Monday, April 29, 2013

How Elephants Use Their Tusks

 Story from Amara Conservation Founder/Executive Director Lori Bergemann

Elephant tusks are elongated incisors and are essentially no different from other teeth. One third of the tusk is actually hidden from view, embedded deep in the elephant’s head. This part of the tusk is a pulp cavity made up of tissue, blood and nerves.

The visible, ivory part of the tusk is made of dentine with an outer layer of enamel. Elephant ivory is unique as when it’s viewed in cross-sections it reveals criss-crossed lines that form a series of diamond shapes.

Elephant’s tusks never stop growing so some old bulls display enormous examples. However, the average size of tusks has decreased over the past hundred years because hunting elephants for their ivory has resulted in the ‘big tusk gene’ becoming increasingly rare.

Elephants use their tusks to ward off potential predators like the lion (although lions will only ever attack young or juvenile elephants) or in sparring with other elephants. Male elephants, whose tusks are longer, use them in battles against sexual competitors or to attract the interest of females.

Tusk uses also include digging for water, stripping the bark off trees, foraging for food and essential minerals, moving or lifting heavy objects, and as a place to rest a tired trunk.

Elephants are born with milk teeth that fall out after about a year, much like human teeth. The permanent tusks don't start to appear beyond the elephant's lips until it is about two or three years old. Elephant tusks grow as much as seven inches per year, and can grow to up to 10 feet long, although it is rare to see an elephant with such long tusks.

Elephants often wear down or break their tusks over the years, generally preferring one tusk over the other (similar to being being right or left handed in humans). The preferred tusk, known as the master tusk, is usually the shorter one, because it is worn down from constant use. 

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Lori Bergemann's Amara Conservation: Help Stop Ivory Poaching!

Lori Bergemann

Education is key to stop the horrific destruction caused by Ivory Poaching...

"Tsavo is one of the areas many people and organizations may skip in their programs, because they are very far and few, but history of the Tsavo area is that people from here DO eat bush meat every day, this was their very first time to see a film on wildlife conservation, and to be visited by an organization like Lori Bergemann's Amara Conservation. Even politicians don't visit them, they were happy to see the film and asked for more." Jacob Dadi 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013


TSAVO’S ELEPHANTS UNDER FIRE There is something magical and deeply mysterious about Tsavo. Besides being one of the world’s largest and most important protected areas, spanning 16,000 square miles in Kenya (roughly the size of Wales) it is considered one of Africa’s last truly wild and untamed regions.

Its natural beauty and incredible biodiversity will drop you to your knees in awe. As Dr. Dame Daphne Sheldrick eloquently reflects, "What is it that makes Tsavo such a compelling and magical obsession for those of us who know it well and love it unreservedly. It is the big skies, the space that extends beyond each horizon - it is its denizens who live in this, their land from the largest land mammals on earth - the majestic elephants and those that are living legends with massive ivory, but also the contrasting seasons that transform the landscape over night in response to even a little rain.

The dry seasons have their own beauty and magic, twisted trees devoid of foliage but with magic shapes, the towering red castles of clay inhabited by the termite workers of the world, the rocks studded with garnets and bejeweled with glittering quartz and the hushed voices of the natural world when one listens to the silence.”

Tsavo is home to Kenya’s single largest remaining elephant population estimated [2011] to be about 12,000. In the late 1960’s Tsavo was blessed with over 35,000 elephants and everywhere you looked there were free roaming elephants. Magnificent bulls carrying tusks that touched the ground were frequently encountered and admired. Today, Tsavo is at the epicenter of Kenya’s poaching epidemic placing her last surviving “big tuskers” in peril.

Conservationists agree that Tsavo may harbor the world’s last viable gene pool of elephants carrying tusks that touch the ground and weigh in at over 100 pounds. Very few “big tuskers” remain in all of Africa with Tsavo sheltering as few as 4 and possibly as many as 12. Dr. Dame Daphne Sheldrick states, “Elephant Bulls who carry enormous Ivory Tusks that touch the ground are the true majestic monuments of the wilderness.

Their majestic bearing epitomizes grandeur and nobility, power and stature and is a spectacle of awesome magnificence. They are the Emperors of the Elephant World; true Kings whose mere presence demands the respect and admiration of all, and none more so than their Elephant peers both large and small.

