Watch this: Baby Owl Stops Traffic, Captivates World

This sassy baby owl has gone viral, watch for a Monday morning pick-me-up!

Herd: Part 2

Southeast Asia: The Threat in the Trek

This past semester, I was fortunate enough to travel around Southeast Asia. In Laos, Vietnam, and Thailand, particularly, ‘elephant trekking’ is advertised to tourists nearly everywhere. The opportunity to ride and/or feed and/or interact with these grandiose creatures is easily realized for a small price of about $25 for a day-long excursion.

Admittedly, I, too, visited one of these camps.

I had been warned “not to ride the elephants”, just as I had been warned “not to go to Tiger Sanctuaries”, and while I knew that one shouldn’t, I chalked the reasoning up to vague terms like ‘maltreatment’ and ‘captivity’. Call me naïve, and you wouldn’t be wrong.

So when I went to ‘trek’, it was with an unsettling hesitance in my stomach, but not an absolute conviction to avoid this activity at all costs. I had friends that wanted to go, and it seemed fitting to do so in Thailand, ‘The Land of White Elephants’. (Laos, Thailand’s neighbor, is ‘The Land of a Million Elephants’. Similar connotation). We went to Nosey Parker’s Elephant Camp in Krabi, a place with a good reputation that allowed us to ride the elephants through the jungle. The sun was blazing over the mountains in the distance while the baby elephants walked alongside their mothers; in all, it was quite picturesque.

Then, we got back to the base camp. The discomfort I had felt earlier escalated to mild nausea as the baby elephants “performed”, twirling hula hoops around their trunks, dancing, and walking in sync. It was entertaining but unnatural, cute but unnerving. They were chained and trained. And while I am in no way accusing Nosey Parker’s of the same maltreatment pictured in books like Water for Elephants, I wish I’d known that when people said “don’t ride the elephants”, it was not because every sanctuary or camp mistreated their animals.

“Don’t ride the elephants” should be expanded to “Don’t ride the elephants because it feeds into an industry of corruption and illegality. Don’t ride the elephants because not all places are bad, but some are, and it’s hard to tell the difference. Don’t ride the elephants because they should be left in the wild. Captivity, human expansion, and poaching encroach on the survival of the largest land mammals on earth, and riding the elephants only feeds this dangerous fire. Don’t ride the elephants, but know why.”

N.B.: Before I make the sweeping declaration, “don’t ride the elephants”, let me acknowledge that there are some places that serve as a rehabilitation center and sanctuary for rescued elephants. They treat their elephants well and provide a home for previously domesticated animals no longer needed for land labor. I have listed a few such places at the end of this post. Visiting such reserves is part of a friendlier vein of ecotourism, but oftentimes, it is difficult to obtain completely reliable information about the nature of the elephant caretakers. Despite the amiable claims of many camps, there can be dark histories behind their ownership and maintenance of domestic elephants.

Calf Capture; Before You Ride The Elephants

As I have already mentioned, there is a shadow cast over, under and beyond the seeming merriment of saddling an elephant whilst travelling through Asia. The illegal capture of baby elephants occurs in Africa as well, but transport across the Burma-Thailand border proves highest in frequency.

The calves are taken from the wild, violating government imposed wildlife protection laws to feed the growing demand for elephant camps amongst tourists. Capturing the calves is a treacherous process, and more often than not, the mothers and other surrounding adults are killed protecting their young.

Not for the faint of heart, here is a video of an instance of smuggling. Much like the unfortunate reality of the ivory trade, the economic benefit of illegally capturing and domesticating elephants motivates these poachers and smugglers to break the law. They mercilessly beat and kill these animals, incentivized by the growing demand of the industry.

Breaking the Calf

Once captured, these calves are then “domesticated”. In order to train the elephants for performances and “safe” trekking—aka safe for the human riders—the animals must be ‘broken’ from a young age. Captors use fear and aversion techniques called bajaan (‘breaking of the calf’) to prepare the elephants for domestication, but they must begin training at a young age, as older elephants are far more reactionary and dangerous when captured. The process of bajaan adheres to its translation; the elephants are beaten, caged, and cruelly ‘disciplined’ to ready them for their futures as tourist attractions.

Again, this video is difficult to watch; this is just one instance of the common training process that occurs in Thailand. In many countries, bajaan is known not only as a training technique. It is acknowledged as a destruction of the spirit.

If You Still Want to Ride

It’s only natural to want to engage with these majestic creatures. They are beautiful, smart, and impressive, so the appeal is not difficult to comprehend. There are, too, some reputable sites across Southeast Asia, India, and Africa, in which elephants are taken in, post-torture, and rehabilitated. Elephant Nature Park, Thai Elephant Conservation Center and Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary are all respectable locations in Thailand that put the elephants’ priorities first. Tourists can interact with elephants, but in a safe, moderated environment with the knowledge that the animals are treated kindly and appropriately behind the scenes.

