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A voice for elephants

Updated: 2013-07-05 12:43
By Li Aoxue ( China Daily)

 A voice for elephants

Joyce Poole now devotes herself to stopping the ivory trade around the world, including in China. Provided to China Daily

 A voice for elephants

Joyce Poole,right, with her family during a trip in a Kenyan national park in the 1960s. Provided to China Daily

Through a childhood in Kenya Joyce Poole developed a love of elephants. Now she is in China, campaigning against the slaughter

Joyce Poole has been a lifelong campaigner against the ivory trade and slaughter of elephants that goes with it. Her fascination with the animal began aged 6, when her father moved the family from the United States to Kenya, and quickly grew when as a teenager she began to study their behavior.

Protecting elephants has been a passion for Poole and eventually drew her to Hong Kong in 1989 as part of a worldwide campaign against the ivory trade.

Now she is back in China, this time on the mainland, which has become the largest market in the world for ivory.

"China started to become the main consumer when they were allowed to buy ivory in 2007, and the situation has become worse, especially in recent years, as demand rises," Poole says.

She believes part of the problem is a lack of understanding about the process of collecting ivory and that it involves killing the elephant.

"Most people don't know that to make an ivory product, people need to cut the trunk from an elephant, and it is a cruel thing as that it is going to take the elephant's life," she says.

The good thing is that many Chinese have joined the fight against the ivory trade, spurred on by celebrities such as Jackie Chen, Li Bingbing, Yao Ming and Guo Jingjing, who have taken up the cause of animal welfare.

Their campaigns have extended beyond elephants into calls for an end to eating shark fins and other practices that threaten animals.

Poole aims to educate people in China about this practice in the hope of saving elephants, which she says could some day become an extinct species.

"When I think about elephants being killed and that there is nothing we can do about it, I just cannot sleep well at night," she says.

Poole's family moved to Kenya when her father became the local director of the peace corps there.

"I did my schooling in Kenya, and when I didn't have class, my family and I would do camping in national parks and going on safari in Africa. It was a lot of fun for me." Poole says.

When she turned 19, she delayed plans to attend university in the US to spend a year studying elephant behavior in Kenya.

"Elephants attracted me because they are very intelligent and social, and to some extent they are quite similar to human beings as they live in a family and have long-lasting relationships. And with their family members they can also be very caring and quite dependable towards their family members," Poole says.

The longer she studied elephants the more she fell in love with them.

"Elephants are such amazing animals and they are clever enough to know who is dangerous," she says. "When they encounter poachers, they will run away, and if they encounter people like me, they are not defensive but friendly."

Conflict in parts of Africa has left elephants there particularly vulnerable and close to being wiped out in areas, Poole says. This is both cruel and unbalances the whole eco-system, she says.

"Elephants are considered the architects of forest as they open up new spaces, dig water for other animals, and maintain the forest dynamics," Poole says.

"Without them there will surely be an ecological imbalance in the forests."

Childhood camping trips and safaris gave Poole an appreciation of nature.

"I still remember camping with my family in the national parks. Walking from the dining room tent to the sleeping tent at night I could see stars above me and hear the sound of crickets and frogs. I just felt so connected to nature."

Poole is happy to see an increasing number of young Africans studying elephant protection, many of them inspired by her, she says.

"I actually get a lot of pleasure from inspiring young people, and I feel happy to see many young Kenyans starting to feel the way I do as it is them who can make a difference to Africa's forests and wildlife," she says.

She now spends half of her time in Norway and the other half in Kenya. Together with her husband she has launched a website (www.elephantvoices.org) on elephant protection that includes information on how they communicate through sounds and body language.

Poole says the website has about 18,000 Facebook followers and she plans to transfer some content to a Chinese microblog account for people in China.

"By reading our website, if people start to know that animals are capable of carrying empathy, that they can suffer; and they have thoughts and feelings, some of them may stop buying ivory products and think about the animals' future," Poole says.

The 1989 anti-ivory campaign Poole was involved in was a success, she says, and she hopes to have a similar impact in China this time around.

"Animals and natural resources are inherited possessions on the earth. If we don't care about animals we don't care about our environment, but people still need to be reminded that we depend on clean water and fresh air to live, as well as to find new medicines."

The industrialization of farming has separated animals from people, and she believes this has led to worse treatment of them. Elephants are one of the animals paying the price for this, she says, not just through the ivory trade, but also through zoos, which target baby elephants.

"It is a cruel thing that they use helicopters to take baby elephants away from their families as mother elephants are very defensive and baby elephants cannot learn things without staying with their family," she says.

Poole's goal in China and beyond is simple: to protect elephants. "I would like my great grand children to be able to see elephants and play with them and I hope elephants can be treated better than before."

(China Daily Africa 07/05/2013 page29)

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