Jane Edge
17 April 2015

Over the past three years, NGOs have launched multi-million dollar campaigns to highlight the plight of Africa’s elephants and raise funds to halt their slaughter. Yet elephants remain under siege, with some 100,000 elephants lost to poaching in that time alone. Jane Edge navigates the philanthropic world and highlights its wastage, as well as its successes in protecting Africa’s giants.

In September 2013 a high-profile announcement was made in New York about a bold Clinton Global Initiative, bringing together NGOs, governments and concerned citizens to stop the slaughter of Africa’s elephants. Making international headlines, the Initiative pledged $80 million over three years to counteract the elephant crisis with a three-pronged strategy to “stop the slaughter, stop the trafficking, and stop the demand”. However, it emerged that of the $80 million in pledged funds, $78 million comprised the already-funded budgets of over a dozen conservation organisations working in Africa. There was no funding from the Clinton Foundation; indeed a significant portion was European Union funding that had long been committed to protected areas in Africa. The impact was all in the packaging.
Such is the confusing world of wildlife conservation where initiatives to save iconic species compete in a game of recognition and power, often completely missing the conservation goal. With hundreds of NGOs proclaiming to protect elephants, how do philanthropists decide who to support? The answer is not easy, and the givers themselves are often motivated by personal goals, simply wishing to feel virtuous with an easy click and credit-card swipe entry on a website. NGO websites encourage this approach: for a few dollars, you can supposedly sponsor an orphaned elephant or equip a park ranger. But how much of the money really goes there?

©Alexandra Olivieri

The status of Africa’s elephants

Available research data indicates a population of +- 550,000, but some scientists swayed by the poaching onslaught claim the number is as low as 250,000. Media headlines shout about an apocalypse; they predict that Africa’s elephants will be extinct in 20 years while ignoring the fact that elephants breed at 5% per annum – helping to offset poaching statistics. NGOs benefit from alarmist talk and every poaching outrage ensures an influx of funds into their coffers. But responsible conservation should present considered facts and opinion; genuine action and accountability. Africa’s elephants may not be on their way to extinction, but in many regions they are being lost with breathtaking speed. West Africa is almost devoid of elephants and a huge swathe of central Africa has lost its savannah herds. Tanzania and Mozambique are the current elephant killing fields, and central Africa’s forests are an unseen frontline where the future of the forest elephant is at stake. These are real threats and an alarmed Western world is responding with shock, anger and unprecedented amounts of funding. Governments, foundations and individuals are desperate to help but are bamboozled by the plethora of headlines and funding options.

Click arrows to scroll through maps

If donors want to contribute effectively, the role of different NGOs needs to be understood, their literature examined and quantifiable results sought. Donors also need to understand the relevance of data – if poaching arrests increase, have anti-poaching efforts become more effective or has poaching pressure increased? Are arrests translating to prosecutions or to bribed releases? If more rangers are deployed, are they being effective or actually contributing to the problem by colluding with poachers? The only real measure of success is an increase in population numbers or the slowing of a downward trend – but accurate statistics have been difficult to establish.

How do you determine which among the many NGOs best deserves your support?

The Global NGOs

Global NGOs dominate Africa’s conservation space with big budgets and high profile marketing campaigns. Between them, WWF, WCS, IFAW and CI (World Wide Fund for Nature, Wildlife Conservation Society, International Fund for Animal Welfare and Conservation International) have an annual budget of over $1 billion, with over $100 million spent in Africa. But being a big player also means multiple layers of command, hefty overhead costs and major marketing spend to ensure donations continue. For each donor dollar channelled to these NGOs, at least 15% goes to overheads – 26% in the case of WWF and 34% for IFAW.
Of the global NGOs, Wildlife Conservation Society is credited with doing the most effective work in Africa. Based out of New York’s Bronx Zoo, WCS is at heart a scientific organisation and much of Africa’s wildlife census work has been conducted by its people. But in recent years, WCS has strived to become more hands-on, taking on the co-management of several protected areas in partnership with governments. In 2012 WCS earned respect for entering into territory where few NGOs will venture – the Niassa National Reserve in northern Mozambique, an area the size of Denmark with one of the most threatened elephant populations in Africa.