As we stated in our last post, it is important to remain informed. Next week, we will post about elephant-human conflict, an increasing problem in Southeast Asian and African farm territory especially.

Hopefully by the end of this series, you’ll be as WILD about Elephant conservation as we are!


Post courtesy of JHWFF Intern Lizzie Stallings

Herd: Part 1


In our passionate effort to spread awareness about a variety of conservation issues through documentary film, the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival has supported and advocated preservation causes geared towards Great Apes, Cougars, the Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone in the past 3 years alone. This year, our focus is Elephants. The biannual Conservation Summit of 2015 will bring some of the worlds most renowned and knowledgeable elephant advocates together to discuss and examine the range of factors threatening the elephant population, but in the meantime, we want to continue spreading awareness. So who and what are killing Asia and Africa’s wild elephants? Why should we care? And how can we contribute to the end of this cycle?

We will post our “Herd” blog brief on the myriad issues facing the African and Asian elephant populations in installments. This is our first, a mere introduction of the many threats and potential solutions to this problem of elephantine proportions.

Elephants Endangered: The [Trunk]ated Truth

Today, there are only about 400,000 African elephants left in existence. The Asian elephant population is even smaller, having dwindled to nearly 40,000 in the past 2 decades. These numbers decrease annually due to illegal poaching and the fatal ongoing conflict between elephants and humans as a product of agricultural expansion. The notion of the imminent extinction of this majestic species is not only a sad one; both types of elephants are keystone species, meaning their presence in the wild is pivotal in maintaining the balance of forest and savannah ecosystems. They provide nutrients, create water access, and help to sustain biodiversity in their given habitats, meaning that the fewer there are in the wild, the greater the impact on all other species in the region.

However, it is important to note that there is a definitive difference between African elephants and the Asian species. In African elephants, both males and females grow tusks. At no point in their lives do they “shed” or “re-grow” their tusks, meaning tusk removal is synonymous with elephant death. Only Asian males grow tusks, so the proportion of poaching fatalities is smaller amongst this species. However, the casualties are still alarming.

Beyond the illicit ivory market and the consequent poaching, the factors greatest affecting Asian v. African elephant-survival are the following: 1) Human-elephant environmental conflict and 2) the illegal capture of calves from the wild and deaths of their mothers or other adults in the process.

Our next post will follow the calf-capture, beginning with an anecdotal look into the elephant-tourism industry in Asia.

Until then, read, research, and remain aware.


Post courtesy of JHWFF Intern Lizzie Stallings

Announcing our 2015 Outstanding Achievement Honorees!

Each year, we recognize notable achievement in natural history science, media and conservation. This year we honor Iain Douglas-Hamilton, Cynthia Moss and Joyce Poole for their extraordinary work in elephant science and conservation and Howard Hall and Michele Hall for their accomplishments as natural history filmmakers. As recipients of our highest honor, they join a small and remarkable group that includes: Alan Root, David Attenborough, Mardy Murie, Hans Hass, Jane Goodall, E.O. Wilson, Richard Leakey, Sylvia Earle, George Schaller, Clark Bunting, Alan Rabinowitz, Beverly Joubert and Dereck Joubert.

As one of the world’s principal authorities on the African elephant, Douglas-Hamilton pioneered the first in-depth scientific study of elephant social behavior in Tanzania’s Lake Manyara National Park at age 23. In the 1970s he researched elephant population trends and alerted the world to the devastation poaching was having on the species, and was instrumental in bringing about the worldwide ban on the trade of ivory in 1989. Dr. Douglas-Hamilton acts as a member of the Technical Advisory Group to the CITES Convention on the Monitoring of the Illegal Killing of Elephants as well as serves on the data review task force of the African Elephant Specialist Group of IUCN. He has authored two award-winning books, Among the Elephants and Battle for the Elephants, with his wife Oria. In 1993, Douglas-Hamilton founded the Save the Elephants organization, which, “aims to secure a future for elephants, to sustain the beauty and ecological integrity of the places where they live; to promote man’s delight in their intelligence and the diversity of their world, and to develop a tolerant relationship between the two species.” Now based in Samburu National Reserve in Northern Kenya he continues his research with a dedicated team, monitoring the movements and behavior of over 900 elephants. In 2013 The Elephant Crisis Fund (a joint initiative between Save the Elephants and San Francisco based NGO Wildlife Conservation Network) was established to confront the threat to elephants by supporting the most urgent, important and catalytic projects across the crisis to stop the killing, stop the trafficking and end the demand for ivory.

