Seattle Foundation Blog

Save The Elephants Shares Progress

New partnerships, innovation and technology bring hope to saving endangered elephants

April 17, 2018

By Elizabeth List, Philanthropic Advisor

“There is mystery behind that masked gray visage, an ancient life force, delicate and mighty, awesome and enchanted, commanding the silence ordinarily reserved for mountain peaks, great fires, and the sea.” – Peter Matthiessen, author of The Tree Where Man Was Born

African elephants are both social and highly intelligent animals. These largest of land mammals are also a keystone species, which means they play a unique and crucial role in the way the ecosystem functions. And right now, Africa's elephants are in crisis and could disappear from much of the wild within a generation. Population growth in Africa is rapidly increasing, and poaching elephants for their ivory remains a lucrative (although punishable) crime on the continent. From 2010 to 2012, more than 100,000 African elephants were killed for their ivory. With global warming on the rise, herds are also declining because they cannot find enough water for survival.

Save the Elephants speakers

Dr. Iain Douglas-Hamilton, Elizabeth List and Bernard Leserin

On April 13, Seattle Foundation was joined by Iain Douglas-Hamilton, founder of Kenya-based Save the Elephants, for a panel discussion on forging science and technology solutions to ensure a long-term future for the species. Dr. Douglas-Hamilton was joined by Frank Pope and Dr. Lucy King from Save the Elephants’ leadership team, and Bernard Leserin, a tribal warrior of the Samburu people.

Pope, CEO of the organization, highlighted a critical partnership with Vulcan, Paul Allen’s Seattle-based company that houses his initiatives and philanthropic work, to harness technology in conservation efforts. In 2014, Allen and his Vulcan team set out to count Africa’s savanna elephants, an effort called the Great Elephant Census. Their goal was to learn how many remain and where, then use the information to help protect these iconic animals from the poachers who are driving them toward extinction.

Save the Elephants has since partnered with The Wildlife Conservation Network and the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation to launch The Elephant Crisis Fund (ECF) - a coalition working with data from The Great Elephant Census to address poaching, trafficking and demand for ivory. The ECF was founded on the idea that elephants need financial support and moral commitment from an alliance that spans continents and sectors.

Save the Elephants has also launched the Elephants and Bees Project to help resolve conflicts between elephants and local farmers. The project is an innovative study aimed at reducing damage from crop-raiding elephants by using their instinctive fear of African honey bees. The project uses beehive fences as a natural elephant deterrent, while creating a social and economic boost to poverty-stricken rural communities by harvesting sustainable ‘elephant-friendly honey.’ Dr. King, who established this award-winning research project, spoke about its success and future expansion.

Bernard Leserin, Samburu warrior, shared how the Samburu tribe once lived side-by-side with elephants in Kenya, and now they have joined the battle to protect them. They know the land and the elephants who live there better than anyone – which is why they have proved so important to saving them. “Our heritage, our history, and our future is connected to the elephants,” he said.

While the crisis is very real, Dr. Douglas-Hamilton also spoke about the incredible progress they have made in recent years, and the hope he feels for the future of elephants. In early 2017, the Chinese government implemented the first stage in its ban on trading ivory domestically. Locally, Governor Jay Inslee and the Washington State Legislature passed a budget that will strengthen enforcement of laws banning the trafficking of products made from endangered animals. More young people are engaging in conservation through programs like the Woodland Park ZooCorps, which increases teens’ knowledge of animals and habitats while developing useful job skills.

The more we learn about elephants – their close family ties, social complexity and intelligence – the more compelled we feel to ensure their survival. Save the Elephants is dedicated to increasing awareness, both about elephant behavior and ways we can each protect this endangered species. To stay updated on their progress, sign up for their enewsletter.



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