We welcome distinguished conservationist John Kahekwa to our board

We welcome distinguished conservationist John Kahekwa to our board



Kahekwa receives the Whitley Award from HRH, the Princess Royal

John Kahekwa Munihuzi Jean de Dieu was born in 1963 in Miti village near the Kahuzi Biega National Park’s (KBNP) headquarters office. His aunt was the wife of Adrien Deschryver, the co-founder and the first warden of the KBNP. At the age of ten, John watched a film about the Kahuzi Biega gorillas and dreamed of working for the park in the field. In 1983 after attending secondary school he was employed by the park as a gorilla tracker and started to follow two groups of gorillas every day, identifying them by recording nose prints of each gorilla.

Eventually, John became KBNP’s chief gorilla tracker from 1983 to 2003. He observed the natural life of gorillas in the wild such as reproduction, newborn babies, development of their society, social interactions and death. He also saw the impacts of human pressures on the natural resources from the local communities around the KBNP. He then sought a sustainable solution that could contribute to the protection of those natural resources while alleviating the crisis impacting the local communities.

In 1986, a tourist gave him a $10 tip after a gorilla visit. He immediately went to Bukavu town and bought ten plain t-shirts. He printed gorilla faces on their fronts and beneath wrote, “I tracked gorillas in Zaire.” They were a hit with tourists. In 1987, his t-shirt business increased because part of the famous film ‘Gorillas in the Mist’ was filmed in the KBNP. John played a small part in the film, too. The money he saved from the t-shirt business was the initial funding for the Pole Pole Foundation International, chartered in 1992.

Mr. Kahekwa was presented the Whitley Award from HRH, the Princess Royal. Sir David Attenborough narrates a beautiful film about the Whitley Award which we highly recommend. Watch it by clicking here.  In addition to the Whitley Award, John has received several other prestigious awards for his work including the Marsh Award and is a three time recipient of the Medal of Merit for Ecology and Gorilla Protection.




Saving a species

A Tulsa conservationist fights to protect elephants.

Through online research, Tulsan Phillip Hathaway discovered the troubling impact of poaching on African elephants. In response, he launched the nonprofit ElephantRescue.net in 2015.

Phillip discusses his work in Sub-Sahara Africa. photographer, John Shoemaker

 At first glance, Tulsa seems to be an unusual location for a nonprofit devoted to ending elephant poaching. However, the founder of the relatively new ElephantRescue.net, Phillip Hathaway, explains, “The people here are gregariously friendly. You can have a great conversation with a stranger at the grocery checkout. This makes it easy to spread the word.”

Hathaway, who grew up in Oklahoma City, served three years on active duty in the United States Army, attended Oklahoma City University and the University of Kent in Canterbury, England and holds a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in the social sciences. After his university studies, he circled the world twice visiting twenty-three countries on five continents.

Always an animal lover, he says elephants have a special place in his heart because they possess what he calls the “divine traits” of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self-control.”

In 2014, through research and consulting with experts, he learned that elephants were in danger of extinction and was shocked to discover how quickly the species was disappearing.

“We’ve lost 780,000 African elephants since 1980 to poachers,” he says. “There were 1.2 million African elephants in 1980 but only 420,000 in 2012.”

In response to these troubling statistics, he founded ElephantRescue.net, whose mission is “ensuring a safe, natural environment for all elephants.” It became a 501(c)(3) in May of 2015.

Hathaway blames corrupt African leaders and the demand for ivory in southeast Asia for the elephant killings.

“China has 20 percent of the world’s population but only 7 percent of the arable land,” he says. “So, they must import raw material. And they’ve quite literally colonized Africa for this purpose. They barter mining, oil drilling, highway and infrastructure work in Africa for their raw material needs. This gives them a feeling that they can take what they want, including elephant tusks.”

Hathaway hopes to put an end to this dangerous trend with ElephantRescue.net.

“To stop the killing, it is essential to destroy all stockpiles of ivory immediately for they always go to market, which in turn, drives demand and more killing,” he says.

This is part of the plan Hathaway has developed to prevent elephant extinction; the entire plan is available on the group’s website. He says efforts will begin in Botswana, which is home to half of the African elephant herds.

“We will support Botswana through reforestation, water conservation, herd management and other ways” in cooperation with the government, he explains. “From Botswana, our work will spread to elephant ranges in other countries. We also hope to manage and purchase land bordering elephant ranges to control unprecedented human encroachment.”

Hathaway says saving a species will cost tens of millions of dollars and will take decades.

There are several ways Tulsans can support ElephantRescue.net, including attending a black tie fundraiser planned for September. Volunteers also are needed. But the most helpful way, he says, is to make a tax-deductible donation on the group’s website. 

“Phillip’s dedication to the welfare and preservation of elephants as naturally wild and free to roam the many miles they travel each day is without question,” says ElephantRescue.net Advisory Board Member Donald Feare, an animal welfare attorney in Arlington, Texas, who has worked with Hathaway for the past year. “His constant efforts to help elephants worldwide is a demonstration of his compassion toward that species. Knowing that most countries do not view elephants and the need to protect and conserve them as we do, he continues to attempt to enlighten their understanding and promote humane methods that countries can adopt and then offers alternatives to assist them in those efforts. I know of few people in the animal world who are willing to undertake such a monumental task.”