HowardMichelleSquareHOWARD & MICHELE HALL
Specializing in wildlife and marine conservation films for television and large format theaters, Howard and Michele have worked together for more than two decades. Their projects include three episodes of the PBS series Nature and a National Geographic Special. Howard’s career as an underwater wildlife film producer, cinematographer, still photographer and writer began in the early 1970’s. From 1976 until 1988 Howard hired out his cinematography skills to other producers. Among his favorite projects were the 16 episodes of the Wild Kingdom series he filmed and directed; filming for Survival Anglia; ABC’s Dolphins, Whales, and Us; and being the primary cameraman for the 1981 National Geographic Special: Sharks. In addition to winning a Festival Choice award at Jackson Hole and a Golden Panda Award at Wildscreen, the Hall’s television work has resulted in seven Emmy awards.

Howard and Michele Hall are perhaps best known for their underwater IMAX films. In 1994 Howard directed the first underwater IMAX 3D feature, Into the Deep. In 2002 Howard was underwater sequence director and Michele was location manager for MacGillivray Freeman’s Coral Reef Adventure, a film in which both he and Michele are featured on-camera. Michele produced and Howard directed Island of the Sharks, Deep Sea 3D and Under the Sea 3D.  Their IMAX features had grossed more than $200 million in box office receipts and won awards from Wildsceen, Giant Screen Cinema Association and the International 3D Society.


Born and educated in the U.S.A., Cynthia Moss moved to Africa in 1968 and has spent the past 47 years studying elephants and working for their conservation. She began her elephant work in Tanzania as an assistant to Iain Douglas-Hamilton. In 1972 she started the Amboseli Elephant Research Project (AERP) in Kenya. Moss has directed AERP for over four decades, making it the longest running elephant research project in the world. It is also one of the longest continuous studies of any mammal. Moss’s research has concentrated on demography, social organization and behavior of the Amboseli elephants; her collaborators use the Amboseli dataset to study genetics, communication, reproductive histories, and cognition. Moss’ role as Director of AERP encompasses directing and supervising ongoing research; disseminating scientific results; mentoring and training young biologists and conservationists: and promoting public awareness about elephants. In 2000 she founded the Amboseli Trust for Elephants (ATE) whose mission is to ensure the long-term conservation and welfare of Africa’s elephants in the context of human needs and pressures through scientific research, training, community outreach, public awareness and advocacy.

Moss is the author of four books: Portraits in the Wild, Elephant Memories, Echo of the Elephants and Little Big Ears and co-author (with Laurence pringle) of Elephant Woman. In 2011, Moss and her colleagues published a scientific volume on the AERP research results. Edited by Moss, Harvey Croze and Phyllis C. Lee, The Amboseli Elephants: A Long-term Perspective on a Long-lived Mammalcovers the first three decades of research into the Amboseli elephants. She has written numerous popular and scientific articles and has made six award-winning TV documentaries about elephants, the best-known being the films following the famous matriarch Echo and her family. In 2002 she was awarded a MacArthur “genius” fellowship, a 5-year grant given for exceptional creativity and a demonstrated track record of significant achievement.

Joyce Poole has studied elephants and worked for their conservation and welfare for 40 years and is a world authority on their reproductive, communicative and cognitive behaviour. She graduated from Smith College, holds a Cambridge University PhD and was a Princeton University post-doctoral fellow. Poole’s scientific discoveries of African elephants include musth, infrasonic and long-distance acoustic communication, vocal imitation, vocal and gestural repertoires and she has collaborated in ground-breaking elephant cognition studies. Poole is a leading voice for the protection and well being of elephants. Her documentation of the damage wrought on elephant societies by poaching was instrumental to the 1989 ban on international trade in ivory. She has been an expert witness in numerous elephant cruelty cases, is lead author of The Elephant Charter and an outspoken critic of the capture of elephants for captivity.

Poole began her elephant research in Amboseli, Kenya in the mid-1970s. She headed the Kenya Wildlife Service Elephant Program 1990-1994, where her knowledge and enthusiasm inspired many Kenyans who hold key elephant management positions today. She has published numerous scientific and popular articles, written two books, Coming of Age with Elephants and Elephants, and participated in scores of media projects. She received a Smith College Medal for her research and training in Africa. In 2002 she and husband, Petter Granli, founded ElephantVoices and continue to co-direct it. They currently run elephant conservation projects in the Mara ecosystem, Kenya and in Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique, and work globally for the survival and welfare of elephants.

What is our team up to this winter?

