Awareness and education help elephants

As I approach my four-year anniversary at Zoo Atlanta, there are some novelties that have never worn off. On any given day, I can walk outside my office and see one or both of our African elephants, Kelly and Tara. I’m always amazed by their sheer size - these are earth’s largest living land mammals.

Elephants have been part of the zoo’s collection since 1890. Over the years, these individuals became parts of generations of Atlanta children’s lives, and Kelly and Tara continue to inspire, but I fear that we take for granted the idea that while they are here with us, somewhere in Africa, their counterparts roam in safety and in numbers. Recent data has suggested the reality is shockingly the opposite. Elephants are in bigger trouble than they have been in decades.

Zoo Atlanta is a proud partner of the 96 Elephants Campaign, launched late last year by the Wildlife Conservation Society. The campaign – named for the average number of elephants slaughtered by poachers in Africa every day – has attracted the support of more than 100 zoos.

As one of Atlanta’s highest-attended cultural destinations, and certainly as a conservation organization housing two of these animals, Zoo Atlanta has a unique ability to help raise awareness about a problem that has reached a crisis point. Elephants may have size, but without timely and targeted efforts, they have little time.

Whenever I share these facts, the first thing out of their mouths is often sadness. We’re not here to make people sad; we’re here to do just the opposite. Sadness won’t help elephants. Hope, awareness, education and action will. Many people are surprised to hear the United States is a major importer of ivory through the black-market trade; in fact, ivory is confiscated at American airports regularly. Someone’s buying it; otherwise it wouldn’t be such a commodity.

We can work together to do something about this. We can join the conversation and make ourselves heard. This issue isn’t about pointing to a handful of places on the map. We must realize it’s not one continent’s problem; it’s our and the world’s problem.

In our own lives, we can personally refuse to buy ivory. We can refuse to support businesses that buy, sell or appraise ivory, regardless of how long ago it was obtained. We can help humans understand there is nothing beautiful or valuable about a material that was obtained by the senseless slaughter of a magnificent animal.

Seeing an elephant is part of my everyday work day. Because of that rare opportunity, I believe that part of my everyday work day should also be spent giving back to that species. As with all awareness campaigns, 96 Elephants needs word-of-mouth. I encourage everyone to learn more and to help spread the word. I’m proud to see Zoo Atlanta champion this cause, and we’re honored and proud to share a responsibility for these incredible animals.