Operating in a country with massive corruption, WCS has had its work cut out, compounded by the fact that 35,000 people live in the reserve, and Tanzanian poachers cross the border into Niassa, often reportedly aided by officials. Poaching has ravaged Niassa’s elephants, with numbers plummeting from 20,000 in 2009 to 13,000 in 2013. Yet under the helm of South African conservationist Alistair Nelson, WCS has taken on the challenge, investing in anti-poaching efforts that have helped slow the onslaught and lobbying government for increased penalties – until recently neither ivory poaching nor trading warranted incarceration in Mozambique. In September 2014, there was a breakthrough when a major poaching gang with 39 recent elephant kills was arrested. But, as in the past, the poachers escaped from prison – indicative of the systemic corruption that makes conviction so difficult. WCS swung its publicity machine into gear, spotlighting the case to ensure that it will be harder in the future for officials to turn a blind eye or take part in corruption.
A hundred years ago Mozambique was teeming with elephants, including some of Africa’s biggest tuskers. Today, Niassa’s 12,000 elephants are the country’s largest population, and their number is dwindling. But thanks to WCS’s presence, Niassa’s beleaguered elephants at least stand a chance.

Discipline returns to Garamba National Park under new management by African Parks. ©Andrew Brukman/African Parks

The Park Managers

NGOs like African Parks, which take on the management of protected areas in partnership with governments, are increasingly attracting donor funds because they are accountable for their actions. In signing formal public-private partnership (PPP) agreements, they secure full management responsibility for a protected area and are held responsible for what happens under their watch.
The Republic of Congo had the foresight to engage in PPPs for three of its national parks – Odzala-Kokoua in partnership with African Parks, and Nouabale-Ndoki and Conkouti-Douli in partnership with Wildlife Conservation Society. Less than five years under way, if these partnerships prove successful, the future of 12-13,000 forest elephants could be secured.

Elephant collaring in Garamba National Park. Elephants here are under threat from poachers using helicopters to infiltrate the park.
©Nuria Ortega/African Parks
A ranger with captured ivory and poacher’s weapons in Zakouma National Park.
©Babi Prokas/African Parks
Through an amnesty program, poachers are turned into protectors

Odzala-Kokoua has about 9,600 forest elephants, probably the largest population remaining in a single protected area. African Parks has managed Odzala-Kokoua since 2010, and whilst high levels of corruption make it difficult to bring poachers to justice, their conservation efforts are bearing fruit. Odzala’s elephant population is stable, with the effects of any poaching offset by compression as elephants congregate in the safety of the park to avoid threats in surrounding areas. African Parks has been lauded for its poacher-to-protector amnesty programme, which allows poachers to surrender their weapons and apply for work in the park; to date 45 have been trained and deployed in the field as eco-guards or wildlife monitors. A major achievement was the arrest of a regional ivory kingpin who was sentenced to five years in jail, almost unheard of in Congo’s dysfunctional judicial system.
African Parks is known for its no-nonsense approach and donors like the fact that almost all incoming funds go towards their efforts on the ground while proceeds from an endowment fund cover most of the overheads.
WCS protects about 3,000 elephants at Noubale-Ndoki and Conkouti-Douli national parks. Together with Odzala’s population, this comprises about 15% of forest elephants remaining. Says Lee White, head of Gabon’s national park agency, Agence Nationale des Parcs Nationaux: “We’re fighting for the survival of the forest elephant. Already far too many forests are silent.”
WCS estimates that 65% of forest elephants have been lost to poaching since 2002 and that fewer than 100,000 remain – 400,000 are thought to have been lost over 20 years.


The Scientists

Hardened field rangers can be disparaging about scientists’ predilection to count and collar wildlife, but this neglects the important contribution they make in researching population sizes, ranges, movements, behaviours and trends – work vitally needed to inform conservation management.
Africa’s biggest elephant population is in Botswana where up to 200,000 elephants roam more-or-less freely, venturing across its borders into neighbouring Zimbabwe, Namibia, Angola and Zambia. Botswana-based scientist Dr Mike Chase is the expert on these movements – his PhD study on the spatial ecology of north Botswana’s elephants helped define the borders of the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA), which spans these five countries. Chase’s NGO, Elephants Without Borders, has highlighted the return of elephants from Botswana into Angola since the end of its civil war where elephant numbers in southern Angola have grown from 36 in 2001 to more than 8,000 today. Providing safe passage across political boundaries is key to the future of elephants like these.

