The “Soul of the Elephant”

1994 | BOTSWANA Renowned wildlife filmmakers and National Geographic Explorers-in-Residence Dereck and Beverly Joubert photograph an elephant at extremely close range in Botswana’s Savuti region, one of Africa’s last unspoiled wildernesses. Photo by Beverly Joubert. (photo is used by permission from National Geographic celebrating "125 years" ).

1994 | BOTSWANA
Renowned wildlife filmmakers and National Geographic Explorers-in-Residence Dereck and Beverly Joubert photograph an elephant at extremely close range in Botswana’s Savuti region, one of Africa’s last unspoiled wildernesses. Photo by Beverly Joubert. (photo is licensed and used by permission from the National Geographic celebrating “125 years”).

Two of the most remarkable researchers I have ever known (well I don’t know them personally but I admire them greatly) are Dereck and Beverly Joubert of the Great Plains Foundation. Recently on “Ellen” they spoke about their latest documentary “Soul of the Elephant.” It is one of the best I have ever seen and it is stunning. Not only are the stories they tell incredible but the way in which they tell them is awe-inspiring.

In the interview on “Ellen” Beverly tells a story about finding ivory on a dead elephant and storing the tusks in their vehicle to take to the authorities. In the middle of the night a wild bull elephant begins rocking their truck over and over again. They finally realize that it is the ivory that he is after. Once they let him have it he carries it away with him. In the morning the elephant and the ivory he took are both gone. We don’t know for sure how they know when a human is in possession of ivory but they definitely seem to. Stories like these are not uncommon among the people who work within the wild elephant community.

Simon Trevor told a similar tale of an elephant, in “An Elephant’s Perception,” in which a female elephant walked onto his veranda and wrapped her trunk gently around a woman’s arm at a cocktail party he was having. The woman didn’t realize that amongst the many bracelets she had been wearing one was made of ivory. Could the ivory have been from a dead relative of the elephant? No other elephants seemed disturbed by it so it was odd that only one elephant broke away from the herd and found the only ivory bracelet on the veranda.

It keeps me up at night thinking about this. That elephants seem to know on some level that they are being hunted for their ivory. It makes me want to do whatever I can to stop it. The United States is #2, behind China, in the trade of illegal wildlife products…and we’re not that far behind.

There is so much coverage about China and their role in wildlife trafficking yet so little about the US that it appears to be a great deflection technique. But the numbers don’t lie. Imagine if we (the US) were able to remove ourselves completely from this list. That would decrease the world’s wildlife trafficking problem by nearly half. Half!!

There is pending legislation in 16 US states to tighten up illegal wildlife trafficking laws. (Photo credit: The Dodo "

There is pending legislation in 16 US states to tighten up illegal wildlife trafficking laws. (Photo credit: The Dodo “Is Ivory Trading Legal in your State?”

And there is good news on the horizon. There is legislation pending in 16 states in order to tighten up state laws about the sale and trade of everything from ivory to shark fins. Yes, there is a federal law called the Endangered Species Act but what many don’t realize is that the federal law will not interfere with state laws…aka “in-state sales of illegal wildlife products.” Five states, New Jersey, New York, California, Washington and Hawaii have already passed laws closing this whopping loophole.

So if you live in a state that has lax or no laws protecting the sale of illegal wildlife products then the door is essentially wide open to ivory traders, for one. With nearly half of the United States on board to stop the trade within their state the impact of this could be enormous. It makes me feel inspired by all of the people that are working so hard to change these laws…that once we realize the significance of a problem we change.

If elephant’s could find a way to get rid of their ivory I feel sure that they would if they could. Since they can’t, don’t we owe it to them to try everything we can?