki Guiding School are just a few of many important collaborators in this initiative.

A collaborative effort for elephants - join Elephant Partners on Facebook!

We are reliant upon on collaboration and participation to build an enthusiastic and committed team of Elephant Partners! Read updates here on, on ElephantVoices on Facebook and on Elephant Partners on Facebook.

The below video is from a presentation of the Elephant Partners initiative by ElephantVoices' Joyce Poole,
at National Geographic' Explorers Symposium in June 2012.

Thank you!

We're grateful to the organizations and individuals below for
making this project possible.

You'll find a full overview over monetary and in-kind supporters, and other contributors and collaborators, on the Acknowledgements page.

We welcome YOUR SUPPORT - partner up with the Mara elephants!

ElephantVoices has initiated a new project in the Maasai Mara, Kenya. The concept, put simply, is to connect individual people - guides, scouts, rangers, researchers, photographers, tourists, people of the Maasai Mara and all people who care - with the lives of individual elephants.

Through use of the Internet and social and educational media our intention is to develop a community of people working together to share their knowledge about the Mara elephants and to monitor and protect them.

Harambee is a Kiswahili word meaning working together for a common purpose. It is our belief that this harambee spirit can engender the understanding, compassion and collective custodianship needed for people and elephants to find ways to coexist in a mutually beneficial way.

One of our first tasks is to collect photographs of individual Maasai Mara elephants and to build a searchable online catalogue - or a Mara Elephants Who's Who Database - where their profiles will be stored. We will also build an observation database, linked to the Who's Who, and an smartphone application for data upload in the field.

A handsome  matriarch and members of her family visit a mud wallow in Naboisho. She is code-named f0184 (f for female) until we know who her relatives are. (©ElephantVoices)
A handsome matriarch and members of her family visit a mud wallow in Naboisho. She is code-named f0184 (f for female) until we know who her relatives are. (©ElephantVoices)

So far, relying on photos that Joyce took in 1998 and with the help of Asuka Takita, Petter Granli, Pat Awori and others, this year, we have catalogued ID photos and basic information for over 260 adult elephants. Based on these photographs we have already learned that some individuals move back and forth between Musiara and Naboisho, a distance of almost 50 km.
Not surprising, perhaps, but each piece of information makes us more knowledgable and better able to find solutions to problems.

We are enormously pleased with the enthusiasm we have received thus far. We have a long way to go to catalogue all of the Mara elephants and to gather and share information about them, but that is where you come in! We will soon be posting information about how you can participate in Elephant Partners. We hope that you will join us in this endeavour - read more about the project here.

Stay tuned for information to come!

Matriarch f0001 seen in 1998 near Musiara swamp...

...and 12 years later on Mara Naboisho Conservancy 50 km to
the east. (Photos ©ElephantVoices)

Ever since our fascinating visit to Sri Lanka in 2003 we have been following the elephant situation on this beautiful island with increasing anxiety. Forgive us for naively thinking that a Buddhist society with a value system that recognises non-human animals as an equal life form would take better care of elephants than others. In truth, the way in which elephants in the wild AND in captivity are managed and cared for in Sri Lanka is in desperate need of improvement. Indeed, in August this year Sri Lankan wildlife veterinarians went on strike to protest the mismanagement of elephants.

In this day and age of Internet communication, every article published is in the global domain. The appalling stories appearing online do not give confidence in the Government of Sri Lanka's ability to either care for the well being of elephants held captive, nor to secure a future for the wild members of a species so culturally and touristically important to the country. Both the Minister of Economic Development, Basil Rajapaksa, and Minister of Agrarian Services and Wildlife, S. M. Chandrasena, must be informed that people all over the world care about what is happening and that, in addition to the purely conservation and ethical concerns, the continuing mismanagement and mistreatment of elephants has the potential to jeopardize Sri Lanka's tourism industry and must be addressed. The Ministers must also be informed that many of the human-elephant conflict interventions are merely exacerbating the situation. We believe both Ministers should be approached following a Cabinet reshuffle 22 Nov., since Minister Rajapaksa continue to be responsible for tourist-related issues, while S. M. Chandrasena's Ministry from the same date is responsible for Department of Wildlife Conservation.

