There may be hope for elephants in China

Qi Zhang, or “Sabrina” and the author outside the China Academy of Sciences.On June 22nd in Beijing, renowned biologist Dr. Joyce Poole led a Chinese audience into the emotional and behavioral world of African elephants at a public lecture organized by the International Fund for Animal Welfare and the China Academy of Sciences (CAS).

Dr. Poole is the world’s eminent ethologist, conservationist and defender of elephants. She co-founded the organization ElephantVoices, which aims to inspire wonder in the intelligence, complexity and voices of elephants, and to secure a kinder future for them through conservation, research and the sharing of knowledge about these majestic beings. It was our pleasure to host her for this event, and it is my pleasure to pass along this post from Dr. Poole offering her thoughts on the event. --GGG

I am on a flight heading back to Europe reflecting on my first visit to China. It was a 10 days trip and I spent the last four days in Beijing in the care of  the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and, most particularly, Qi Zhang, or “Sabrina”.

Grace Gabriel, the Director of IFAW’s office in China, and I had brainstormed about my visit when we met in New York City in mid-May. We envisioned that I would give a talk about elephants and the poaching crisis and that they would arrange some media.

Before I arrived, Sabrina and I had been in touch, often, by email. She asked if  I would  send some photos of myself from my whole life and some stories, and I thought she must want them for the media, and sent her some in a rather haphazard fashion. Other questions came up and I answered her queries as best I could, but I didn’t really have time to ask her plans as I had four lectures to prepare for China and the IFAW lecture was to be the final one.

I have to say that nothing prepared me for my experience in Beijing in the care of IFAW.  Sabrina, half my age, looked after me like a mother hen, showing me the sights, taking me out for dinner, leading me from interview to interview, holding my hand to cross busy streets, feeding me and keeping me hydrated.

The lecture was held on my last day at 14:00 on Saturday 22 June in the library of China’s Academy of Sciences.  We arrived at midday in time for me to chat to the interpreter about any difficult concepts I might be speaking about and to check the sound system.

Imagine my surprise when we pulled up to the Academy and there, attached securely to the side of the building, was the most enormous banner– perhaps 7 meters tall and 20 meters long – announcing the lecture with pictures of elephants and me!

As I was speaking to the interpreter in a side room, the air suddenly began to vibrate with the sound of “Ele-Beats”. Sabrina had found it on our website and downloaded it for people to listen to as they registered.

There was no need to check the sound system – the woofers were certainly fit for low frequency elephant rumbles!

Then I walked into the 300-seat auditorium and had my next surprise. The screen was enormous – stretching the entire width of the room and Sabrina and the IFAW team had put together a slide show of elephants and the history of Joyce. I was astonished!

As “Ele-Beats” played on and on (and on!), the auditorium gradually filled up with parents and small children, primary school and secondary school students, teachers, scientists, professors, members of the press and Li Bingbing’s assistant, Eline, whom I had been looking forward to meeting. And then it was time to speak to this vibrant crowd.

Grace had organized a panel discussion afterwards and time for Q&A. So when I had finished speaking Grace, Jie Yu of The Nature Conservancy (who co-sponsored the talk with IFAW) and CCTV Host, Yue Zhang, (introduced to me as China’s Oprah Winfrey as I was to soon understood why!), joined me on stage.

Yue Zhang spoke passionately about elephants and other animals and did a fantastic job of leading the questions and keeping the discussion lively.

That hour-long Q&A was my next China surprise. I was completely blown-away by the caliber of questions from the audience – from both young and old, layman and professional. I have given many talks, but this was far and away the most intelligent and compassionate audience I have ever had the pleasure to engage with.

I went to China not knowing what to expect and in despair over the poaching horror and China's key role in demand for ivory confirmed by facts and figures from well recognized sources. Having met so many outward and forward looking, curious people who care deeply about the world they inhabit, I have come away with more optimism.

The effort to educate the people of China about the connection between ivory and poaching has begun, and I dare to hope that China may take the lead in turning the fate of elephants around.

-- Joyce Poole, Co-Director of ElephantVoices

To learn more about IFAW'S involvement with the elephants in China, visit our campaign webpage.

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Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
Director, France and Francophone Africa
Dr. Joseph Okori
Regional Director, Southern Africa and Program Director, Landscape Conservation
Faye Cuevas, Esq.
Senior Vice President
Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
Regional Director, Asia
James Isiche, Regional Director, East Africa
Regional Director, East Africa
Jason Bell, Vice President for Conservation and Animal Welfare
Vice President for Conservation and Animal Welfare
Matt Collis, Director, International Policy
Director, International Policy
Peter LaFontaine, Campaigns Manager, IFAW Washington, D.C.
Campaigns Manager, IFAW Washington, D.C.
Vivek Menon, Director of IFAW partner, Wildlife Trust of India
Consulting Senior Advisor to the CEO on Strategic Partnerships & Philanthropy