U.S. Teens Form Nonprofit To Help Save Elephants

Elephant Extinction Likely Within Decade

When Max Kauderer saw the body of a dead elephant during a family trip to Africa two years ago, it wasn’t only the body that horrified him; it was the apathy of the natives to seeing this gentle, intelligent creature killed.

“The rangers reacted to it as it were almost normal to them,” said Max, a 17-year-old Englewood resident. “It was just shocking to me. I could never get used to that. It showed me that they shouldn’t have to get used to this either.”

Save Kilimanjaro ecosystem

Seeing the murdered elephant ignited a spark in Max and his brother Josh, 16, to aid elephant conservation by starting a non-profit called “Elephant Highway,” named after the Maasai term for the paths elephants create as they travel.

While Max and Josh saw a large number of animals during their trip to Kenya and Tanzania in 2012, the two quickly fell in love with elephants. The pair were enamored with how similar elephants were to humans.

“They can show emotion, compassion and the ability to grieve,” said Max. “They play with toys, build toys and live in families. It’s pretty amazing.”

Their joy of learning more about these creatures quickly turned to horror when two park rangers came running in their lodge one afternoon, announcing that an elephant was just killed by poachers a mile and half from where the Kauderer family was staying. Max and Josh would later visit the fenced off area where the elephant was killed, where the body was still in sight.

“I knew about ivory trade and elephants being killed, but it still changes you when you see something so rapidly,” said Josh. “The smell of dead carcass; it really changes the whole situation.”

Seeing the dead elephant in person made the two brothers ask tour guides on their trip more about elephants and the ivory trade, becoming shocked about the scope of the trade.

“Crime syndicates are focusing on elephant poaching and smuggling ivory tusks,” said Josh. “It’s just as bad as any other kind of drug trade.”

According to the American Wildlife Foundation, there are 470,000 elephants remaining in 37 African countries. On a yearly basis, poachers kill 8 percent of the elephant population.

When Max and Josh returned to the United States, their experiences made them want to take a stand against poaching. They didn’t originally think of starting a non-profit, and instead focused their awareness efforts by speaking at local schools about elephant poaching. As time went on, they felt liked they wanted to do something more.

“We realized we also wanted to raise money for these organizations in Africa and make a difference there as well,” said Max.

The two went to work creating Elephant Highway, which is pending 501c3 status, to raise awareness about poaching and raise money to help African elephant conservation organizations.

The non-profit, run entirely by the two Englewood teens – which sells shirts, hoodies, and bracelets – raised approximately $10,000 since its inception in 2012. All proceeds from the merchandise, which bears the tagline “Only Elephants Should Wear Ivory,” are donated to Elephant Highway’s four non-profit partners: David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, Big Life Foundation, Hands Off Our Elephants, and International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).

Tanzania lion conservation

Their dedication to protecting elephants shows in the vast array of knowledge they display on the subject.

Sitting in the Starbucks in Englewood, clad in Elephant Highway gear, the two were quick to bring up the latest in elephant poaching news, from a Chinese national being arrested for possession of 4 kilograms of ivory early this year to the latest efforts by Kenya to adopt the Kenya Wildlife Act, which increases penalties for poachers.

“Within a few years, they will be extinct if we don’t do something,” said Max.

Running a non-profit is never an easy task, but for high school students, the task becomes even more difficult when trying to balance their studies, after-school sports, and clubs. As a result, most of the work for the non-profit is done on the weekend, but the two also make sure to squeeze Elephant Highway work into their schedules.

Their non-profit also offers people a chance to “Adopt-an-Elephant,” or purchase a beaded elephant keychain made by artists in northern Kenya and South Africa. This symbolic adoption sends money back to villages in Kenya and South Africa to help village economies in the hopes people will not turn toward poaching to put food on the table, said Max

“A lot of people who kill elephants for their tusks are people who don’t really have a choice,” said Max. “They are people who live in really poor regions of Africa. They’re choosing between the lives of these elephants and the lives of their families, so a lot of the times, it’s not necessarily their fault.”

Max and Josh spend many weekends packing and shipping merchandise to supporters. They also spend nine hours twice a month at street fairs during the spring and summer in Bergen County towns and New York City, hoping to spread their message.

Max and Josh spend many weekends packing and shipping merchandise to supporters. They also spend nine hours twice a month at street fairs during the spring and summer in Bergen County towns and New York City, hoping to spread their message.

While most people are aware that elephants are killed for their ivory tusks, Max said most are shocked when they discover how large the issue has become.

“People say isn’t ivory illegal?” said Max. “They don’t realize it’s still going on. Thirty-thousand elephants were killed last year. That shocks everyone I tell it to.”

Eventually, Max and Josh would also like to expand to rhino conservation, as rhinos are similarly hunted for their horns. But for now, the two will continue to save the creatures that became part of their lives in so many ways.

“If there are no elephants, the entire ecosystems in Africa would really die,” said Max.

To learn more about Elephant Highway, visit http://www.elephanthighway.org

Source: http://www.northjersey.com/community-news/in-africa-finding-their-calling-1.745915#sthash.hzuArSHR.dpuf

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