The death of a Magnificent Tusker - and a call to action

This article and call to action is prompted by the terrible news of a magnificent tusker, "Parakrama", who was killed last week while being translocated, a practice that has led to numerous other heart-breaking elephant tragedies in Sri Lanka. Our readers may remember the story of "the lone battle of a four-legged Brigadiere," for example, who after being translocated, took to the sea, was towed in by the Navy, only to be found dead weeks later having fallen into a well. Like the "Brigadiere", the death of Parakrama has led to headlines around the world, and on Sri Lanka: Tusker tragedy prompts calls for safer transportation and Death of a tusker.

At the time of the incident, we felt that the news of Parakrama's death was just too upsetting to share through ElephantVoices. On reflection, however, and after many emails back and forth with our Sri Lankan colleagues, we decided to post one of many articles last week on Facebook. Parakrama, one of the country's few remaining tuskers, had been called a "National Treasure." His death is a symbol of Sri Lanka's many elephant conservation and welfare woes, and his passing at the hands of the Department of Wildlife Conservation must serve as a wake-up call. Accidents can happen, of course, but in our opinion there are far too many mistakes being made in the management of Sri Lanka's elephants.

No more superficial fixes - long-term solutions needed

More than 50 people and 228 elephants, an estimated 5% of the remaining wild population, were killed last year as a consequence of conflict. Translocating one elephant after another around the country, putting up fences that cause elephants to starve, and "resettling" elephants by driving them to new locations will not solve the problem. Human-elephant conflict is a land use issue that cannot be solved by piecemeal actions of the Department of Wildlife Conservation alone, especially when inspired by misled political pressure. There is an urgent need to come up with long-term solutions, which can only be found by engaging the country's many experienced conservationists, scientists, veterinarians and naturalists as well as individuals representing the Ministries governing land, settlement, agriculture, water and forestry. Lasting solutions must be found and new policies set for land use in order to halt Sri Lanka's further decline into a destructive cycle of violence between people and elephants - with elephants the ultimate losers.

Elephants will continue to try to live in the manner in which they have evolved. Therefore we urge the authorities to include elephant behaviour and movements patterns, and the role they play in maintaining healthy ecosystems, as a starting point. With open dialogue and a more holistic and compassionate approach Sri Lanka can find workable solutions for the country's wild elephant population that offers hope for a better, kinder, more sustainable future for people as well as elephants. With the current World Bank project focusing on these issues there is no better time than the present to formulate new policies.

Sri Lanka's elephants and the people of Sri Lanka deserve and need to co-exist in a mutually beneficial way. Parakrama's death must not be in vain.

Please write to Basil Rajapaksa and S. M. Chandrasena to express your concerns:
Basil Rajapaksa, Minister of Economic Development, Ministry of Economic Development
Presidential Secretariat Colombo 1 Office: Jagath/Aruna - for meetings/appointments, tel: +94-11-2333268,
Fax: +94-11-2438045, E-mail: arunakgap(at), Political Secretary, tel: 94-777445560

S. M. Chandrasena, Minister of Agrarian Services and Wildlife, Ministry of Agrarian Services and Wildlife. Govijana Mandiraya, Rajamalwatte, Battaramulla, Sri Lanka, Fax #: +94-11 2887480 (direct).


Better treatment of captive elephants, no more exports

The Sri Lankan Government must also introduce legislation to protect elephants in captivity, as such laws are currently lacking. For example, the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage has become a haphazard breeding ground for elephants without proper plans for the future well being of these individuals. People in high places have taken decisions that have led to these babies being abducted from their Pinnawala mothers and gifted to temples or individuals, or sent to the Dehiwala Zoo in Colombo.

Many of the privately owned elephants are malnourished, lonely and abused. Those in the Dehiwala Zoo stand restrained, on concrete, biting their chains, straining against them and swaying in stereotypic behavior. Some of these individuals have been routinely shuffled about between facilities while others have been exported to foreign zoos with callous disregard for the special bonds that exist between elephants.

Since 2002 baby elephants have been shipped to zoos in China, Japan, Croatia and the Republic of Korea; New Zealand is next in line. US Zoos, too, including the National Zoo in Washington DC, are now eyeing Pinnawala as a source of elephants to fill their new exhibits. Indeed Minister Rajapaksa, himself, handed over the babies in Korea. Are foreign zoos really an appropriate destination for baby elephants, an Appendix I listed species, who should be properly cared for on Sri Lanka? We urge the Sri Lanka authorities to address these issues putting the well being of individual elephants before profit and politics. Elephants are intelligent, emotional and social beings not mere commodities to "gift" and do with what we will.

