jane Blog > World Elephant Day : A message from Dr. Jane Goodall

On August 12th 2014 people all around the world will celebrate world elephant day. It is estimated that 96 elephants die each day and the overall elephant population is decreasing at an alarming rate. If we do not act now, it is very clear that these beautiful animals will become extinct in our lifetime. Dr. Goodall explains the urgency in raising awareness in her message on World Elephant Day 2014 and what we can do to get involved.

A special message from Dr. Jane Goodall

I wake on this World Elephant Day, thinking of all the elephants I have watched in Africa in many places like Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya. It was especially fun to watch when a group went for a bath, splashing in the water, sucking it up and squirting it over their backs, sometimes submerging with just the tips of their trunks showing like periscopes above the water. I loved seeing them feeding using their trunks like hands to pick leaves overhead, or tear up lush green grass near the water.

There were some individuals who were special. I am thinking of Rafiki (meaning ‘friend’ in Kiswahili) with her twin calves. I first saw them when they were only a couple of weeks old. It was when Derek Bryceson was Director of Tanzania National Parks. I had suggested that we might train park rangers to follow and observe elephants in the same sort of way as our field staff follow chimpanzees at Gombe. Ian Douglas-Hamilton agreed to give some workshops for rangers from the Ruaha, Tarangire and Manyara national parks. Four rangers from each of the Parks were assigned to elephant observation, following in teams of two at a time.

We heard about the twins soon after they were born. Derek and I spent hours watching them over the months that followed. It was enchanting to see both of them suckling at the same time. Rafiki was a wonderful mother, gently caressing the twins with her trunk, huge ears flapping, as the family rested in the shade of acacia trees. She was so watchful and protective when they travelled over rocky terrain.

Then there was a juvenile male I called Fred, a real show off – full of mischief and energy. He would chase anything – cattle egrets, antelopes, warthogs – charging towards them, trumpeting fiercely, ears spread out like wings. Sometimes he upset one of the calves, and then the mother would discipline him with a warning toss of her head.

Another favorite was a very ancient male, Ahmed. He was so old that all his skin was loose on his body. It hung around his ankles in folds, and under his tummy. His ears drooped. He moved slowly and deliberately, and was quite often by himself.

There is another memory – the time when I heard elephants outside the cabin where I was staying and went out to see if I could see them. It was a wooded area, and as I stood, listening, I could hear sticks cracking under elephant feet. Otherwise they made no sound. I bent to peer through the trees, and was just about to put my hand on a grey tree trunk when – just in time – I saw that it was an elephant leg!! Fortunately the wind was blowing my scent away from him – or her. I retreated silently back to the cabin, my heart pounding.

On another occasion I was with Ian Douglas-Hamilton in Manyara National Park, site of his famous study. We found his favorite elephant, Virgo, whom he had known since her birth, and Ian introduced me to her. We got out of our vehicle, I held out my hand, and she reached to touch it gently, so gently, with her trunk. Virgo, I shall never forget you.

I can never forgive the people involved in this wholesale slaughter of these incredible beings. Trunks hacked off and thrown aside. Tusks hacked off. Even really young elephants are killed for the sake of their tiny tusks.

On World Elephant Day, I wonder how many will be killed, how many tiny calves will lose their mothers.

I cannot write any more because my eyes are blurred with tears.

Jane Goodall, Ph.D., DBE
Founder, the Jane Goodall Institute &
UN Messenger of Peace

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