Paul Allen (3rd from right), Mike Chase (2nd from right) and the EWB team. ©EWB
An elephant family in Chobe’s Okavango Delta. ©EWB
Safe passage across political boundaries is key to the future of elephants

In 2014, EWB took on its most challenging project yet – a pan-African survey of savannah elephants spanning 18 countries and covering 80% of their rangeland. Funded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allan, the Great Elephant Census involves 50 scientists as well as African governments and NGOs, totting up 600,000 km of aerial transects. Although impressive in scale, the $8 million project has excluded forest elephants which are notoriously difficult to count, giving an incomplete picture of the African elephant story. Some conservationists question whether the census is the best application of $8 million of donor funding and say the data must have management applicability. Chase says the goal is to use the data to marshal conservation efforts across Africa; a continental elephant management strategy would be the ideal outcome.

Members of Big Life’s anti-poaching team flank a spotter plane as they head towards camera for a promotional film. ©Big Life

The Anti-Poachers

There is no one closer to the coal-face than the anti-poaching ranger – and no-one more subject to its dangers. Over the last decade over 1,000 rangers have lost their lives in the field, the majority to elephant poachers. As poaching becomes more militarized, many donors have been keen to fund sophisticated weaponry and aerial drones. But in reality it is old-fashioned boots on the ground (supplemented by expert bush pilots) that have proven the most effective. There is no silver bullet to ensure anti-poaching success. It takes hard work, training and discipline, along with good ground intelligence based on trust with local communities.
Big Life is a dedicated anti-poaching initiative in Kenya’s Amboseli-Tsavo region that is impressing philanthropists. Founded by English photographer, Nick Brandt, in partnership with Kenyan Richard Bonham, it is the first outfit to achieve coordinated cross-border operations between Kenya and Tanzania. Brandt has long celebrated Amboseli’s magnificent tuskers in stirring images that have captivated global audiences. But during a visit to the National Park in 2009, he was horrified to discover that many of the elephants he photographed had been killed by poachers. The other shock was the dearth of rangers and the inability to pursue poachers across the border into Tanzania. “Clearly what was needed was teams of rangers on both sides of the border working in close communication,” he says. “It was obvious, but no-one was doing this.”


A contingent of Big Life’s anti-poaching rangers. ©Big Life
Veterinary operations are also performed under the banner of Big Life.
©Jeremy Goss/Big Life
“If you don’t have the local community on your side,
you’re screwed”

Within five months of Big Life’s inception, it established 12 anti-poaching outposts, bought nine anti-poaching patrol vehicles, recruited platoon commanders and a training instructor to oversee 85 rangers, acquired a microlight for aerial monitoring, brought in tracker dogs and established an informer network on both sides of the border. In no time, Big Life had broken up the worst of the poaching gangs operating in the Amboseli region. Says Brandt: “You have to have your leader on the ground to see, direct and co-ordinate operations first-hand, to marshall resources and to have an open door and ear to the local community. If you don’t have the local community on your side, you’re screwed.”
Since 2010, Big Life’s rangers have made 1,790 arrests and confiscated more than 3,000 weapons and poaching tools. Today the NGO employs 315 rangers at 31 outposts in the region, protecting 800,000 hectares of wilderness that support 2,000 elephants. Big Life’s teams now apprehend poachers almost every time they kill an animal. But Brandt says that Big Life is doing far more than anti-poaching, with human-wildlife conflict a major area of focus. With its clear agenda and focused action, Big Life is clearly a model to replicate.


The Grassroots NGOs

Generally, organisations working closest to the ground use donor funds the most sparingly. Some of the most effective, in terms of bang for donor dollar, are lean local NGOs staffed by dedicated, lowly paid people working tirelessly to protect wildlife in rough or dangerous circumstances.
In 2005, Zimbabwe’s flagship Hwange National Park was afflicted with a devastating drought. The National Parks and Wildlife Authority, suffering from the economic collapse in the country, had no funds to keep borehole pumps going to fill the park’s waterholes and thousands of animals were dying of thirst. Hwange lies in a transition zone between desert and savannah woodlands and has virtually no natural water. When it was first proclaimed a National Park in 1928, fewer than 1,000 elephants remained. In a bid to establish Hwange as a wildlife haven, founding warden Ted Davidson drilled dozens of boreholes and established 60 pans. As long as the pans remained filled, the wildlife would be sustained during the dry winter season. But with the pans dry, the 2005 winter looked set for disaster.

