Saving nature by helping communities get what they need.

Maggie Masucci, an Oregon-based fundraiser with TNC, recently travelled to remote northern Kenya where she and several trustees saw first-hand how the work of TNC and its partner, the Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT), proves that by empowering communities we can protect wildlife and change lives.

Four days ago, I stood in another world. Under a corrugated tin roof in a small stucco building, I listened to Tom Letiwa, a Samburu and the director of the remote Namunyak community conservancy at the foot of Kenya’s Mathew’s Range. I expected to hear a different answer when one of my colleagues asked about the biggest benefit of being a part of a community conservancy. Without a pause, Tom spoke, “Security,” he said, “People here used to sleep with their shoes on because they never knew when they’d have to run.”

Less than ten years ago, this area was a hotbed of intertribal warfare. A remote outpost occupied by a community of people eking out a living as herders in a landscape that regularly experiences six months per year with no rainfall. It was common here for tribes and families to invade each other’s grazing lands, stealing cattle in often-fatal raids. Elephant and rhino poachers carried automatic weapons, stealing the lives of these incredible creatures for a quick hit of cash. Kenyan police authorities hundreds of miles away could rarely intervene.

Namunyak is now one of the most successful members of the Northern Rangelands Trust, a TNC-partner that helps communities protect Kenya’s incredible diversity of wildlife to secure peace and provide a better quality of life. It’s a magically simple model. By giving wildlife an economic value and giving the community ownership of its protection, communities earn income by protecting wildlife that improves community health and wellbeing.

Nobel Prize winner Elinor Ostrom has become famous for debunking the Tragedy of the Commons, “What we have ignored is what citizens can do and the importance of real involvement.” In a landscape that was once everyone’s and no one’s, NRT-member communities, such as those I met in Namunyak, prove what empowered citizens can do.

Through a combination of ecotourism revenues and private philanthropy, hundreds of people now have good jobs in hospitality, as trained game rangers or in the management, monitoring or protection of their lands. As a community watches a new clinic being built, school tuition money hitting its accounts, and peace gaining dominance, TNC and NRT watch poaching numbers decline.

In a system like this one, the people who share their backyards with elephants, rhinos and a host of others, come to love their wildlife as the source of their wellbeing. Village elders, who in this traditional society hold enormous power, take on the role of policing their tribes; ensuring poachers are not among them. TNC’s mission to protect human and natural communities couldn’t be more tangible than it is here in Kenya’s northern rangelands.

As I sit down to write this post from my home in Portland, I hold in my hand a hot cup of tea harvested halfway across the world. My granola was purchased from the store down the street. And, as I look out from my tranquil and safe home onto the morning quiet of the streets below, I am stricken by the contrast from what I just saw on my recent journey to Kenya.

I have plenty to eat. I have access to running water. I am safe in my own home.

Nearly ten years ago, I came to The Nature Conservancy with a passion for the overlapping interests of human communities, the natural world and the global forces that decide the fate of both. I’m a people person—I thrive on connecting people to our work and knowing how that work then impacts lives. During that time, I have worked for TNC’s stateside programs, helping to make collaborative, science-based conservation come to life. Here at home, we often talk about the human impacts of our work—our forest health programs improve livelihoods for rural, forested communities and our grassland protection work helps ensure ranchers’ land isn’t subdivided and that they have tools to manage them better. We recognize the power in natural solutions that are good for people as well—and that is exciting to me.

But, I never imagined my work, the work of the conservation organization I have given my life to, would provide funds for education; give women an opportunity to earn income and provide a better life for their family; protect ten year old boys herding cattle from being caught in the line of fire—all in an effort to protect the treasures of the natural world.

Kenya has its challenges. Corruption is still common. The vastly differing needs of the country’s 43 tribes call for flexible, creative solutions. And, the funding needs for environmental protection and planning are daunting. In a place that for decades has been the recipient of endless amounts of foreign aid, it’s difficult to avoid the trap of forcing resources on people.

But this is the true magic of the work being done by TNC and its partners here. We’ve created a system in which the environmental outcomes we want come from helping the community get what they need. Nelson Mandela once said, ”It’s always impossible until it’s done.”

The Conservancy’s work here is far from done, but the progress we have made is an enormous inspiration and a great leap forward for the people and wildlife of eastern Africa.

Photo: Matt Brown

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It’s World Literacy Day!

And our Tuungane Team has an education update just for you.