Sadly, in today's world, all elephants that carry ivory, even those with small tusks, are under siege due to the demand for ivory in countries of the Far East, especially China. Poaching is driving these magnificent animals towards extinction, and those Emperors of the Elephant World are becoming extremely rare due to the evil and greed of humankind.” READ MORE

"Starving Elephant Artisans"

Watch this elephant paint a beautiful image of an elephant holding a flower. You'll be amazed at how her talent unfolds as she carefully completes each stroke. Her mahout talks to her throughout the process as his gentle touch gives her confidence. She focuses on her work and seems to enjoy the approval of the audience and, of course, the sugar cane and banana treats. All of her training has been reward based.

So touched by their horrific backgrounds and loving personalities, now supports, "Starving Elephant Artisans" by selling their paintings so they can continue to have a new life in Thailand.

Own a print of the art for $15. Some Thai elephant experts believe that the survival of the Asian elephant species will most likely depend on the good treatment of the elephants in well managed privately owned elephant camps.

All of us would prefer that all of the elephants be free to be in the wild and to put an end to Ivory Poaching in the next decade.  You can learn more and purchase these unique paintings at

Monday, April 22, 2013

Lily Tomlin Speaks Out for Elephants: HBO “An Apology to Elephants.”

HBO is offering “An Apology to Elephants.” That’s the name of a documentary premiering on Earth Day – April 22 – at 7 p.m. The film looks at how humans have mistreated elephants: captured, crated to zoos and circuses (where they are roped and prodded with sharp metal “bull hooks” to force them to do tricks), killed by poachers for their tusks.

In one tragic incident, Topsy, an elephant kept at Coney Island crushed a man to death—and then was electrocuted by Thomas Alva Edison to demonstrate the dangers of AC electricity. The narrator for the film is the actress Lily Tomlin, who spoke with National Geographic about her love for elephants: “they are among my favorite earthlings.”

You are an elephant activist.

Five years ago I got involved with elephants here in Los Angeles. There was a bull elephant at the zoo that was living a pretty stringent and brutal life. So I got involved because we were trying to free Billy from the L.A. Zoo. I had read a lot about elephants. I had feelings that elephants shouldn’t be in zoos.

Probably no animals should, but least of all the big ones, and the elephant is the biggest. What the elephant endures living in captivity became a symbol to me—a very obvious symbol—of all the suffering we perpetrate.

Do you remember the first time you saw an elephant?

I do. In Detroit at the zoo. It was the Hall of the Elephants. There was only one elephant. I remember he or she was up in a big cage in a dank kind of cement building. I went up some stairs. The elephant was up there at the top.

The little set of stairs made the elephant seem bigger and more majestic and yet kind of meager in that cage, in that dank, dark environment. I think it was more scary than enticing, probably because the elephant was indoors in this really confined, strange environment.

I never loved zoos much as a kid. I liked the monkeys; kids always like the monkeys, I guess; they’re doing monkey antics. But big cats walking up and down in a cage—it’s pretty grim.  Read More

Sunday, April 21, 2013

New York Knicks All-Star center Tyson Chandler - NBA Cares and WildAid Elephant PSA

New York Knicks All-Star center Tyson Chandler stars in an NBA Cares and WildAid partnership public service announcement, encouraging consumers to NEVER buy products made from ivory.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013



One day a few years ago… We arrived at Simon’s house inside Tsavo East about 5PM. Onto the verandah and lo and behold, an elephant was walking quite close to the house. As always, when I see my first elephant after leaving Nairobi I felt that sense of… AH, there you are.

Thank goodness… Usually they are about 30 meters away at a waterhole, where they come to drink and move on - but this time, this elephant was calmly walking right towards me - he reached out his trunk straight to my face! The tip of his trunk was about a foot away and he was clearly reaching out to me.

I was SO TEMPTED to touch his trunk, to blow into it as one does with the orphaned elephants at the Sheldrick Trust elephant orphanage in Nairobi – we all think they like this, and it’s how they get to know who we are…

The Voi stockades are less than a kilometre away from Simon’s house, this elephant showing such interest in a human meant it just HAD To be one of the orphans, now a wild ele, with no fear or concern whatsoever.

But I held back… I couldn’t know for sure. And I was well aware of the time that Daphne Sheldrick had mistaken a wild elephant for one of the ones they had raised only to find that the elephant was NOT a former orphan and decidedly unhappy at her approach so it tossed her into the bushes and she broke her leg quite badly!