An elephant extends its trunk into the life giving water at Hwange National Park
©Bruce Monroe
A small band of concerned Zimbabweans averted a crisis

A small band of concerned Zimbabweans sprang into action and bought enough diesel to get 10 borehole pumps going again. That simple act averted the crisis. Since then, Friends of Hwange has kept up the good work, buying diesel and maintaining 10 waterholes in the park. Today Hwange supports over 22,000 elephants, thanks in part to this small NGO comprising a handful of committed people.
This illustrates what focused efforts on the ground can achieve without millions of dollars and global campaigns. However there is another side to the Hwange story. The artificial supply of water has fuelled a huge rise in the park’s elephant population and the consequent destruction of habitat is drastically impacting other wildlife. The ever-full waterholes attract elephants that would normally only be there in the rainy season. Such is the paradox facing elephant conservation in Africa – numbers plummeting in most regions while Chobe in Botswana and Hwange in Zimbabwe seem to have too many.

©Pieter Ras

The Advocates

All over Africa, small NGOs are busting their guts trying to expose the corruption inherent in wildlife poaching and trafficking. By shining a light on criminal syndicates, corrupt government officials and those in the criminal justice system, they are often able to score gains that anti-poaching field units cannnot.
Naftali Honig is a man on such a mission. His small organisation, PALF (Project for the Application of Law for Fauna), based in Congo’s Brazzaville, investigates wildlife crimes, helps secure arrests and lobbies Congo’s judicial sector into jailing the culprits. Against almost insurmountable odds, PALF is succeeding. In 2013, an ivory poaching kingpin was jailed for five years, a sentence previously unheard of in Congo. Since then PALF has helped secure a number of ivory busts and arrests. Naftali and his small team follow every step of the judicial process, lobbying the media, politicians and civil society and attending court cases to ensure due process is followed. It takes unshakeable resolve to achieve this, but not huge quantities of funds.


In Tanzania the UK-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) is shining a light on the Government corruption fuelling its massive poaching industry. Nearly half of Africa’s annual ivory haul is thought to hail from Tanzania, with its elephant population plummeting from 109,000 in 2009 to less than 70,000 today. Vanishing Point, the EIA’s pull-no-punches report published in November 2014, details how Chinese-led criminal gangs conspire with corrupt Tanzanian officials to move huge amounts of ivory out of the country. Tanzania vehemently denies the allegations, but the Government is under the spotlight and struggling to avoid international censure. EIA’s executive director, Mary Rice, is also on a mission to bring about changes in international laws and government policies.
NGOs such as these eschew flash offices and business class travel, work on frugal budgets, and often perform dangerous undercover investigative work. Although small and unassuming, both PALF and EIA’s successes are on the radar screens of global philanthropists.
Dr Ian Douglas-Hamilton exemplifies the genre of zoologists who have migrated from the field to the global advocacy platform. In the 1970s, he conducted the first pan-African elephant survey and was the first to alert the world to the ivory poaching crisis that halved Africa’s elephant population in the 1980s. Under the banner of his NGO, Save the Elephants, he has spent 30 years lobbying for elephants on global platforms, including addressing the US Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee on Ivory and Security in 2012 and attending White House meetings that fed into Obama’s 2013 Executive Order on Combatting Wildlife Trafficking.

poacher handcuffed
A handcuffed trafficker with illegal ivory in Congo.
Among other Chinese celebrities Wild Aid’s anti-demand campaign features the incredibly popular basketball star Yao Ming.

“When the buying stops, the killing can too”

Other NGOs are committed to combatting demand for ivory in the East. The WildAid media campaign makes waves with popular Asian celebrities conveying its powerful message: “When the Buying Stops, the Killing Can Too”. However, proponents of ivory trade claim that for Africans to conserve elephants economic value is needed. Says Dr John Hanks, former CEO of WWF SA and Peace Parks Foundation: “Campaigns to eliminate consumptive use of wildlife are well-meaning, but they ignore the realities of poverty in Africa, human-wildlife conflict and the underfunding of protected areas. Unless local people and their national governments want to conserve wildlife, it will not survive.”
Over the next three years, hundreds of millions of dollars will pour into elephant conservation, some of it misguided and frittered away, with little concrete outcome. What is heartening though is the increasing demand for results, with foundations and government agencies insisting on detailed objectives, strategies and outcomes before parting with funds. The smart money is demanding accountability from donor recipients, and has realised that often the most effective outcomes lie in the hands of dedicated, low-key people, working exhaustive hours in the field or in scruffy offices. With so much money and the future of Africa’s elephants at stake, both donors and recipients need to be held firmly accountable. This is not the time for glib marketing campaigns or gratuitous gloom and doom. It is the time for facts and focus.africa-geographic-logo

Featured NGOs:
African Parks
Big Life Foundation
Elephants Without Borders
Environmental Investigation Agency
Friends of Hwange
Save the Elephants
Wild Aid
Wildlife Conservation Society
World Wide Fund for Nature

As previous manager of Nedbank’s green affinity programme in partnership with WWF SA, and previous marketing and philanthropy director for African Parks, Author Jane Edge is well informed but she does not work for or receive fees from these or any organisation that could benefit from the publication of this article. Many other NGOs do valuable conservation work in Africa; all the organisations featured here are respected by the philanthropy community.
More about the author.


