By Michael Bamesberger
While visiting Tanzania last summer, Harper Graham-Nye became frustrated.
The country, located on Africa's east coast, is home to one of the world's largest remaining elephant populations. But in the last 30 years, 65 percent of the elephants have been killed by poachers looking to profit from the animals' tusks.
Graham-Nye, 9, and his mother and brother learned the scope of the problem as they spent three months in the country while on a trip around the world. If poachers continue to target the ivory tusks as they currently do, Graham-Nye learned the animals could be gone before he even graduates high school.
"It's just for trinkets and jewelry," he told his mother, Kim. "They kill these animals for nothing."
But now, the Lake Oswego boy is determined to do something about it. Through Happy Tusk, a new nonprofit he's helped create, Graham-Nye seeks to donate profits from the sale of wildlife-themed merchandise to help conservation efforts.
On a recent Saturday, Graham-Nye sat behind a table in a North Portland coffee shop showcasing his wares. Vividly-colored photographs of elephants, zebras and big cats adorned the fronts of postcards, T-shirts, silk pillows and more.
The images belong to a Julien Polet, a Belgian wildlife photographer whom the boy met while in the bush. Graham-Nye spent hours flipping through the photos and hearing how they were made.
While on the trip, the boy used photo editing software to manipulate the hue of digital copies, shading them bright pink, green and purple. When showing them to his friends upon returning home, the kids were drawn to the striking colors. Some suggested putting the photos on T-shirts.
Graham-Nye brought the idea to his parents. What if he sold the T-shirts and donated half the money to stop poaching?
As entrepreneurs, the boy's parents couldn't help but encourage him, Kim Graham-Nye said. About a decade ago, the couple started the company gDiapers, which offers reusable diapers with cloth or biodegradable inserts.
When informed of the idea, Polet, the wildlife photographer, jumped at the chance to help. And the director of Tusk Trust, a prominent British anti-poaching organization the family found online, said she'd love to work with Graham-Nye.
After several months of organizing and planning, Graham-Nye and friends crowded the Portland coffee shop to celebrate the launch of www.happytusk.com, a new website where the merchandise can be purchased. The web store allows customers to choose from different designs and color schemes when picking a shirt.
Polet flew to Portland to take part in the launch. He and the boy also spent several days at a middle school and elementary schools in Lake Oswego, presenting the photos and talking about poaching.
In addition to the online store, Graham-Nye hopes to get the postcards and merchandise into tourist lodges in Tanzania.
"I hope this can grow into something big," Graham-Nye said.