We are connecting community members with government-sponsored literacy classes since illiteracy is one of the greatest hindrances to getting people to try alternate ways of doing things, like planning land use. There has been overwhelming interest from the communities and the we are working with the Government of Tanzania to determine the best way to meet demand because the classes are a remarkable benefit for people and generate greater awareness about the Tuungane project.

“Because of Tuungane, I am proud. I can read, write and count now.”

Rosemary Kasiga on learning how to read and write for the first time in her life at the age of 52.

Photo: Nelson Mmari

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Teaming Up With Coca-Cola

Coca-Cola Company commits $150,000 to the Nairobi Water Fund!

We’re pleased to share this guest post from Dr. Susan Mboya, President of the Coca-Cola Africa Foundation.

As we all know, Africa faces severe challenges in accessing clean water and sanitation. Kenya is no exception. Inability to access clean water, sanitation and hygiene is one of the greatest obstacles to poverty alleviation and economic growth in many countries. And here is the evidence.

More people die from consuming contaminated water than from all forms of violence combined, including wars. Women and girls bear the biggest burden for lack of access to water.

On average, in rural Africa, women spend 26% of their time collecting water, which often means time spent walking five miles or more to the nearest water source. Therefore increased access to water can lay the foundation for economic growth and empowerment.

As a major user of water, we have played a central role in increasing access to clean water all over Africa over the last 12 years. Our fundamental belief is that our business can only thrive when communities do well.

The Coca-Cola Africa Foundation will expand our flagship water program – the Replenish Africa Initiative (RAIN) – to continue supporting Pan-African safe water access and sanitation programs for an incremental 4 million Africans – making the total target 6 million Africans by 2020.

I am therefore excited to announce a grant from the Coca-Cola Africa Foundation of USD150,000 (Sh12.75m) to the Nairobi Water Fund, which will go towards the protection of the Upper Tana River Water Catchment.

The Tana River watershed – or “Water Tower” – provides the water that our bottlers in Mount Kenya and Nairobi use. Millions of our consumers live in these regions and require the same water for domestic and industrial consumption.

The concept of Water Funds has been proven to work in major other nations especially in Latin America, where our main bottling partner FEMSA has led industry in supporting the establishment of Water Funds in Mexico.

I would like to thank The Nature Conservancy for their leadership in pulling together leading organizations in Kenya such as KenGen, Nairobi Water Company, TARDA, WARMA among others in committing to support the conservation of the Upper Tana Water Tower.

Through this Water Fund, we hope to catalyze tangible improvements in the quality and quantity of water available to downstream users from a basin that is indispensable for Kenya’s domestic and industrial water needs.

— Dr. Susan Mboya

Photo: Michael North

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It’s Official!

Four villages granted legal rights to manage Lake Tanganyika Fisheries.

Tuungane is Kiswahili for “Let’s Unite!” and describes TNC’s partnership with global healthcare organization, Pathfinder International, and conservation organization, Frankfurt Zoological Society.

The Tanzanian villages of Buhingu, Katumbi, Sibwesa and Kalya now have legal rights to manage the Lake Tanganyika fisheries that feed their families. Thanks to the hard work of local leaders and the Tuungane team, Beach Management Unit (BMU) certificates recently moved through the government’s approval process in record time!

And we have the certificates to prove it!

Why is this a big deal? Certified BMUs make official each community’s ownership stake in efforts to protect the lake and restore its productive fisheries. For a long time, fishers in these communities saw their catches declining and wanted the tools and training they needed to turn things around.

With their BMUs certified, these communities now have a stake in governing how their village waters are used. And with support from the government and the Tuungane team, they’ll be connected with the tools and resources they need to manage healthy fisheries now and far into the future.


Photos: Ami Vitale & Peter Limbu

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Peace, Security & Prosperity

27-year-old Kenyan woman puts her life on the line for elephants.

Cattle raids and armed banditry used to be common occurrences in northern Kenya. But today the steady and reassuring presence of highly trained wildlife security teams are making conditions safer not only for wildlife, but also for people living in community conservancies. The presence of security patrols has led to decreases in banditry, cattle theft and wildlife poaching. In a recent survey, people living within conservancies said they feel safer and more than 70 percent of the conservancy members interviewed named security as the number one benefit of living within a community conservancy. 

"We have two tribes living in one location, Turkana and Borana. We had no peace. We raided cows. We fought for pasture. Finally our leaders came together and said we are fighting for nothing and losing our lives. But we see conservancy rangers helping our neighbors in Samburu County. The life they are living, it is so admirable.