 I waited, I hung back on the little verandah. The elephant reached over and knocked over one of the canvas-backed chairs. I pulled the chair inside. He laid his trunk to rest on the table right at me as if to say… “Aw, come ON – Play with ME!!”

Thank you Brian for taking these photos with no setup! After a while he went to the waterhole, staying nearby for another 1/2 hour. The next day we went up to the stockades and showed the photos to the keepers at the Sheldricks and it turned out that NO, this was NOT one of the elephants raised by them!

So how did this elephant become so calm around people? Did he learn it from those elephants who had left the orphanage? What WOULD have happened had I reached out and touched him? I will never know.

I only know that I had a very rare and funny encounter with a very wild and not small elephant. It filled me with such joy and gratitude. I wanted to think that he (or she, it's hard to tell at that age but for a female to be alone for nearly an hour would be unusual) just knew that I am on his side –

I would never do anything to hurt an elephant and all of my work in Africa is based upon my love and appreciation for elephants. A lovely day I will always remember.



Kenya plans to bolster current lenient sentences for convicted wildlife poachers or ivory smugglers in a bid to stamp out a spike in elephant killings, the government said. "We intend to fight poachers at all levels to save our elephants," government spokesman Muthui Kariuki said in a statement. 

A major obstacle to this is that Kenyan courts are currently limited in their powers to jail or fine those convicted of wildlife crimes, he said. "One of the major setbacks are lenient penalties and sentencing for wildlife crime by the courts," he said. "The government is concerned about this and has facilitated the process of reviewing the wildlife law and policy with a view to having more deterrent penalties and jail terms." Poaching has recently risen sharply in east Africa, with whole herds of elephants massacred for their ivory. Rhinos have also been targeted.

Passing tougher wildlife laws will be made a priority for Kenya's parliament, elected last month but which has yet to begin business. "We look forward to... parliament giving priority to passing of a new wildlife law and policy," Kariuki added. Kenya's current Wildlife Act caps punishment for the most serious wildlife crimes at a maximum fine of Sh40,000, and a possible jail term of up to 10 years.

Last month, a Chinese smuggler caught in Kenya with a haul of ivory was fined less than a dollar a piece. The smuggler, who was arrested carrying 439 pieces of worked ivory while in transit in Nairobi as he traveled from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Hong Kong, was fined $350 (Sh30,000) and was then set free.

Such fines pose little if any deterrence, with experts suggesting a kilogramme of ivory has an estimated black market value of some $2,500 (Sh212,000). Last year poachers slaughtered 384 elephants in Kenya, up from 289 in 2011,according to official figures, from a total population of around 35,000.

This year, poachers have already shot dead 74. Tourism is one of Kenya's most important foreign currency earners. In addition, a thousand new wildlife officers "will soon be recruited to beef up the ranger force" as part of strengthening operations "with a view to stamping out the poaching menace", Kariuki added.

The illegal ivory trade is mostly fueled by demand in Asia and the Middle East, where elephant tusks and rhinoceros horns are used to make ornaments and in traditional medicine. Trade in elephant ivory, with rare exceptions, has been outlawed since 1989 after elephant populations in Africa dwindled from millions in the mid-20th century to some 600,000 by the end of the 1980s.

Africa is now home to an estimated 472,000 elephants, whose survival is threatened by poaching as well as a rising human population that is encroaching on their habitat. Kenya is also a transit point for ivory smuggled from across the region. In January, officials in Mombasa seized more than two tonnes of ivory, which had reportedly come from Tanzania and was destined for Indonesia.

Saturday, April 13, 2013


Thank you to Rose Carver for this beautifully written article just posted in The Eastern Echo, the independent newspaper of Eastern Michigan University. Elephants In Danger of Extinction

Bookmarks, jewelry, piano keys, picture frames—you name it—all fuel elephant poaching and the rush for ivory. In 2011, an average of 100 elephants per day were killed for ivory, making it the worst year in history for elephant poaching. Ivory is extremely valuable in most countries. It’s worth at least $700 per pound in China, but the mass extinction of elephants is for nothing more than the production of knick-knacks.

According to renowned conservation biologist Sam Wasser, if the African elephant death toll doesn’t slow soon, they could become extinct in the wild by 2025. Honestly, I don’t want to live in a world without elephants. They embody such rare beauty and have evolved a strikingly advanced consciousness.

In a Vanity Fair article, Alex Shoumatoff wrote about the Maasai people in Africa who revered elephants and regarded them as almost human, and as having human souls.

