By Chelsea Katz
New student conservation and advocacy group forms
Every 15 minutes, an African elephant dies from illegal ivory poaching, a trend that will make elephants extinct by 2025, according the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Nairobi, Kenya's capital. And elephant tourism rides in Thailand are doing more harm than good, according to Amanda James, the president of Stony Brook University's new student-run organization Tembo: The Elephant and Wildlife Conservation Society.
"Tembo" is Swahili for "elephant."
"We're not just elephants but that's our main focus," said James, a sophomore biology major on a pre-veterinary track, who is at the helm of the project.
She spent her summer north of Chiang Mai in Thailand where she volunteered with the Elephant Nature Park, which rescues distressed elephants and gives them medical care. The park has many orphaned baby and adolescent elephants whose parents were killed for their ivory.
James started the club with an intention to spread awareness of the illegal ivory poaching industry. She connected with William Arens of the university's study abroad office, who connected her with Richard Leakey, a noted conservationist and anthropologist. Leakey introduced James to his niece, Acacia Leakey, who is a student at the university, and he recommended that the group should not just specialize in educating about the elephants' struggle. Rather, they should start off with elephants and add on other animals.
Now, the unofficial club has about 10 members including a James and other officers. She recruited members from SBU's Pre-Veterinary Society on campus, students who seemed eager about the club and had different ideas for programming and connecting with different animal hospitals.
Acacia Leakey, the vice president, said education is the most powerful tool to spreading awareness of the plight of elephants around the world.
"Once people realize what's going on, as opposed to what they hear from press and media, [there will be\ a lot more drive to change stuff," she said. Leakey is no stranger to protecting elephants. Her uncle, Richard, was the brains behind a symbolic ivory burning in 1989 in Nairobi and is a former president of the Kenya Wildlife Service.
James submitted the club's constitution to the Stony Brook University Undergraduate Student Government and plans to be recognized as a formal club soon so they can start spreading the word.
Once they are recognized, club members plan to pass petitions around campus, hold Zumba fundraisers and sell shirts with their logo to spread awareness. Next month they plan to show PBS's documentary "Battle for the Elephants" about ivory poaching in Tanzania. They hope to hold the viewing during the university's annual Earthstock week, which celebrates Earth Day and environmentalism, from April 21 to 25. Richard Leakey is invited to speak.
"We want to get the ball rolling [and\ teach the campus community," James said.
Eventually, James and Acacia Leakey said they will branch out to other animals. Leakey recently attended a New York City event to save lions and James mentioned that rhinos are always a possibility. Still, elephants will serve as the first step.
"You don't need to have an elephant to carry you around," James said. "Just enjoy them as they are."