We went to NRT. They took us on a tour of West Gate Conservancy. First the Borana and the Turkana went in separate cars. At lunch the coordinator asked us all to greet each other and to mix in one vehicle.

‘We will sit that way until we finish this journey,’ he said. After this experience, we came together and said let us start our own conservancy.

My passion became educating people on the importance of wildlife and how poaching hurts our communities. Then I received a letter saying: ‘Stay away from elephants. We are going to kill you.’

I challenged the leader of the poachers. I told him that the people owning the conservanciesthe people being employedare your brothers. You are fighting your brothers. These elephants brought these rangers that provide security. If we lose elephants, we lose everything. I convinced himand now I have convinced all of the poachers in our area.”

Josephine Ekiru

Learn more about The Nature Conservancy’s work with partners to #SaveElephants and sign up to get action alerts and news.

Photo: Ami Vitale

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Paul McCartney Helps #SaveElephants

Signed D-28 Martin Guitar Up for Auction!

One of the most beloved Singer/Songwriters of all time is helping save one of the world’s most beloved species.

The Nature Conservancy (TNC)’s Africa Program is deeply honored to offer for auction a Martin D-28 (left-handed) guitar provided by Martin Guitar, #SaveElephants founding sponsor, and autographed by Sir Paul McCartney. The funds raised will be directed to TNC’s African Elephant Initiative, a global effort to work with partners in Africa, China and elsewhere to increase security for elephants on the ground and to reduce demand for ivory.

***You can bid on this guitar starting 9am ET, Wednesday, August 13 from this page. The link to the auction will be live HERE.***

In a nod to Woody Guthrie’s famous guitar, Sir Paul wrote “This Guitar Saves Elephants” on this gorgeous Martin D-28. A fitting slogan since the funds will be used to increase security for elephants on the ground in Africa and reduce demand for ivory.

With the support of companies like Martin Guitar, TNC has worked passionately for decades to conserve valuable animal habitats and watersheds to make the world a better, more sustainable place. It’s estimated that there were 1.2 million elephants in Africa in 1980. Now only about 430,000 remain, with an estimated 20,000 elephants killed last year alone for their tusks.*

If the guitar is out of your budget range, you can still make a difference for elephants. Consider sending an e-card to a friend to celebrate World Elephant Day. Just $50 can support a wildlife ranger for two full weeks.

Learn more about The Nature Conservancy’s work with partners to #SaveElephants and sign up to get action alerts and news.

About Martin Guitar’s Commitment to Elephants

Thanks to the efforts of Martin Guitar, a long list of award-winning Artists are helping raise funds and rally support for The Nature Conservancy’s work with partners to protect elephants. Martin has also provided five custom elephant-themed guitars for use in raising funds and rallying support for elephants.

Martin Guitar has been concerned about the poaching of African elephants since the early 1970s when it made the choice to start phasing out elephant ivory on its instruments. In 2013, Martin Guitar stopped using Preserved Mammoth Ivory (PMI) on its instruments and proudly states that PMI, like elephant ivory before, has been completely removed from its supply chain and is no longer used on any guitar model it manufactures. Learn more about Martin Guitar’s responsible guitar building and their commitment to the environment.

*Report issued by the CITES Monitoring Illegal Killing in Elephants (MIKE) programme and the Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS) in July 2014.

Photo: Courtesy of Martin Guitar

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Powwow In the Yaeda Valley

From David: Reflections on an imperiled landscape and culture.

By David Banks

A heavy downpour spatters the dry-season dirt of the high Tanzania plateau, and the smell of rain-soaked cloves fills the air. Our Land Rover dodges potholes between old farms bracing for the oncoming rainy season.

As the farms give way to rocky scrub forest, we descend into the Yaeda Valley. The Yaeda is home to the Hadzabe, one of the last hunter-gatherer tribes on Earth.

My friend Daudi Peterson, who has worked for decades to help the Hadza, tells me this valley used to teem with wildlife. Elephant and wildebeest herds were common, and the area was particularly important for black rhino. Now the wildebeest and elephant numbers are a fraction of what they used to be, and the rhinos are gone.

This is not because of the Hadza. The Hadza population has declined with the wildlife — and for the same reason.

The Hadza developed unique and peaceful ways of existing with their environment and community. They have neither clear political systems, nor prominent hierarchy. As more warlike tribes move in looking for farmland and better pastures, the Hadza’s territory shrinks. The result is a loss of habitat for both people and wildlife.


