For the Love of Elephants

How one non-profit is speaking up for elephants

“We heard the elephant call in our hearts,” says Jen Samuel over a spotty cell phone connection. The service cuts in and out, as Jen and her husband, Jake Roberts, drive through a rural area near their home in Landenberg, Pennsylvania. She apologizes, explaining that they had just rescued a litter of kittens and are trying to find homes for them. In the background, cats are meowing.

“The elephants have been calling out,” Jen says, her voice as clear as a bell. “We heard it in our hearts.”

For Jen, rescuing animals — and saving elephants in particular — is a labor of love. In 2014, Jen founded Elephants DC, an all-volunteer, non-profit organization dedicated to ending the ivory trade worldwide. She gave up a lot to become a full-time volunteer, including leaving her job as a managing editor of two newspapers in Princeton, New Jersey to focus on her advocacy work. And for the past two years, Jen worked in freelance roles so that she could have the time to build the organization from the ground up. “It’s been a huge sacrifice,” she says, “but I just wanted to make a difference.”

And she has.

Jen Samuel at the 2013 International March for Elephants in Washington, D.C.

Since Jen incorporated Elephants DC, she and her dedicated team have built a grassroots network of more than 30 “elephant advocates” and more than 100 supporters who are passionate about saving elephants from extinction. “Our volunteers and supporters are amazing, incredible people,” Jen says. “One supporter helped us connect with the international investigation to release undercover photos of elephants in Zimbabwe earlier this year. Another elephant advocate held a fundraiser at his house and raised enough money to fund our efforts for six months.”

Together with its volunteers and supporters, Elephants DC has held two marches for elephants in the nation’s capital; testified at federal and state hearings in support of banning ivory; raised funds for field organizations in Africa; organized support for ivory bans across the U.S.; and worked to educate the public and lawmakers about elephant abuse and extinction. On Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015, the group will host a silent auction, WILD for Elephants, at the Embassy of Gabon to raise funds for a grassroots organization in Gabon focusing on antipoaching education and fieldwork, as well as for the Kenya-based David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. Earlier in the day on Oct. 24, Elephants DC will hold its third annual International March for Elephants in Washington, D.C.

For the last two years, the organization has focused its efforts on enacting a full ban on ivory in the nation’s capital. In June 2015, D.C. Councilmember Mary Cheh (Ward 3) introduced a bill seeking to restrict the trade in ivory and rhino horns in D.C., and referred the legislation to a committee hearing. But the bill is not perfect. Elephants DC wants to strike two of the bill’s clauses that exempt antique items — including musical instruments — that have less than 20% ivory content by volume. The group is seeking a complete ban on the sale of ivory. “All ivory is from the slaughter of elephants,” Jen says. The bill is currently waiting to be heard by a committee, which Elephants DC hopes will be this fall.

Beyond D.C., Elephants DC is seeking a worldwide ban on the sale of ivory, starting with all 50 U.S. states. Jen says: “Our little non-profit was the first place where we said, ‘We can ban the ivory trade in New Jersey.’ And we did.” In August 2014, New Jersey became the first U.S. state to enact a full ban on the import and sale of ivory from elephants and other animals, and rhino horns. New York followed suit, signing a similar ban only a few days later.

“The reason we succeeded in New Jersey was because it was a bipartisan effort,” Jen says, lauding the efforts of the New Jersey people and Republican and Democratic lawmakers in the state, including Governor Chris Christie, Senator Raymond Lesniak, and Assemblyman Raj Mukherji. “The key is to get state advocates to partner with non-governmental organizations,” Jen says, referring to the ongoing efforts to ban ivory in Washington State, Oregon, California, Pennsylvania, and Vermont. “We’re not going to stop. If we fail to act, we will lose this keystone species. It’s a race to extinction.”

“There is a citizen-led, grassroots effort occurring across the U.S. to end the ivory trade at the state level. The U.S. is the number two market for ivory products only behind China — so it’s imperative states take action to support efforts underway at the federal level,” says Ann Lewis, vice president of Elephants DC. “As long as the U.S. is selling ivory, China will point the finger at us. It’s hypocrisy. We have to lead by example,” Jen adds.

For Jen, Ann, and the volunteers and supporters of Elephants DC, saving the elephants extends beyond animal rights. “This is about human rights and human lives because ivory trafficking funds terrorism. It is an environmental issue because we want to preserve the ecosystem. It is about our children because we don’t want them to have to grow up in a world where elephants don’t exist,” Jen says.

And it’s about love.

Ann says: “I can’t imagine future generations growing up in a world without elephants — they are just like humans — they mourn their dead, are deeply emotional and family-oriented, have an amazing memory, and are truly gentle giants. If you have the chance to look into an elephant’s eye — you can look into their soul. As long as I am on this Earth, I will do whatever I can to help save them.”

“We’re just going with our hearts,” Jen says.

For more information on Elephants DC, check out its website or send an email to info@elephantsdc.org.

Interested in partnering with Elephants DC to help save the elephants? Here’s what you can do:

· Take part in the Third Annual International March for Elephants in Washington, D.C. on Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015.

· Become a state ambassador or donate to Elephants DC.

· Tell your friends and family never to buy ivory.

· Tell your lawmakers that elephant extinction is imminent. Ask them to support a full ban on ivory.

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