Hathaway has another business based on a book he wrote, The Psychological Elegance of Talent, which helps students discover their talent. Although he has only traveled to Africa once, he expects to eventually live there half the year. He has spent the past 14 months building ElephantRescue.net in Tulsa.

“Much of the job of rescuing is done by faxes, emails, letters from attorneys, etc., that I do right from my little home office,” he says. “Traveling is costly and often is not the best use of the elephants’ money — airfare and two weeks of accommodations for one person in Africa costs about $7,500.”

Although elephant conservation has many obstacles, Hathaway is confident that ElephantRescue.net will help end poaching.

“It is a long, hard war,” he says, “but we shall win.”

Elephant dies in freezing temperatures in Oklahoma City

Chai at the Oklahoma City Zoo & Botanical Garden in August, 2015.

Chai at the Oklahoma City Zoo & Botanical Garden in August, 2015.

Elephant Scientist, Toni Frohoff, Ph.D. said, “There is a strong basis for concern that Chai was left outside in the cold overnight and was not afforded reasonable protection, as is required under the Animal Welfare Act.  This needs to be explored as the cause of, or a contributing factor, to her early and suspicious death.

“Repeated statements from the Zoo in the media and even on their website and media release claim that Chai was ‘found in the elephant yard at approximately 7:30 am’. Given the recorded temperatures of that night falling into the 30’s and the lack of evidence that she was monitored appropriately, this would be a heinous violation of both Subpart F 3.127(b) of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), regarding appropriate shelter from inclement weather and Association of Zoos and Aquarium guidelines that, ‘Elephants exposed to temperatures below 40°F for longer than 60 minutes, must be monitored hourly to assess the potential for hypothermia.'”

The Seattle Times blasted Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo and Seattle city officials for allowing Chai to be sent the infamous Oklahoma City Zoo. Read the full article by clicking here.


Those Who Are Most Innocent Shall Be Confined To Solitary Confinement


Elephants are unable to lay down to relieve pressure on their feet; this is undoubtedly why Tania is kneeling in this photograph. Standing in one spot on concrete leads to chronic foot infections and arthritis – a leading cause of death in elephants. But Tania has no choice. She has lived in solitary confinement for 37 years.

Moreover, the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria requires zoos to house female elephants in groups; for, female elephants are profoundly social. But Tania remains in alone in solitary confinement at the Targu-Mures Zoo in Romania. She is reportedly forced to live indoors in a tiny barren cell standing in her own urine and feces.

Such unnatural conditions cause debilitating psychological distress; and Tania repeatedly rocks and sways, a neurosis elephants exhibit who endure extreme mentally anguish. To be mentally and physically healthy, elephants must roam over hundreds of acres with their families. They are much, much closer to their families than humans.

Captured from the wild in the 1970s, where she probably witnessed the murder of her parents, Tania was sent to a zoo in France where she lived alone for over 20 years. Later, she was transferred to an Italian zoo and, last September, to Targu-Mures Zoo in Romania.

Please tell the Targu-Mures Zoo in Romania to stop depriving Tania of her most basic health needs. Ask them to send her to a sanctuary. Sign the petition now by clicking here.


Largest Wildlife Census in History


“The Africa-wide census, funded by Microsoft billionaire Paul G. Allen, took off in February 2014 with the objective of gaining a better understanding of elephant numbers across the continent.

“Since then, 90 researchers from various organizations have joined aerial teams flying survey transects in 18 elephant range countries. From the sparkling desert floodplains of the Okavango Delta to the boundless savannas of Chad, the teams have racked up a combined distance of 285,000 miles (460,000 kilometers).

“That’s like flying to the moon and a quarter of the way back—or circling the globe eleven and a half times.” Learn more by clicking here.

Save Zimbabwe’s Baby Elephants

 “Twenty-four baby elephants, some as young as two years old, were taken from their families for export into a life of captivity earlier this year.

“Elephants have deep family bonds — this loss is devastating to the elephants left behind. And the captured young – stolen from their natural habitat and all they know — have a poor chance of survival.

“Sadly, this practice is legal and it seems that the Zimbabwe government has every intention of continuing with the capture and export of even more young elephants.”

Urge Zimbabwe’s Ministers for Environment and Tourism to stop its policy of exporting baby elephants by clicking here to sign the petition.

China’s “Paramount Leader” Caught Smuggling Elephant Tusks


This is the communist dictator of China, Xi Jinping. After an official state visit to Tanzania in March of 2013, he loaded his presidential plane with elephant tusks. Indeed, he took such a quantity of tusks that he exhausted the local supply, causing its price to double.

This act of smuggling has been verified by the Environmental Investigative Agency, which had informants on the ground at the time of Xi’s visit. And, Dr. Jane Goodall, who has a home in Tanzania, personally confronted the president of Tanzania about this crime, for he was an accomplice to Xi Jinping’s brazen trafficking.

This is particularly tragic since half of the elephants in Tanzania have been killed in the last five years.

So, when we hear “good news” from China that Xi is cracking down on ivory trafficking, such as recent articles in the Washington Post, it might be wise to put it in perspective.

For more details of President Xi Jinping’s smuggling, see pages 7 and 8 of Executive Briefing: African Elephants on this website.