The Nature Conservancy is working with a local organization, Ujumaa Community Resource Team, to help the Hadza protect their land rights. One step is to bring the Hadza elders together for their first-ever powwow.

We meet the group of 150 elders on a granite kopje in the hills overlooking the Yaeda Valley. As we drive up, it’s hard to tell there is a large group of Hadza here. Their grass huts, worn clothing and small stature allow them to blend in with the landscape.

Gatherings during the powwow are random and haphazard — nothing like the well-orchestrated conferences I’m used to. Groups strike up conversations under trees when the mood hits them. Others wander in to make comments, drift away and then join other groups discussing similar issues. Occasionally, the full group gathers on a big slab of granite under a large baobab tree to share what different groups have been discussing all day.

In all these meetings, the men are straightening arrows, adding feathers to shafts, sharpening points and repairing bows with baboon skin. This is a bow-and-arrow culture. Neatly stacked arrows and propped bows next to the men’s sleeping areas remind us that these are weapons for protection as well as food.


At night, we hear music and feel the shuffling of dancing feet. We drift among the Hadza family camps, where low cooking fires illuminate the grass huts and the singers, dancers, and ancient violin players. Sparks rise up into the sky and mix with the Milky Way as the chanting, jumping and pounding gain strength. Each family attempts to outdo the others with joyful singing and laughter.

Sitting in the shadows of the ancient rocks, I feel as though I have drifted back to a time of my ancient ancestors. Spirits invade me. Energy from this deep connection to land and water courses and surges through my skin.


At dawn the next morning, we go hunting with some of the young men. As we move quietly through the bush, one notices a small siphon or tube in the otherwise uniform shape of a tree trunk. As I get much closer, I finally spot a funnel about the size of the fingernail on my pinky. From here we extract some of the local honey.

Later that day, on the edge of the escarpment, we find a 10-foot python, and I’m expecting the young man to stick an arrow in its head. But his expression seems almost bored, and he explains that the Hadza have a taboo against killing reptiles and amphibians. They also don’t believe in hunting with dogs. “It would disrupt the balance here,” he says.


I worry about the future of the Hadza. They are so connected to this place, but it’s hard to imagine any group of people more disconnected from the trajectory of our planet.

As we sit together around the fire that night, sparks again lifting towards the stars as they have for millennia, our new friends quietly shape yet more arrows to replace those lost during the day. I drift off to sleep by the fire to the sounds of chanting and dancing again. Later in the night, I hear lions roaring in the distance and the quiet shuffle of elephants through the brush alongside our camp.

I know it’s a hard road to help the Hadza protect this place. Yet the intermingling of our ancestral songs and sounds of the wildlife we have lived with for generations has a good cadence. It’s a cadence that gives me hope.

Photo: Matt Miller

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On the Hunt with Wild Dogs

An over the top exciting game drive in Kenya.

By Kristin Mullen

Sitting three to a row in the land rover, we’ve just set out for an evening game drive. Chatter about the day’s meetings has us distracted and we almost miss what’s right in front of us: a single wild dog. The first I’ve ever seen. He rests for a breath in the middle of the road and then dashes to the other side as quietly as he came. Stealth mode.

An excited half-whisper bursts forward from the row behind me. “There’s another one!” And like magic, more wild dogs appear, emerging from their savanna hideouts. My gaze opens from an individual dog to a wider view. I see they have big plans. Their sights are set on zebras.

Like a SWAT team, they move in carefully scripted coordination. They work together, weaving between the ten or so zebras that have gathered in a clearing. One dog pushes the herd from behind while another sweeps in from the side to scoop up any stragglers. They are veterans and accurately anticipate their opponent’s every move.

Until the tide starts to turn. As if someone has tapped the zebras on the shoulder and reminded them they are actually bigger than the wild dogs, the zebras start pushing back. Looking larger as they gather their wits and hold their ground, individual zebra start running straight at dogs.

We’re parked just yards away. The light is clear. A deep green grass coats the clearing. The contrast makes dogs and zebras easy to spot, but it’s hard to make out exactly what’s happening in this melee of stripes and spots, barks and brays. Everything is moving in all directions.

Suddenly, a second group of dogs rushes down the hill over our right shoulders. Seemingly through ESP, the two teams join forces and at least twenty dogs band together to mobilize and go after even bigger prey. This time, it is eland. A small herd of these cow-like antelope, with their twisting horns and oblong heads resting above too-broad shoulders, circle their calves and lumber uphill.

