One of the most enjoyable things I get to do as a zoologist is talk to kids about elephants. Kids give you instant feedback. There are no inhibitions, just a whole lot of questions, and when it comes to elephants, frankly, kids just get it. You don't have to convince children to appreciate and want to conserve animals.
They simply don't understand why you wouldn't want to. I get questions like, "Why don't people do something else to get money other than kill elephants?", "Why don't we just leave the elephants to be in the wild?", and "Why do people buy ivory instead of some other kind of jewellery?" All brilliant, simple questions that make you wonder why we grown ups are such damned idiots. The kids of today will inherit the legacy of our action - or inaction - and we need to remember that.
What happens to us as we grow up? Do we forget how much we loved animals as kids? Other things become more important, and the magic of the animal world becomes secondary to earning a living, buying the latest iPhone and upgrading the family car. I'm not criticising. As a mother of two, I know how tough it is to make ends meet and raise a young family. But every so often, I'm lucky enough to get a reality check by the young people who attend my talks on elephants, who remind me, as my own kids often do, what's really important.
Many people don't understand why elephants are so vital to conserve, why they're considered a 'keystone' species in ecosystems. It's not only because they are naturally the 'gardeners' of the forests and savannahs, having a major role in shaping habitats, they are also integral in dispersing and germinating seeds, and providing other animals with food and water and salt. A recent study also showed reptile and frog diversity is higher in areas with high elephant activity. They matter ecologically. Their dung is like pure rich fertiliser and is a great food source in itself for many animals (because much of what they eat is undigested). The habitats elephants live in would look completely different without them there. And of course, there is the intrinsic value of elephants. What would the world be without them? The deserve to be here as much as we do!
I've just returned from a whirlwind week of talks on elephants in Singapore and Melbourne where the importance of conserving elephants has been a key topic. I combined the Round Square Conference (hosted by United World College, Singapore) for 1000+ high school kids and their teachers from all around the world, with about 400 passionate Aussies marching at the Global March for Elephants and Rhinos in Melbourne, and snuck in a session talking elephants at the Singapore Botanical Gardens and a showing of the LEBE film at the University of Melbourne (hosted by A Future With Elephants) while I was at it. Here's a few photos showing the highlights.
Special thanks to Belinda Duffield-Torr who helped fund my visit to Melbourne and organised the Melbourne March, Susan Edwards and the amazing team from UWC who arranged for me to be one of the speakers at the Round Square conference, Mandy Heng, Vilma d'Rozario and Winnie Wong who made my talk at the Singapore Botanical Gardens happen, and Evan Bitner for organising the film showing by A Future With Elephants. Thanks to everyone who showed up and added their two bobs worth to the discussions!
One of the most inspiring things of the week for me was when two small boys, aged 7 and 9, presented me with a cheque for our LEBE campaign. Sammy, the younger of the two, had been to my talk on elephants at his school, UWC in Singapore, about a year ago, and had been so inspired to help that he raised $500 among his family and friends! This is the sort of thing that makes me believe that wildlife has a future in the world and it just goes to show that anyone can do something for wildlife. You don't need to be a pro!
If you're interested in having me as a speaker about elephants at your school/business/club, please get in touch with me here.