Wakened: Tell us a little bit about the history of IEF and how it came to be?
IEF: In 1998, frustrated by the lack of funding available for elephant conservation and research efforts, Michael Fouraker, Executive Director of the Fort Worth Zoo, envisioned an elephant foundation that would provide funds and expertise to worthy projects without the large overhead that other organizations carry. Fouraker contacted experts in the elephant husbandry, research, conservation and veterinary world and together they founded the International Elephant Foundation. Since 1999, IEF has provided support to over 150 elephant conservation projects worldwide and nearly $5 million in direct financial assistance.
Wakened: What is your mission or goal?
IEF: At IEF our goal is to act as the catalyst for creating a sustainable future where elephants thrive. We support elephant conservation, education, research, and management programs to effectively foster safe, long-term co-existence between people and elephants for their mutual long-term benefit.
Wakened: Give a couple examples of some projects IEF is currently working on?
IEF: n 2018 IEF is providing support to more than 26 projects around the globe! In Africa we are supporting aerial patrols and anti-poaching protection to the Big Tusker elephants in Tsavo, Kenya. These majestic African elephants carry ivory that weighs over 100 lbs per tusk and are truly the iconic image of what comes to mind when you think of elephants roaming the savannah. In Asia we are addressing human-elephant conflict by protecting the last remaining patches of habitat for the critically endangered Sumatran elephant. Our Conservation Response Unit (CRU) programs in Way Kambas and Seblat secure critical forests that are home to a number of endangered species like the Sumatran tiger, the Sumatran rhino, pangolin, tapir, hornbill, and gibbons. The CRUs also have an outreach component, working with the community to keep elephants in their habitat and out of farmland and villages.
Wakened: what are some of the difficulties IEF faces? Can it be overwhelming at times?
IEF: There are always more worthwhile projects to support than there are funds. IEF intentionally keeps administrative costs as low as possible in order to make every donation reach the field. Yet, there is always something that needs support. Balancing the needs of the projects with our ability to multitask can absolutely be overwhelming. We each wear many hats, and sometimes you just have to sit back and reprioritize in order to get things done, because at the end of the day the elephants come first.
Wakened: Can you give us some examples of the positive impact or strides forward that has been made for Elephants?
IEF: For the last few years, IEF has been supporting a Community Scout Anti-Poaching Unit in Nsumbu National Park, Zambia, and after perhaps decades of elephants being absent from entire regions of that ecosystem we are now starting to see multiple elephant sightings, including family groups. This is a sign that the increased security is allowing that ecosystem to not only recover but start to thrive.
In Tanzania, an IEF supported school outreach program is teaching and inspiring the next generation of conservationists. The education is coupled with taking community members into the nearby national parks to show them their heritage in person. This approach has been working and changing community attitudes towards wildlife, as expressed by the comment by one female villager, “If all people from the village get the chance to visit the park, they won’t be able to poach wild animals (anymore) because they will understand the benefits of keeping them.”
In the realm of research, scientists are working diligently to find a cure or treatment for the lethal Elephant Endotheliotropic Herpesvirus (EEHV). EEHV affects 1 in 4 baby elephants under the age of 8 and there is no known cure. IEF has supported the identification and sequencing of the different strains of EEHV, and in 2017 we funded an extremely promising avenue of research that is seeking to develop a vaccine. We keep getting closer and I know success is within reach.
Wakened: What is IEF’s future outlook for elephants worldwide and what still needs to be done?
IEF: The outlook for elephants worldwide is unclear. Great strides are being made to protect African elephants and to strangle the illegal ivory trade that drives a large portion of the threat to that species. But the increasing level of human-elephant conflict (HEC) due to loss of habitat and human development programs continues to put wildlife at risk. At the same time, there are ten times fewer Asian elephants left on the planet, and there are some areas where they could go regionally extinct within 10 years. Asian elephants don’t get the attention they should as they also suffer from poaching and even greater loss of habitat and conflict with humans resulting in devastating consequences in areas inhabited by subsistence farmers. We need a concerted global effort to reduce human poverty, provide alternative livelihoods and education programs, and encourage wise land-use planning to save the remaining patches of habitat left. Populations of developed nations need to become more informed consumers and understand their impact on wildlife and habitat. Palm oil (used in 50% of the food we eat), pharmaceuticals, and industry displace elephant herds, while many of our electronics utilize precious minerals mined from elephant habitats in Asia and Africa. Saving both the African and Asian elephant requires a worldwide effort.
Wakened: What can we do as individuals to make a difference and help elephants worldwide?
IEF: Individuals can do a lot to help elephants—everything from only purchasing products that are palm-oil free or utilize sustainable palm oil, to supporting elephant ambassadors to inspire others to learn and care about elephants, to buying gifts and products that donate to conservation projects (like those at Wakened Apparel). Being mindful of how your actions affect wild habitats takes a little bit more time, but is worth it