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  • mlorentz

    An excellent article – insightful, informative and hard hitting – well done Jane, and thank you.

  • I’ve recently moved back to the eastern Cape and live right next to the Addo Elephant National Park. I’ve been wondering about how our local allies are being affected by poaching. This definitely helps put things in perspective. Thanks.

  • AnnNC

    “Supposedly sponsor an orphaned elephant”? Not sure what NGO you were referring to, but when you “foster” an orphan at Kenya’s David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust you are most definitely supporting the excellent care of orphaned elephants and their gradual release back into the wild. It is a very worthwhile way to help these most innocent victims of human brutality and greed.

    • fatima fazal

      great shot of info ive learnt from reading here I’m demanding my money back from a bad charity

  • ReginaHart

    Thank you for this excellent article. It’s really helpful to learn about organizations, their projects, what is working, and what might not. Certainly we all hope for more successes than failures.

  • Sajidha

    The David Shelderick Wildlife trust needs a mention for their excellent work on the the ground in Kenya. Though better known for their elephant orphanage, they are a small organization, with invaluable work in many areas of combating the poaching crisis. http://www.shelderickwildlifetrust.org

    • Agreed, and they assist with far more, too. Fantastic organisation.

    • KarenGeer

      Their logo is shown, so I guess that is a mention. I love DSWT.

    • Chrislynn R. Wood Schraufnagel

      Thank you for mentioning them. I saw their web page and was curious if they were a reputable organization! My daughter loves all things elephants and wants to adopt and save them all! We wanted to adopt/contribute in her name, but want to be sure it’s a great organization doing great work as they claim!

    • fatima fazal

      ive just donated thanks for the blast I adore elephants I’m sticking to david from now on with muamaar gadaalfis money..

  • Lori Robinson

    Thank you for your thoughtful, well researched article. I agree that the NGO world is fraught with the need for recognition and power, especially in the largest organizations. I have long advocated for these organizations to pool their resources instead of competing against each other. My solution for donors has been to list the smallest, on the ground organizations in my annual list of best charities for wildlife. The small ones are more nimble and able to be effective.
    With all the press, and millions of dollars being poured into saving ellies it has been such a devastating blow to watch the numbers of these magnificent beings continue to decline because of poaching and human (Chinese) greed and lack of education. Surely we are better than that. Obviously those of us working to protect the elephants have not figured out the answer. And the saddest part is that we don’t have the luxury of time on our hands. Lori from SavingWild.com

    • Donna Brooks

      I agree with supporting the smaller NGOs who seem to be able to do so much with so little. I also agree with coordinated efforts and think that competition for resources and duplication of effort is stupid and wasteful of donors’ money and tragic. There is no time for ego. I do object to your limiting greed to the Chinese people. Are you American? Do you know who the *second* largest consumer of ivory is, after China? The United States. So there is plenty of blood on American hands. I will check out the website you posted. It’s my understanding that the Clinton Global Initiative does what you are suggesting…. bringing together NGOs and other stakeholders to find effective programs and fund them, end replication of effort and competition b/t NGOs, and make the programs more efficient by prioritization, cooperation, and waste reduction. Hillary Clinton held a summit with leaders of something like 14 wildlife conservation organizations shortly before her tenure as Sec. of State ended.

  • Kerstin Louw

    Great work. I love this, thank you. Is the same being done to save the rhino?

  • KStrobel

    Can you please explain why you left David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust out of this article? It seems like a rather large omission and it seems rather odd that there was one brief, and not so complementary allusion to this organization with nothing further said.

    • Julia

      DSWT rescues orphaned elephants, regardless of why they are orphaned. They are not an anti-poaching organization.

      • Kristen Strobel

        Why did the author make a not so veiled reference to them in the beginning of the article and include their logo then?

