Friday, May 17, 2013


Design for an elephant pendant, Gustav Manz 
Pencil and gouache, circa 1900

On Wednesday evening we walked our Manz elephant bracelets—Gunda and Luna—over to the Explorer's Club for a lecture given by Dr. Joyce Poole, elephant behaviorist and advocate. Her topic was "the power of the crowd" (human and animal) to problem-solve in the ecosystem where she's hung out for four decades. Funds raised at the reception, hosted by Tusk USA, were earmarked for ElephantPartners, an initiative Poole and her colleagues started in 2011 that trains citizens, tourists, and photographers in the monitoring and protection of herds in the Maasai Mara national reserve. 

In her slide show, Poole shared what can be learned "through the eyes and ears of many", i.e. by placing cameras and phone apps in the hands of people from the community, who use them to document the movements of individual animals, entering their unique ear markings and other identifying features into a database, a virtual Who's Who of Mara elephants. An elephant naming program fosters stewardship and helps fund local scholarships and field costs. 

Sadly, most elephant populations on the African continent are more vulnerable than herds on the reserve, and even the Mara elephants are susceptible to brazen slaughter by local poachers looking for tusks to export. On the day Poole spoke in New York City, a Washington Post blog posted a map of the global ivory trade, noting that an estimated 17,000 African elephants had been killed for their tusks in 2011. Soon Poole will travel to China to present her research. If a new generation in Asia can harness social media to reach consumers, and show them the vital connection between their lives and the lives of these animals, Africa's herds may have a chance. 

As Poole commented in a recent blog, "we are told people [there] think that elephants shed their tusks, like antlers. The gruesome message that every tusk costs a life has to reach these buyers."  

Joyce Poole tracking herds in Mozambique's Gorongosa National Park where civil war and poaching reduced the elephant population from 2,000 in the late 1970s to just over 100 in the early 1990s. The park is now home to 300 elephants, including many adults orphaned and traumatized during the conflict 


Copyright © Laura Mathews, 2014 

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