These photos are taken in Dehiwala Zoo (National Zoological Gardens, Colombo) during the last two years, most of them in August 2010. The smallest elephant, Indi, was abducted from her mother in Pinnawala. Joe, the only African elephant, is separated from the others by a wall, which he must reach over to obtain the physical contact fundamental to an elephant's wellbeing. The photographs speak for themselves of the desperation and pain these individuals suffer day in and day out.

Photos provided by: Earl Jayasuriya, Sankha Wanniatchi, Pradeep Kirindage, Michelle Mendis.

Roads to destroy ecosystems

We advise those of ElephantVoices visitors interested in Sri Lanka to read two previous articles, linked through screenshots right and below. We furthermore recommend you to read this article from 21 November 2010 - Uda Walawe: Flaunting laws and fuelling human-elephant conflict.

Screenshot the Sunday Times, Sri LankaThe new World Bank project mentioned in the article linked from the screenshot to the right could very well be an important milestone in the efforts towards conserving Sri Lanka's elephants for future generations. On the other hand - new roads through protected areas without proper environmental assessment is yet another serious threat to Sri Lanka's elephants and sensitive ecosystems. As a side note it could be said that the title "The road to destroying natural ecosystems" easily could have been seen covering the ongoing discussion about a proposed new road through Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. Hopefully both the Sri Lankan and Tanzanian governments will realize what's at stake before it is too late. Both countries have a lot to lose!

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.

Driving west from Mara Naboisho Joyce travelled through Olare Orok Conservancy on the way to Mara North Conservancy. On the way she stopped to photograph some elephants and much to her delight she found two whom she had photographed and registered 20 km away on Mara Naboisho just days before and a ridiculously playful male.

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!

We have started a Facebook page: as a window to engage with anyone interested in the initiative, the Mara elephants and the Mara ecosystem.

In early 2011 ElephantVoices launched "Elephant Partners", an elephant conservation project based in the Maasai Mara ecosystem. The goal of Elephant Partners is to develop a working model for citizens to monitor and protect elephants. The first half of 2011 will be a pilot period - while we continue to prepare and fundraise for the main phase of the project which will start later in the year.

The concept, put simply, is to connect individual people - guides, scouts, rangers, researchers, photographers, tourists, people of the Maasai Mara and all people who care - with the lives of individual elephants. Through use of the Internet and social and educational media our intention is to develop a community of people sharing their knowledge about the Mara elephants and working together to protect them. Harambee is a Kiswahili word meaning working together for a common purpose. It is our belief that this harambee spirit can engender the understanding, compassion, enthusiasm and collective custodianship needed for people and elephants to co-exist in a mutually beneficial way. We hope that it will also help to focus attention on, and bolster the important work of, the newly formed conservancies, since the future of elephants and other landscape species depends upon their commercial success.

We are building an online searchable database to store elephant identification photographs - so that people (Maasai Mara residents, visitors and friends worldwide) can get to know elephants by name. And we will be preparing an online database and blog where Mara friends can upload observations, photos and comments on Mara elephants (their behavior, movements, interactions, conflicts, threats, etc.) to share with other participants, the authorities and the general public. Through the use of mobile phones we will be developing an efficient way for people to collect and upload observations.

Matriarch f0001 seen in 1998 near Musiara swamp...

...and 12 years later on Mara Naboisho Conservancy 50 km to
the east. (Photos ©ElephantVoices)

Elephants are an iconic landscape species

Elephants attract global attention because they are both charismatic and threatened, and because they play an important role in the structure of ecosystems. Due to their immense size, sociality and intelligence, they also serve as important Ambassadors for other species. If we are able to save space for elephants, we will protect the other species, along with them.

Current ecological theory argues that elephants are best conserved through the management of linkages between landscapes, which can account for their large-scale movements. When elephants are confined by fences, by conflict with people or by threats from poachers they can have a negative impact on habitat and, consequently, on biodiversity. But when they are permitted to roam, their presence and foraging creates a mosaic of habitats that promotes biodiversity.

Being intelligent social animals, elephants learn where they are safe with extraordinary speed. They are vulnerable to ivory poaching and conflict with people, and respond to these threats from people with amplified aggression or by retreating into protected habitats for safety. As long as poaching and conflict remain threats to elephants, how can these crucial ecological linkages be maintained? This is where the Maasai Mara Conservancies and the behavior of people is so important.