      • TR

        These orphaned elephants are released into wild family elephant herds when they are old enough. This very positively affects Kenyan elephants by providing very young new elephants to the wild. All of these baby elephants would be a net loss otherwise. Save The Elephants (positively listed) and a big advocate, has praised them in the past.

      • Macha1st

        They categorically are an anti-poaching organisation and a very successful one. They employ their own helicopters, spotter planes, armed rangers and dog teams and have greatly reduced poaching in Tsavo (which is the size of Wales) and other parts of Kenya which they protect. All this is in addition to rescuing orphaned elephants

    • fatima fazal

      dear god protect those elephants ameen

  • Kevin Leo-Smith

    Well done Jane and excellent article from someone who actually knows what is going on in general. Tough messages but facts need to be faced – fairy stories will not “save” elephants. Those of you offended use google and find out more about Jane Edge and what she has done over the years.

    • AnnNC

      I Googled her but couldn’t find anything. What “fairy stories” are you referring to? I assure you, what the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust does is anything but a “fairy story”. I have no idea why this woman chose to take an implied dig at them and then not explain her position. Does she prefer that the orphaned baby elephants in Kenya be left to die alone? Believe me, when I renew my fostering of six Sheldrick orphans each year, I know where my money is going. I have been there to see it for myself, both at the Nairobi nursery and at the Ithumba rehabilitation unit. I have met many of the ex-orphans now living wild and seen some of their wild-born babies. I know about the other work of the DSWT, including anti-poaching, habitat preservation, and mobile vet units that save elephants from spear wounds and snares. I wasn’t “offended” by the phrase “supposedly foster an orphaned elephant”, I was baffled. The DSWT isn’t going to save the species. But they have made a huge difference in the lives of many elephants in Kenya.

      • Kevin Leo-Smith

        I am sorry but you seem to think this article is about David Sheldrick it is not and neither are my comments in any way related to their efforts. Please re-read and comprehend what the article is all about. It is about African elephant conservation funding to try to manage the illegal killing of elephants. It has almost nothing to do with a few orphaned elephant, as tragic as their plight is. I won’t enter into further debate about orphaned elephants.

        Jane was an environmental investigative journalist when I first met her in the late 1980’s. She then joined Phinda Holdings at inception which was developing the now well known Phinda Game Reserve from failed agriculture, that led to the creation of Conservation Corporation. She headed Corporate Communications & PR for many years. Jane recently headed the fund raising for African Parks Network.

        • AnnNC

          No, I don’t think this article was about DSWT, and I am certainly able to comprehend the article, which is very interesting. You don’t have to admonish me to reread it, I know it is about saving the species and not about saving individual elephants. My first comment above was simply related to Jane’s odd comment “supposedly foster an orphaned elephant or equip a park ranger” followed by “But how much of the money really goes there?”. Since DSWT is the only organization I know of that has an orphaned elephant fostering program, I did make the assumption she was referring to them. So what did she mean by that implication? My reply to you was simply trying to explain that this is what some of us noticed, and though I don’t think we were “offended” as you said, we were puzzled. Only she would know what she meant by that comment.

      • Donna Brooks

        Might I suggest to you both, and to others reading this, that instead of using Google, use the Goodsearch search site. On it, you can choose an organization you wish to support and they get a penny for every search you do. If you search a lot, as I do, this can add up. I have supported Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, and Bat World Sanctuary in the past, and am currently supporting Bat Conservation International. You fave charity may not be there, but you can surely find some wildlife or conservation organization that you would like to support. I believe the UK has a similar website called SearchKindly. At least they did several years back. IDK if it’s still around, but Goodsearch has been around for years and now they’ve expanded to Goodshop, so you can do your online shopping thru them and your selected non-profit gets a donation. I’ve never used that since I hardly ever buy anything! So check it out!

  • greentrees

    This article should be titled “the good”, as by implication the NGOs not mentioned in detail are the bad and ugly we are left to suppose, but this is not substantiated and it leaves one wondering about personal bias or lack if knowledge about what others are doing… I would like to know more, to understand the insights, which no doubt come from years of experience, better. I feel as many other posters this does not give a full picture. Frankly I don’t mind bias but its better to be clearer and more transparent as it allows the rest of us, with more limited or different knowledge, to come to our own conclusions about what is stated here.