The old adage “an elephant never forgets” may be true; they appear to build up a memory and hold on to it. A study of wild African elephants has revealed matriarchs build up a social memory as they get older, enabling them to recognize “friendly” faces.

They signal whether an outsider is a friend or foe to the rest of the herd. They also display emotions like sorrow and grief and pay homage to the bones of their deceased, gently touching the skulls and tusks with their trunks and feet, making sobbing sounds and displaying clear empathy for the dead.

While the elephant’s tusk satisfies immediate monetary satisfaction for poachers, with shortsighted thinking comes grave consequence.

The elephant is a keystone species, which is a species with a disproportionately large effect on its environment and a key role in maintaining the balance of all other species in the community.

As their herds move across the savannah, elephants spread seeds and feed on trees, breaking them up, often by pulling them up by the roots and crushing them. Without this tree clearing, the savannah would quickly grow from grassland to woodland, resulting in widespread ecological imbalance.

Elephant poachers are outlaws, and communities in Africa usually react to them with fear. According to the website for Amara Conservation, a group working toward an end to elephant-poaching,

“Poachers must move through communities surrounding national parks, and if those communities are vigilant, they report them to Kenya Wildlife Service or the police in hopes to stop them.”

Amara Conservation claims the only way to stop elephant poaching from happening is to educate the people in communities where poaching may take place about why the elephants are so important, and why they need protection.

Even in desperate circumstances, when any way to make money may seem like fair game, killing one of nature’s most majestic land creatures, is a tragedy. 


When Lori Bergemann was young, her engineer father took a job in India with Hindustan Motors. While at boarding school in New Delhi, she often went to the zoo to visit the elephants. “The elephants just stood there standing and swaying back and forth,” she said. “I just felt really sorry for them.

I made a secret promise to myself that one day I would find a way to help them.” It took thirty years, but Lori made good on her promise. Today she is a passionate, risk-taking conservationist whose non-profit - Amara Conservation - fights the poaching and snaring of African wildlife with education. The path that led Lori to Kenya opened late in 1999.

She was in her sixteenth year working at The Earle restaurant in Ann Arbor, MI when her sister Heidi invited her on a special trip. At first they planned to return to India, but after a chance meeting with a tour operator and wildlife conservationist in Kenya, they decided to change their destination to Africa. Read more....

Thursday, April 11, 2013


After Kenya burned its ivory stockpiles in 1989, Ivory Trade was banned by the 175 member countries to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). In 1997 they allowed a “one-off” sale of 40 tons of ivory from Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe.

Poaching soared everywhere. In 2002 CITES agreed to another “one-off” sale adding in Zambia and South Africa to the other three countries allowed to sell ivory. In 2007 they increased the amount to 110 tons, but also agreed on a moratorium on any further requests for sales for 9 years.

It’s a very touchy subject, and one that continues to cause concern. At each CITES convention, some African countries lobby to open ivory trade. The truth is, as soon as people start considering ivory trade, even just talking about voting on it, elephant poaching goes way up.

It’s as if everyone wants to get as much ivory as they can for what they think is the inevitable day the trade returns – or the last elephant has died – whichever comes first.

Given the seeming impossibility of stopping the markets, we believe that making local residents aware of what they stand to lose if they lose their elephants is the best way to slow down and hopefully stop this disaster. Poachers must move through communities surrounding National Parks, and if those communities are vigilant, they report them to Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) or the police in hopes to stop them.

Community members don’t always understand the elephant’s role as a keystone species in the environment. A keystone species is a species that has a disproportionately large effect on its environment and plays a key role in maintaining the balance of all other species in the community. They don't realize there is not an endless supply of animals for bushmeat:

In Africa, forest is often referred to as 'the bush', thus wildlife and the meat derived from it is referred to as 'bushmeat' (in French - viande de brousse).

This term applies to all wildlife species, including threatened and endangered, used for meat including: elephant; gorilla; chimpanzee and other primates; forest antelope (duikers); crocodile; porcupine; bush pig; cane rat; pangolin; monitor lizard; guinea fowl; etc.

They could be eating themselves out of a future. They don't know that deforestation brings drought – trees attract rain. They sometimes think trees take away the precious water rather than hold it in the ecosystem. They don't realize how much money tourism brings into Kenya’s economy and how that money actually benefits everyone. Without the existence of wildlife, the tourism will end.

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