We gawkers, who are already breathless from the first act, sit in stunned silence as the second begins. It is choreographed chaos. Just like before, all of the animals are moving. The dogs are focused, tenacious in their attempts to separate an eland calf from the herd. The huge adult eland stay in formation, shifting steadily to position themselves between the dogs and their calves. A surprise pounce and a subsequent cry elicit a hopeful chorus of yips from the pack.

“Did they get it?” We ask each other without looking up from our binoculars.

A frenzied gathering of dogs on the hill looks promising for the pack, not the eland. But as the scene slowly settles, we see the dogs have come up short again. With the dogs busy investigating, the zebras and eland move on, rounding the hillside to escape our sight line. Gears have shifted. The Kenyan sunlight is waning. The air is soft and still. The scene returns to a resting state, which gives me a chance to catch my breath and reconnect with the larger space around me.

Our land rover—expertly maneuvered off-road in pursuit of the dogs—now rests between two mounded hills that sit atop an escarpment just before it melts into open valley. The usual human adornments—cell towers, fences, roads, tin roofs—are absent. This is Loisaba Wilderness, a 56,000-acre ranch in Kenya’s Laikipia County. The notable absence of those ubiquitous items drives home how very raw, remote and increasingly rare a place this is. I feel fortunate to not only be here and see it for myself, but also for the fact that I am part of a team working to preserve this wilderness.

Its resources are shared with surrounding communities who graze their livestock among its abundant wildlife. The Nature Conservancy and its partners are here to ensure that the habitat Loisaba provides for wild dogs, elephants and other wildlife is secure and healthy. We’re also here to protect and expand the many benefits Loisaba provides for people: jobs in tourism and ranch management, healthy pasture for livestock, schools, healthcare and security.

I’m struck by the contrast. Using modern science and economics, we aim to restore and strengthen a centuries-old balance between people and nature so that Loisaba remains this wild forever.

Photo: Kenneth K. Coe

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The Nature of Ingenuity

Helping the idea of community-led conservation grow.

By Kristin Mullen

Lions gazing through knowing amber eyes, lumbering elephants following curious trunks, giraffes unwinding long necks to touch treetops, and zebras with swirling stripes—creatures like nothing you’ve seen before except in the pages of your favorite childhood picture book. You have landed on planet Africa where wildlife roams free through the remote and rugged lands they have shared with people for ages.

People living here often don’t have access to necessities you can’t imagine living without: taps with running water, schools for your children or a doctor when you are sick. To compensate, many live communally. Banded tightly together, they help and sustain one another. Despite their harsh circumstances, they are trying to give their families happy, healthy lives.

And yet the wildlife that leaves you breathless often makes people’s difficult lives even harder. Wildlife threatens income—raiding crops, killing livestock—and personal safety. Parks alone do not do enough for wildlife or people. To build a brighter future, we need to write a new story—and turn a threat into a benefit.

Several years ago, thoughtful leaders, concerned communities and experienced partners started a movement that puts local communities in charge of their own resources and created a model that proves that wildlife can benefit people. Thanks to African ingenuity, elephants are now more valuable alive than poached in places like northern Kenya because residents understand that elephants bring tourists and tourists bring money to fund water pumps, schools and healthcare.

Today The Nature Conservancy in Africa is helping this ingenious idea to grow—lending our smarts, our science and our resources to build momentum, remove obstacles and increase the impact of community-led conservation in the village and at the capital. We are blending wise traditions with modern science and investing in solutions that solve some of the greatest challenges facing Africa’s people and wildlife today.

Photo: Ami Vitale

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Gaining Local Support

clean water + good schools + small business opportunities = happy people

In places where we work, neighboring communities work peacefully together to share and conserve their lands, waters and wildlife. Studies show that elephants and other wildlife prefer community-run conservancies where there’s plenty of safe and healthy habitat. As wildlife populations grow, so do the tourism revenues that pay for essentials people need such as water, food, healthcare and education.


Revenues raised by community-owned ecotourism lodges pay for water pumps that bring safe, clean drinking water to local communities. Before there were water pumps, people—usually women and girls—would spend entire days walking to get water, taking them away from their families and stealing time that could be put toward positive, income-earning pursuits.


Children living in rural African communities often drop out of school because their families can’t afford the fees. But income generated through tourism provides communities living among elephants with funds to send their children to school. In one community over 600 children received scholarships last year thanks to healthy populations of elephants and other wildlife.


Raising and selling livestock is often the sole income source for many rural African families. In exchange for their efforts to establish and maintain well-run conservancies, local partners, like the Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT), connect communities with resources to build small businesses and diversify income streams. For example, some of the women in NRT’s beadwork cooperative have doubled their household income.