    • Julia Lowe

      I also am interested in the bad and the ugly… in particular Matavita

  • Jen Samuel

    This article on exceptional NGOs working in Africa is fantastic, with the exception of including WWF (which has failed to support completely banning ivory trade in the United States and supports culling – mass slaughter – of elephants and other species in Africa; as well as ‘trophy’ hunting); and excluding – oddly – a decent feature of The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, considered the most reputable elephant rescue organization in the world. The work of Sheldrick, not to mention its international role in calling for the end of the ivory trade via http://www.iworry.org, deserves to be recognized, not ignored.

  • SafariPhotog

    The problem of there being far too many NGO’s going in different directions to save elephants is well documented in this article, and highlighting the overheads of some of the NGO’s is educational. However, to write off the Clinton Global Initiative as “packaging” shows that the author does not understand the role played by the CGI. Clinton Global Initiative is meant to bring together the vast number of programs to minimize duplication, measure success, and bring together resources to solve the problem. (They never claimed to have raised $80M, they claimed to have gotten $80M of programs pulling in the same direction). Their focus on all three prongs of the problem lifted Wildaid’s budget to attack the demand to a point where they have already made a difference in China. As so well stated in the article, getting the community involved is crucial, but does not happen overnight and not without government support as well. Bringing the parties together is what CGI does. The problem will never be solved by mom & pop NGO’s trying to do the right thing without continent wide plans and programs. CGI, because they do not compete with any of the NGO’s provides the hope that a coordinated effort can be implemented that works as soon as possible. Save the Elephants (one of the highlighted NGO’s), in partnership with Northern Rangelands Trust, Kenya Wildlife Service, Wildlife Direct, WildAid, Stop Ivory, and BornFree, and Wildlife Conservation Network, committed to work with government authorities and other nongovernmental organizations to contribute to resolving the current ivory crisis that is decimating elephant populations throughout the continent. All these players pulling together are a result of the efforts of the Clinton Global Initiative.

  • Walt

    Much needed discussion. Most poaching articles don’t explain the degree to which corruption aids the poaching process, nor do most point out the importance of researching the effectiveness of the various NGO’s. My observation based on 35 years of involvement with conservation of African wildlife is that the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) is the most forward looking, pragmatic, and effective NGO operating in Africa today. AWF brings local people into leadership roles in the organization, builds schools where they are needed, and focuses on bringing revenue from wildlife veiwing into the local villages. Worth checking out if you want your contributions to really accomplish something.

  • Born Free Foundation and Born Free USA have for many years been funding conservation projects and advocating for greater wildlife protection against poaching and illegal trade. In collaboration with the Center for Advanced Defense Studies (C4ADS), BFUSA published two important reports last year – Out of Africa: Mapping the Global Trade in Illicit Elephant Ivory, and Ivory’s Curse: The Militarization and Professionalization of Poaching in Africa. Both can be downloaded from http://www.bornfreeusa.org/a9_out_of_africa.php. These reports, alongside the wider work of Born Free Foundation and Born Free USA, are helping to inform countries and their enforcement agencies, and are well worth highlighting among the wider work of the NGO sector reviewed in this article.

  • markjordahl

    This was a confusing article. The first paragraph – the one most people are likely to read – implies that NGOs are siphoning off money and not supporting elephant welfare, but then later in the article you go on to show all the great work being done. You also state that a 5% birthrate is offsetting the poaching numbers, but then later in the article show that elephant numbers are plummeting. I think you do a disservice to the rest of your article by turning people off in the first paragraph. The reality is that elephants are dying, birthrates are not keeping up with kill rates, and as usual, there is a mixed bag in terms of some NGOs doing great work, and some not.

    • Christopher Haslett

      A good point. 5% is an optimal birth rate that can happen in the total absence of human harassment. But harassed populations breed at a slower rate.

  • espfund.org

    This article is a good read and a nice menagerie of commonly reported events and projects from the past year or so, favoring some of the big, well respected organizations. I just wanted to point out a section of the article that I found to be problematic. I found the section about WildAid’s media campaigns to be misleading. This article seems to indicate that WildAid’s demand-reduction campaigns somehow go against the need for wildlife to provide local communities with economic value. The quote included in the article from Dr John Hanks, says:
    “Campaigns to eliminate consumptive use of wildlife are well-meaning,
    but they ignore the realities…” is a quote that to me epitomizes one of the problems of conservation today: the quote seems to indicate that WildAid’s efforts are not as important as the efforts of other NGOs on the ground in the communities. This quote promotes competition among NGOs, rather than cooperation. Demand reduction is far more than “well-meaning.” It is critical; just as critical as anti-poaching, law enforcement, scientific research, and anti-corruption. This is not a competition to see who is doing the most important work. All of us are approaching this problem from different, but equally important angles. Foreign ivory buyers are not providing economic value to African communities, as this article seemed to indicate, but rather they provide profits for a select few who could not care less about African communities. Economic value for the communities comes from tourism, and otherwise effective management of parks and preserves that distributes wildlife-derived profit to the whole community and includes the community as a vital stakeholder.

