Ivory Belongs to Elephants

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One of my biggest role models is my mother who currently works as a national facilitator for a NGO which deals with the homeless people of Zimbabwe. She presents her work in a simple manner that everyone can understand and this has greatly influenced me, and I have applied her style and work ethic as my own in conversation

Shortly after college, I worked as a jump master in Victoria Falls. It was a job I thoroughly enjoyed as I could spend time with travelers and speak to them about Zimbabwe and the importance of maintaining and preserving our national heritage. This past summer, I received my Professional Hunter/ Guide license, which will enable me to fulfill my passion of working in conversation.

I currently run a wildlife club called the “Herentals Wildlife Conservation Club, which I formed early this year. “Herentals allows me the opportunity to visit schools and different communities where I talk about the importance of stopping the trade and selling of elephant’s part, ivory, and poaching. In 2019, I was honored to be a participant in a 580kms walk titled “Ivory Belongs to Elephants Campaign, which brings the message of elephant protection down to the grassroots level-to Africa’s children- as they will be the future protectors of our wildlife, and heritage.

It goes without questions that the elephant population is in a lot of trouble and under tremendous pressure. They have the longest pregnancy of any mammal at 22 months and will deliver only one calf every two to four years. This does not allow them to give birth and raise a calf at a sustainable rate. Elephants walk long distances to forage, needing lots of space to roam. They are under threat with human encroachment on their ancestral paths, trophy hunting, poaching for their tusks. The list is endless  

Without elephants, planet Earth would suffer dire consequences. These iconic creatures of Africa are a keystone species and play an important role in maintaining the biodiversity of the ecosystems in which they live. They have a complex, social structure that we humans need to start understanding and accept as fact. Elephants are not unfeeling, uncaring mammals. They live in large herds of mostly females (males will go off on their own at around 14 years of age and most will remain solitary, except for mating, or form a “bachelor herd”). The herds will consists of moms, aunties, grannies, cousins all who will care for each other for their entire lives. Even if members of a herd break off, they will remain close. In the animal kingdom, elephant moms are the most dedicated and protective of their young, and all will trumpet in delight at the birth of a calf. The herd is so intertwined that if one member falls behind, they all fall behind. They walk as one.

Even in death, elephants pay respects to their dead. While there really isn’t an “elephant graveyard” so to speak, it has been well documented that when elephants come upon the remains of the dead, they remain quiet, touch the body and/or bones, pick the bones up and stay with the remains for long period of time. Even the youngsters are encouraged to participate in this ritual.

In school my favorite subject was Accounting, which had nothing to do with nature or wildlife. Honestly, as a youngster (growing up in Victoria Falls) I was afraid of wild animals as I knew them to be dangerous and aggressive. On multiple occasions, my family’s crops were destroyed be elephants foraging for food. At the time, all I could think of was that these elephants were eating was my food and running my family’s livelihood! I was difficult to imagine that humans and elephants could possibly co-exit. All that changed when I was around 21. It was then that I started taking the opportunity to read about elephants and watch different nature programs that featured elephants. My family supported my new-found passion and listened, allowed me to educate them about these amazing pachyderms and the reasons why they would come and destroy ours crops. They needed to feed their families too! I am pleased to say, with their openness and willingness to listen, their attitudes have changed about elephants and wildlife in general 

The real turning point for me came when I had the opportunity to visit the Victoria Falls Wildlife Trust which was established in 2008 by Wild Horizons (an established safari tourism operator) that invests in wildlife rehabilitation and rescue

At VFWT, visitors are given the opportunity to interact with a small herd of elephants (in the 1980’s these elephants were part of a culling program, but thankfully, their lives were spared). It is very hard to describe that I was always taught to fear, that I was deadly afraid of. Some of residents are “Jock”, “Jack”, “Miz Ellie”, “Emily”, and “Thandie”. Each were led in a single file by their handler to a large platform, or deck, where visitors and elephants “meet” each other. It was with great trepidation and difficulty, but I mustered the courage and stroked Thandie’s  head” and in return, he used her trunk to see who this stranger standing in front of her was.

The second part of the interaction if for the herd to be moved into a feeding area. Guests and elephants are separated by a wood split-rail fence and provided the proper, dietary ”treats” for the elephants. My handler instructed me to give Thandie the command work of “trunk up”. At that point, she lifted her large trunk, and I tossed the pellets into her mouth! After that moment, I no longer feared these mighty beasts, but was humbled and determined to do I could to ensure their survival for generations to come

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