“Before our conservancy was started, we were people on the run. We even slept with our shoes on to make a quick getaway if bandits attacked at night. Now we are very happy since the conservancy has provided security. Our animals graze and our children play without fear. We sleep in our homes in peace and wake up happily in the mornings.”

Ester Leakono, Sereolipi, Kenya

Photos: Joy’s Camp, Kenya; Ami Vitale & Ron Geatz

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Join The Herd!

Follow us on social for action alerts and news from the field.

Hello Wonderful World of Tumblr,

As you may have noticed social media is on the up and up. And we’re so glad because it’s so fun! For those of you who aren’t already a part of our social community, we’d like to take this opportunity to cordially invite you to follow us on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter for all things TNC-Africa. No matter your interests, we’ve got something for you! If you love yourself some good ol’ fashioned photography, check us out on Instagram. For action alerts and updates from the field, visit our Facebook page and give us a like if you’re so inclined. Always want to hear it first? Follow us on Twitter. Look forward to seeing you on social.

Thank you kindly,


Photo: Suzi Eszterhas

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Our African Elephant Initiative

Learn more about what TNC is doing to help #SaveElephants.


Elephant poaching has reached the worst levels in history, with tens of thousands being killed each year, driven primarily by skyrocketing ivory demand in Asia.

As demand increases, so does price. With the stakes so high, poaching has evolved into a sophisticated trade with organized crime networks taking advantage of the poor enforcement and poverty that exists in places where elephants live.

But the ivory crisis is not limited to remote places in Africa. It impacts all of us and if we don’t step up, we will lose much more than elephants.


In response to the crisis, The Nature Conservancy is scaling up and expanding our elephant conservation efforts. We are coordinating with many partners around the globe, focusing our actions and investments on places where we have greatest potential for impact. By raising $7 million over the next three years, we can fund our five key strategies.


Our immediate goal is to reverse the trend of the poaching crisis, from rising rates to declining, to reduce poaching incidents by 20 percent by 2018. Our ultimate shared goal is to end the poaching of African elephants.


STEP UP SECURITY. From supplying cutting-edge technology to supporting community watch programs, we are helping train and equip wildlife rangers to better patrol millions of acres of elephant habitat.

SECURE ELEPHANT HABITAT. We are working with partners to establish community-run conservancies that provide safe and healthy habitat.

GAIN LOCAL SUPPORT. Steady paychecks for wildlife scouts and efforts to strengthen local enterprises, like community-owned tourism lodges and women’s beadwork cooperatives, make elephants an asset—not a liability—because they help fund essentials like water, food, healthcare and schools.

REDUCE IVORY DEMAND. With our China Program’s influential Board of Directors and expert staff, we are working to erode ivory’s prestige and decrease demand.

ENGAGE SUPPORTERS. Through multiple efforts online, we are raising awareness about the poaching crisis and encouraging a global community of elephant supporters to take action.


Our Kenyan partner, the Northern Rangelands Trust, reports that poaching rates decreased 22 percent across their seven-million-acre project area in 2013. Increased security investments were critical, but social pressure also played a part. Seen as a threat to people’s lives and livelihoods, communities are turning in poachers to protect valued elephants.

In China, our emerging efforts to curb demand are gaining momentum. We are working with Alibaba, one of China’s largest online commerce sites, to monitor and clean up illegal ivory sales and an anti-ivory pledge, introduced by Tencent founder Pony Ma, has been signed by several influential leaders.

Ivory is one of the most complicated challenges in conservation today and while there is much to be done; we are encouraged by these recent successes.

To learn more about what you can do to help elephants, visit nature.org/elephants.


“If we lose elephants, we lose everything.”

Josephine Ekiru, Peace Officer, Northern Rangelands Trust



In 1980: 1,200,000

Current population: 430,000

Current poaching estimate: 20,000 per year


Price of raw ivory on black market: upwards of $650 per pound  

Average amount that rural Africans live on per day: $1

Amount that middlemen pay locals to do the killing: as little as $50

Average monthly salary of a wildlife scout: $100


Not all ivory is illegal. Get the facts about this complicated issue.

Photo: Danielle Mussman

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Why #SaveElephants?

Because only together, can we #SaveElephants.

In 1980 there were 1.2 million elephants in Africa. Now there are just 430,000—and roughly 20,000 are poached each year to fuel soaring demand for ivory.