  • Hitesh

    Jane: Great article BUT i am perturbed that no mention AT ALL is made of the work done by AWF (African Wildlife Foundation) to save the Elephants in Africa. In fact, there is NO mention of AWF in your whole article. It is as if they do not exist! I have known of their work since the 80’s in Kenya and currently consulting with them on a project in Tanzania and at the base of Kilimanjaro where they are working with local Maasai to protect the elephant migratory route from Amboseli. I have also written to you in your personal blog. I await your response.

    • Kelle Green

      I second this comment. I’ve been donating to AWF since the 80’s and their accountability seems impeccable. Why no mention of them at all?

  • From quashing demand in Asia to training and arming park rangers…this is a costly battle. I don’t know whether or not the $80m was earmarked, but regardless, isn’t it fantastic that $80m is being invested into a variety of programs to help fight elephant poaching on multiple fronts? Did the event not bring a tremendous amount of publicity to the issue of poaching and illegal wildlife trafficking?

    I can’t believe you didn’t mention the African Wildlife Foundation – an Africa-based NGO – in this article. In addition to supporting several other projects around the continent (community owned lodges, great ape conservation, etc) they help fund some of the very projects you have mentioned, such as Big Life and WildAid. Remember the 1980’s “Only Elephants Should Wear Ivory” campaign? That was AWF.

    Full disclosure – I worked for AWF for a year. It’s how I know they’re one of the good guys.

  • auntiemel

    Does anyone know about Eighty Elephants? I can’t find what they contribute to charity.

  • fatima fazal

    really ive just demanded back a good donation given to a charity mentioned below after watching the abuse of jumbo in the 1880s in usa in a fun fair park with bits of him scattered all over from usa to Canada its abuse to gods creatures but id figured out those colonialists by checking their staff out all white albeit 2 and not very African who you need for legitimacy in Africa to get accepted

  • Macha1st

    How disgraceful that you have not mentioned the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, which has to be the leading elephant protection charity in Africa, the efforts of which with spotter planes, helicopters, drones, rangers and veterinary staff have made and are making a dramatic improvement in Tsavo and other parts of Kenya. The unforgivable omission of this organization makes your whole article suspect. You should be ashamed of yourselves. I am signing to have this comment posted, but I shall never support you in any way after this.

  • Julia Lowe

    Can anyone comment on Matavita and give information that it is a reputable company?

    • autumndandelion

      I came here trying to find out the same thing. There doesn’t seem to be any information about them. Have you found anything?

      • Julia Lowe

        I did a few hours of research and I found out that the Matavita website location and owner is being hidden purposefully. The website is most likely in Canada. I reported their Facebook site to Facebook administration as a possible fake website. I noticed that their facebook site is mostly just ads and links to buy there jewelry. Along with myself I only saw two other posts on Matavita’s FB asking more questions about their legitimacy.

      • Julia Lowe

        The reason I started researching them as being fraudulent is because after many weeks the jewelry I ordered arrived in a package from Zhejiang Province, China.

        • autumndandelion

          Thanks for all your information. I was considering getting this for my mother for Christmas. She loves elephants, and this is a worthy cause – if it were actually legit. But the website didn’t really say anything about what they do; it was just focused on selling these necklaces and claiming they only had five left any time I visited. On Instagram, they said the necklaces were $25 but were going up to $35 soon so act now. On their website, it said they’re usually $50 but are currently on sale for $25. When I googled for more information about them, I only saw people asking if they were legit. None of the blogs talking about elephant charities even mentioned them. I hope they get shut down now that you reported them.

          • Julia Lowe

            I reported them on October 14th, 2018 so it doesn’t look like face book is shutting down there site unfortunately. Save the Elephants, David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, Elephants without Borders, Big Life are a few legitimate NGO’s that are helping to save elephants. Not sure if they sell jewelry that you could buy for you mother but maybe a donation in her name as a gift?

  • mia culppa

    A more long-term approach could be to use a percentage of funds to establish another means of support and survival for the poachers.