World renowned elephant communicator and scientist Dr. Joyce Poole and her partner Petter Granli have made a recent stop in Los Angeles. A small fundraiser for their organization, ElephantVoices, at the home of Patty Shenker and Doug Stoll gave some of us avid elephant lovers a chance to meet up and find out the latest doings in the elephant world. Not to mention to commune with wonderful and dynamic people.
Pachyderms are in trouble today all over the planet. They are being slaughtered for their ivory tusks by the Chinese in Africa and Asia and losing conflicts with native farmers; in captivity they are suffering at the hands of unscrupulous circus trainers and unsuitable zoo situations. Elephants do have strong advocates around the world: at the top of the list of the brightest and most effective is Dr. Joyce Poole.
Dr. Poole and her partner Petter Granli founded ElephantVoices, an organization through which they continue to support Joyce’s work as a pre-eminent elephant researcher and scientist, and teach others around the world about the needs of elephants; create new paradigms for conservation, testify on behalf of elephant advocates who are trying to free elephants from bad situations as well as help to establish new elephant sanctuaries around the world. She was a key witness in the fight to free Billy the elephant from the L.A. Zoo.
For all the things she does, Dr. Joyce Poole is unique in the world of elephants. Usually there are the scientists and the conservationists for the wild animals and then there are the advocates who are fighting against the cruelties bestowed on captive elephants. Dr. Poole does it all, and is ever innovating creative projects.
Joyce is the first scientist to discover and document “musth” in African male elephants – a period of time when they have high levels of testosterone and exhibit wilder behavior than the rest of the year. She is most know for documenting the various types of communication that elephants have with each other – everything from trumpets to low level rumbles unable to be heard by the human ear. She has observed and studied elies for over 30 years and has been able to identify many meanings among the communiqués. The elephants are busy communing with each other all the time.
Another ElephantVoices initiative is The Elephant Charter, providing a set of guiding principles for anyone needing to addres the interests of elephants. THe document is co-authored by five world leading elephant biologists, and signed by 90 elephant professionals. Anyone interested can sign on as an Elephant Friend. In December Joyce and Petter launched Sanctuaries for Elephants - Overall Principles-- is a document meant to be of help for those working toward setting up an elephant sanctuary.
Joyce is helping establish an elephant sanctuary in Brazil and conceptualizing with Europeans for one in Spain. She sometimes works with her brother, Bob Poole, a renowned nature cinematographer. Recently they went together to Gorongoza National Park in Mozambique, which at one time was an incredible nature reserve. But 20 years of fighting in that country, much of it over this reserve, along with poaching to get money for guns, reduced the elephant population from 4,000 to 100. Through a major contribution the park is slowly being brought back to some of its former majesty, but the elephants who are there are understandably suffering from post traumatic stress and are extremely fearful of humans and aggressive to them. This will keep tourist dollars away. Tourists are part of a successful equation for conservation as their money helps to pay for conservation efforts. Dr. Poole was summoned to see if she could calm them down, and her brother has the whole amazing project on tape. In fact, it will be aired on April 22 on National Geographic channel. Those of us at the fundraiser were able to see a trailer, and do not want to miss it.
Another new project, Elephant Partners, is the conservation efforts started in the Maasai Mara National Reserve. They are creating a data base of individual elephants and getting everyone involved. Joyce says, without the involvement of the whole community the elephants won’t have a chance. So they are involving children and locals in the project, and even tourists. Tourists who have photos of elephants taken there at any time are asked to send them in so they can help catalogue different elephants and where and when they have been seen. She is teaching others how to identify individuals. One only loves what one knows and one only knows what one is taught.
Although Joyce and Petter have a home in Kenya and one in Europe they are very much on the move. Next stop is the Elephant Summit sponsored by P.A.W.S., Performing Animal Welfare Society,in Oakland, California where they will be guest lecturers on Friday, March 30. I can’t wait to see them again.
Fundraiser photos by Diana Lannes
Georja Umano is an actress/comedienne and animal advocate.