Because your voice is powerful. We need to put pressure on leaders in critical positions to commit to doing more to protect elephants. Ask your friends to lend their voices, too. Studies say they’re more likely to join a cause if you’ve already vouched for it.

Because doing something for elephants has never been easier. Sharing, posting, tweeting, crafting, walking with friends and more can save elephants. We’ll show you how. You can start by helping us promote our Indiegogo fundraiser – we need your help to make it a success!

Because 430,000 elephants need you. Our goal: Mobilize 430,000 people to take action for elephants. That’s one person standing up for every single elephant struggling to survive. Imagine all that we can accomplish together.

Because we have to do more. The headlines can often leave you feeling helpless and hopeless. But we believe that if enough people around the world take action now, we can help to ensure that there will always be wild elephants in Africa.

Because there’s something you can do right now to save elephants.

Music industry icon Martin Guitar, founding sponsor of our #SaveElephants project, has donated five custom elephant-themed guitars to help raise funds to save elephants and they’ve rallied great artists to also donate autographed guitars and provide additional support.

Join the Herd today at nature.org/elephants and follow us on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter to get action alerts and updates on how your support is helping elephants.

Because only together, can we #SaveElephants.


#SaveElephant Ambassadors and Supporters, thanks to Martin Guitar:

Dierks Bentley

Colbie Caillat

Neko Case

Donavon Frankenreiter

Tom Johnston of the Doobie Brothers



Danny Davis

Greg Bates

Dirty Guv’nahs

Jason Isbell

Jack Mitrani

John Oates

Mac Powell

Chuck Ragan

Amanda Shires

Third Day

James Valentine of Maroon 5

Learn more about our founding sponsor and partners on the ground in Africa. 

Photo: Johan Swanepoel/Shutterstock

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Key Questions about Ivory

Get the facts and dispel the myths about the ivory trade.


The ivory issue is complex and can be confusing, and false information is spread to fool buyers. Here we tackle some key questions and myths.

You can also hear why our Beijing-based Ivory Project Director is hopeful that demand can be reduced in China.


Crime networks in both Africa and Asia are behind most poaching activity. These syndicates capitalize on poor enforcement and poverty where elephants live. Thriving in poorly governed areas, poaching fuels crime, corruption, instability and fighting among communities, all of which scares away tourists and revenues for local economies.


While different cultures have prized ivory since ancient times, today the tusks are shipped mainly to Asian countries where it’s carved into items such as bracelets, figurines and even iPhone cases.

China is the dominant consumer, accounting for the majority of demand. Ivory demand is also very high in Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines.


Ivory is a long-valued symbol of wealth in China. As its upper and middle classes grow, so too does demand for ivory products. Many estimate that ivory prices have risen tenfold over the past five years. With the stakes so high, poaching has evolved into a sophisticated trade.


No. An international ban on ivory trade was declared in 1989 by CITES, an international body that regulates trade of wild animals and plants.

However, ivory imported prior to 1989 – or purchased during CITES-regulated one-off sales in 1997 and 2008 – can be sold within that country legally. Legal ivory is legitimately bought and sold in Asia, Europe, the US and around the world.

Because of low awareness and lax enforcement in several countries, illegal ivory has crept into the legal market, making the already difficult job of separating legal from illegal ivory even more difficult. The only safe approach for a consumer is simply to not buy ivory.


According to a 2012 survey conducted by WildAid, 50 percent of Chinese consumers believe ivory is obtained from an elephant that sheds its tusks or dies naturally. Since sellers of illegal ivory spread misinformation, many consumers are not aware of the poaching crisis.

While some ivory likely enters the market from natural deaths, the reality is that poachers are killing elephants to fuel the black market – 20,000 elephants last year alone.


Yes, ivory demand has been significantly reduced through awareness and law enforcement. Japan’s experience with the ivory trade following the 1989 international ban is a good example. After decades of buying about 40 percent of the world’s ivory, Japan signed the CITES agreement, stopped imports and has heavily enforced the ban.


The right solution must address both supply and demand. The Nature Conservancy is looking at each link in the supply chain—from source to destination. Our African Elephant Initiative includes three pillars of work:

•Reduce demand for illegal ivory by educating consumers and mobilizing some of China’s most influential business and cultural leaders to erode ivory’s prestige of ivory and press for stronger enforcement. LEARN MORE.