Post and photos courtesy of JHWFF intern Alex Duane


The Sun! We have seen the Sun a little too frequently recently here in Jackson. Some friends and I have agreed that we don’t mind not having a view of the Grand until May. Although the snow gods are attempting to do our bidding, they are rubbing elbows with climate change, making their duties challenging. Fortunately, up high, the snow has remained healthy on good aspects and I always look forward to morning turns.

Teton Pass lies at the meeting place of the Teton Range and the Snake River Range.
Teton Pass lies at the meeting place of the Teton Range and the Snake River Range.
Looking at Glory to the north
Looking at Glory to the north
We did not see any other people this morning. We were lichen it.
We did not see any other people this morning. We were lichen it.
a resident observing the visitors
a resident observing the visitors
My skis soaking up the WYDOT pow
My skis soaking up the WYDOT pow

– Alex Duane

Gardening in Wyoming – Not for the Faint of Heart

Jackson, Wyoming is known for its beautiful mountains and unique rugged terrain great for outdoor sports, not so much for its fertile and crop friendly earth. The ground is rough and loamy and nearly impenetrable. So those desiring homegrown vegetables or herb growers better be determined! Let me tell you of my garden woes of last year.

crop me

Last year, I attempted to grow a few simple herbs and vegetables in my backyard. Being from Tennessee, tomatoes are no sweat to grow and harvest all summer! Nothing taste quite like a homegrown fresh off the vine juicy red tomato! After much digging and scraping to plant some perennials just a few inches in the ground, I realized this was far different from the soft limestone rich soil I was used to. So when I turned to my vegetables and herbs I decided to use pots! After two failed attempts at sprouting sturdy seedlings, I reluctantly bought some already rooted plants from the local garden store. When I asked the gardeners there for some advice they suggested I visit the grocery store for my fresh produce needs – Even the professional gardeners don’t have much faith in the act! I planted my tomatoes and rosemary (as it was already July these were about the only options left) in my nutrient rich soil filled pots and nurtured and cared from them, bringing them under my porch at night…unless I forgot. And forgot I did one night and the rosemary was toast…well frozen toast. My cherry tomato plant was still hanging on though and even had several small green fruits! The fruits turned yellow and a few even turned red, ready to pluck! I ate a handful of them right off the vine! But one night in August I again forgot to bring my tomato plant under shelter and it too froze and all the juicy little yellow, not quite ripe fruits with it. Heart broken and downtrodden, I gave up on gardening in Wyoming in the middle of August, the theoretically hottest month of the year, and visited the grocery store for ingredients for a fresh caprese salad.


But this year brings a new sense of determination and experience. Some words of advice I will share:

  • plant in raised beds or large pots
  • plants can still be frost bitten in the night on the loveliest of days
  • south-facing gardens will ensure the maximum amount of sunlight
  • invest in a simple green house

Even with these tips, I would suggest not depending on your garden to provide you with a full year’s worth of vegetables because you might go hungry. Its time to start planning for this summer – here we go again!

2014 Holiday Gift Guide

For the Conservation Lovers

What could be better than curling up with a good book on a cold winter’s night? Here are two of our choices from past Festival Lifetime Achievement Winners who attended the Festival in 2014. Both books are available for e-readers as well!



Speaking of Dame Daphne Sheldrick, one of the most unique gifts this holiday season is the orphan’s project at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. The Orphans’ Project exists to offer hope for the future of Kenya’s threatened elephant and rhino populations as they struggle against the threat of poaching for their ivory and horn, and the loss of habitat due to human population pressures and conflict, deforestation and drought.


For Nature Lovers

Skip the plastic, and go for this handcrafted, biodegradable and environmentally friendly keyboard made from mostly fast growing bamboo. Bamboo is a great sustainable, renewable, versatile material, and it looks great! Our team can’t help but drool a little bit over these as we prepare to log a lot of computer time in preparation for the Summit and Festival!


For Coffee Lovers

Jackson Hole is home to some AMAZING coffee! Our friends at Snake River Roasting Co. have lots of unique blends to try out. There’s even a subscription to try a few out!


For Photography Lovers

There’s absolutely nothing like a Tom Mangelsen image. The legendary nature photographer has traveled throughout the natural world for nearly 40 years observing and photographing the Earth’s last great wild places. Right now you can purchase a Tom Mangelsen print (limited edition coffee table book “The Last Great Wild Places” included), with a portion of the proceeds benefiting JHWFF – it’s a win win!


For Travel Lovers

The Festival has just launched our biannual Adventures for Good online travel & adventure auction. If you’re looking for a unique, one-of-a-kind experience to gift to your loved one this holiday, you’ve found the right place! Check out our 13 unique adventure packages.


For you, the gift giver!

What a cool idea – these holiday cards are printed on premium seed paper, so your friends and family can plant them in a flower pot or garden to grow colorful wildflowers.