About Us

Scroll to the bottom to meet the entire KOTA Foundation team

The KOTA Foundation for Elephants is an emerging organization that teaches exclusively about African Elephants to people in the United States. Its programs and services aim to educate people about elephants as a way to support positive outcomes for their survival.

Learning about the secret lives they share, the bonds they create, the challenges they face and the people risking their lives to save them is an experience that will leave you glowing both inside and out.

Based on the belief:

“You won’t fight for what you don’t care about”


Founder, Executive Director and Conservation Research Scientist Debbie Ethell, explains in her own words why The KOTA Foundation for Elephants is unique, important and necessary:

Debbie Ethell (Photo credit: Danny Abrego)

Debbie Ethell (Photo credit: Danny Abrego)


KOTA stands for Keepers of the Ark (also based on a book by the same name) because that is what I believe we all are. We have the power to save them or to let them go extinct. I choose the former.



The United States is #2 in the world, behind China, in the demand for illegal ivory. This is an enormous problem that we are contributing to right here in our own country. It seems that everyone wants to do something but most people, in general, know very little about elephants.

I have always felt that education is crucial to fixing this. Once people could get to know actual elephants, the way that I have then I feel strongly that they will do anything and everything they can within their means to help them.

Young or old, I’ve found that just about everyone that I talk to are as transfixed by elephants as I am. That’s why it is my mission to teach everything I can about them to anyone who wants to learn more.



I have followed a group of more than 400 wild elephants in Kenya for the past 20 years. I have put together their entire life histories from the beginning all the way to the end (though many are still living).

What you see when you look at the entire life of an individual elephant is not unlike something you would see when you look at the life of any human. It is beyond fascinating. So many of their choices seem to be based on the bonds they share between each other – just like us.

There is so much science being discovered every single day and I’m working hard to tell that story as well. When you look at the whole picture, all of it together, you see the line between us and them blur.

That’s why this site is divided into a section about Elephant Science and a section about Elephant Stories. The science makes the stories even more interesting and, in my opinion, is necessary to tell an even more remarkable story.



The KOTA Foundation for Elephants currently has two local programs in development that we are in the process of raising funds for:

1)     KOTA Lesson Plans

The KOTA Lesson Plans project is personal to me because I struggled with math since I was very young; as a result I got left behind in school. I couldn’t take any science classes, and that was what I wanted to do most. It wasn’t until I was 35 that I went back to school to try again.

Though math was still hard I got straight A’s in every science class I took. This made me wonder: How many baby scientists are we missing? Kids that are hung up on one subject that prevents them from excelling at what they are great at? If we don’t get more kids interested in science and becoming a part of the solution in saving elephants then we will lose this battle.

At the current rate at which elephants are being killed that leaves us only about 10 years before they are completely extinct in the wild. 10 YEARS!!! So we have a LOT of work to do and we have one shot to do it.

We teach scientific lesson plans using the science of elephants…a subject that kids already find fascinating. The trial run of the lesson plans in local classrooms has shown very promising results. I’ve never seen kids so excited about science and this is exactly what we were hoping for. If all goes according to plan, then we will replicate this nationwide so that every school that wants access to a lesson plan can have it. Our goal is to provide them as a free download from our website.

2)     Kenya Consumer-to-Producer (C2P) Project

One day I was walking around Target with a friend and everywhere we looked there were pillows, rugs, lamps, all kinds of decorating items with elephants or rhinos on them. It reminded me of many of the items I saw myself when I was in Kenya. The artistry there was extraordinary, everywhere I looked. And Kenya is tribal, meaning that people don’t usually move to another area that is technically owned by another tribe. They stay put and this makes finding a trade to support themselves difficult.

So it made me think that if people buy these items anyway when most of them are made in China then wouldn’t they feel better about buying them if they knew they were made in Kenya?

It reminded me of another organization, the Owens Foundation for Wildlife Conservation, that literally eradicated elephant poaching in an area of Zambia doing this exact same thing. They brought beekeeping into a village that had no industry and were therefore relying on poaching elephants and wildlife.

Once the trade was established they began selling beeswax and honey and the poaching in this area nearly disappeared. Now 20 years later their local business is still thriving and so is the wildlife.

The KOTA Foundation for Elephants will work with Global Village Resources (an organization that provides underprivileged schools with technological and educational support in remote areas of Kenya) and local village leaders. We work together to identify sustainable products that can be sold on the KOTA website putting money directly back into a community that needs it the most.

We are often asked “What can we do?” By purchasing a product made by a village that has previously relied on poaching then you can now see just how big of a difference one person can make. After all you can’t save the elephants if you don’t save the people.

Our goal is to turn this into a volunteering opportunity for anyone who wants to go to Kenya with us to help. They can then see the results for themselves so when they buy that pillow, lamp or rug they will have met the person who made it and see the actual real-life results of what a community can do when given the opportunity.

Click on any of the pictures below to get to know Team KOTA:

Jim Karani

Jim Karani