•Strengthen community-based conservation efforts in African range states to tackle the root cause of poaching – poverty and instability – and to secure critical habitat and migration routes. LEARN MORE

•Increase security by providing cutting-edge technology, supporting community watch programs and helping to train and equip wildlife rangers that patrol and secure millions of acres of elephant habitat. LEARN MORE.

The increase in international attention and media coverage about the ivory crisis is attracting more support for anti-poaching efforts, and pushing leaders in critical positions to commit to doing more to save elephants.

However, commitments have meaning only if they are enforced, so it is vital that we continue advocating for elephants and the communities who live among and protect them.

To learn more about what you can do to #SaveElephants, visit nature.org/elephants.

Photo: Kenneth K. Coe

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Signs of Hope in China

“…Ivory does not stand for blessing or lucky charm anymore.”

Not all ivory is illegal. One can buy ivory items in countless antique shops around the United States. The items must be accompanied by legitimate paperwork verifying that it was imported before the 1989 international ban was put in place to stop the flow of tusks out of Africa.

But illegal ivory looks just like legal ivory, and it’s all too easy to create false papers. The trade ban only works if countries enforce it.

Today, the eyes of the world are on China, where enforcement has been lax and demand is soaring. It’s estimated that well over half of the illegal ivory flowing out of Africa ends up here.

Recent research by non-profit organization WildAid suggests that most consumers are unaware that ivory is obtained by killing elephants and that there is a poaching crisis underway.

This is the world that Xiaohua Sun stepped into as The Nature Conservancy’s Beijing-based Ivory Project Director.

We asked Xiaohua 5 key questions about the ivory issue.


XIAOHUA: The major reasons are the booming Chinese economy and that ivory is a favored luxury item with strong cultural heritage. People believe that owning ivory objects shows high taste and wealth. Some Chinese buy ivory as an investment, like buying gold or purchasing real estate.

To complicate matters, most consumers simply don’t know the facts and it is impossible for the buyer to discern conclusively that a given item is legal or illegal.


XIAOHUA: We have a tremendous asset in our Board of Directors, so we’re placing strong emphasis on working with them to influence government policy and reduce demand for ivory among top tier consumers. We’re also educating the Board Members directly, as well as their friends who hold high social positions and large wealth. Besides the morality of purchasing ivory, we’re increasing understanding of the current poaching crisis and stressing the legality aspect. Our strategies will evolve and expand as we proceed.


XIAOHUA: I felt very depressed myself when the ivory, carved or not, was sent into the crusher. Those elephants died for nothing. If not for growing such tusks, they might still be alive in Africa now. However, they just died for nothing. Most people on site were silent and did not wait for the end of the crush. It was like escaping from the scene, trying not to think about all the related things.

The public response to the crush triggered many thoughts for me later. The first response from most people was “such a huge waste.” Questions in my own mind include: “Is there any better way to deal with the stockpile? Will the destruction push forward the price? If the government released the stockpile to the market rather than crushing it, would it dilute the market share, drag down the price and crack down speculation?”

I do not have answers. But the response made it clear to me that we must take a targeted, strategic approach that leverages our relationships with some of China’s most powerful business leaders and cultural influencers. The solution would not be as simple as pinning up posters in subway stations.


XIAOHUA: Yes. There is an ancient Chinese saying that a thousand-mile journey happens step by step. I believe we are taking steps every day.

I also have faith in the Chinese young generation, who will finally phase out purchasing ivory. The education they are receiving is giving them not just knowledge, but also an international perspective and a good sense of judgment. They know the Earth needs them to take efforts to protect it.

They know what kind of Chinese tradition deserves to be preserved, and what does not. They know how to invest. And they know how to spend extra money to enjoy life in ways that are morally responsible.


XIAOHUA: First, get educated on the facts. The ivory issue is very complex and there is a lot of misinformation out there. People can find more information here. Then, help increase awareness by sharing the facts with your family and friends.

Ultimately, the best way to avoid purchasing illegal ivory is simply not to purchase any at all.

Please go to our online registry and sign a pledge to not buy ivory and to encourage your friends and family to not buy it either.

To anyone who truly understands the bloodshed that is involved in the illegal ivory trade, the decision to use a piece of it as a tabletop decoration cannot be taken light-heartedly.

In tradition, the imperial or royal families collected ivory for blessings or as lucky charms. Now because of the brutal poaching of elephants, ivory does not stand for blessing or lucky charm anymore.

Ultimately, the best way to avoid purchasing illegal ivory is simply not to purchase any at all.

To learn more about what you can do to #SaveElephants, visit nature.org/elephants.


Photo: Devan King

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