People and elephants need a mutually beneficial relationship

To encourage elephants to use a wider area and, simultaneously, reduce human-elephant conflict, elephants need access to a network of places where they feel safe that are away from areas where elephant cause conflict. Such safe-havens can be provided by a mosaic of protected areas, conservancies, private and community land where, concurrently, people can benefit through tourism from the presence of elephants. Smart land use, goodwill, understanding and effort are needed to build a relationship between people and elephants that works to the advantage of both parties. Compassion is also a crucial ingredient in this relationship that is often missing in conservation projects (see new conservation movement and is key to the community Elephant Partners hopes to engender.

To achieve its vision Elephant Partners must serve and belong to everyone: The many conservancies (Mara, Mara North, Lemek, Ol Chorro Oiroua, Enonkishu, Motorogi, Olare Orok, Mara Naboisho, Ol Kinyei, see map), Kenya Wildlife Service, Maasai Mara National Reserve, members of the local community, the tourism sector and members of the general public. Elephant Partners will have a base in centrally located Mara Naboisho Conservancy, which is also home to the Koiyaki Guiding School, an important collaborator in this initiative.

Follow the Mara elephants - join Elephant Partners!

We are reliant upon on collaboration and participation to build an enthusiastic and committed team of Elephant Partners! Read updates here on, on ElephantVoices on Facebook and on Elephant Partners on Facebook.

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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.

The tour

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.

After an entertaining stay at the camp of Warden, Marc Goss of Mara North Conservancy, we were hosted by Saruni Camp in the Lemek Hills. The MEP scouts were stationed nearby and we spent a day training them to use the Mara EleApp. Having left Saruni Camp we met up with Basecamp Wilderness guide Derrick Nabaala, who was on leave in the area. Sitting by the side of the road we went through the Mara EleApp with him, and left him with a phone.

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!

Joyce and Petter

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!

Gorongosa National Park, in Sofala Province, 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.

Gorongosa sign

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, thinking about their history. And the many elephants that we have met on more than one occasion are learning that we do not represent a threat.

Gorongosa Elephants Who's Who & Whereabouts

In October 2012 we began working with the Gorongosa elephants in earnest. We are using a customized version of the Who's Who & Whereabouts databases developed by ElephantVoices for our Mara elephant conservation initiative, Elephant Partners.

With these tools we 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 may, 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 are 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 are learning who is fearful, who is aggressive and we are spending extra time with these individuals to build their trust.

As we accumulate knowledge of individuals and their families, we are working 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 are being uploaded to the Gorongosa Whereabouts Database so that we can 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 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.



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 Zh

When this is posted Joyce is on her way to China. A couple of hours after her arrival in Hong Kong tomorrow afternoon (14th June) she will hold a lecture at the Royal Geographical Society. During her 10 day visit to Hong Kong and mainland China - to Shenzhen and Beijing - she will hold 4 lectures and several meetings. She will also meet up with representatives of the Chinese media - all with the objective to spread the word about what is happening to Africa's elephants and promoting the need for superpower China to be part of the solution.

She will furthermore talk about why the export of baby elephants from Africa to zoo's around the world is a very bad idea. China has a lot to gain by helping Africa to protect its wildlife, particularly as a big investor on the African continent. The economy and stability of many African countries are threatened along with their elephants - tourism, work places and biodiversity will be severely impacted if the killings of elephants continue. ElephantVoices' goal during Joyce's visit is not to throw accusations - but to share the facts about the dramatic increase in demand for ivory and the disastrous consequences for the forests and savannas of Africa.

Joyce will also talk about ElephantVoices ivory trade campaign - Every Tusk Costs a Life. She is bringing with her the campaign posters. We would be very grateful if during her stay in China you would share our campaign with friends - and we would be thrilled if you used the campaign material on top of your Facebook page from Friday 15 June and the rest of the following week. The 6 versions of the artwork are all prepared in the correct size - you can download them all either below or "take them" from ElephantVoices on Facebook!

Act NOW. The writing is on the wall for elephants!







You can download all the original campaign files via this link, and use them for any non-commercial purpose meant to reduce the global trade in ivory and poaching of elephants. Read more about the campaign and the artwork by Asher Jay on this page.