Saturday, 20 July 2013

Kind Events: Welcome to Planet Elephant!

During my career as an environmental conservationist I've been privileged to work with some incredibly inspiring people - one of these is Dr Tammie Matson. Way back when Tammie and I worked together in the threatened species department of WWF-Australia. Her amazing kindness by conservation is now focused on the plight of the magnificent elephants of the world. Tammie spoke to me recently about her up-coming book launch and fundraiser to help secure a future for both rhinos and elephants. 

Q. What is it about elephants that captures your imagination and has led them to become a huge part of your life?

Elephants are a lot like us! In some ways I think they’re a better version of us.  For me personally, they’ve taught me so much about the value of family, compassion and having fun.  Watching baby elephants playing in the mud you find yourself caught up in the joy of it with them and it really brings you back to being completely in the moment.  It’s magic.

I’ve been working as a zoologist on elephants since 2005, mostly on human-elephant conflict in Africa and India, but in the last year, since moving to Asia, I’ve been trying to understand and raise awareness about the link between the Africa and Asia in the ivory trade that is driving the elephant poaching crisis in Africa.  Over 30,000 elephants are illegally killed annually to provide ivory for Asian markets.

Q. How did you keep yourself motivated while writing “Planet Elephant”?

Well, I have a 3 year old, Solo, who provided both a distraction and a motivation for writing this book!  It took me much longer to write this book than my other two (‘Elephant Dance’ and ‘Dry Water’) because I had become a mum and life had become a juggle.   

But having a child really motivates you to work harder to conserve the wildlife of this planet, because more than anything else you really want your kid/s to see elephants and rhinos in the wild one day, not in a zoo.

It’s also a massive issue, what’s happening to elephants and rhinos in Africa, and that’s very motivating. It’s a crisis – again! Things had been looking up for both species’ populations in Africa following the severe poaching of the 1970s and ‘80s. Now they’re being poached to provide ivory and horn for new markets in Asia, and their populations are smaller and less resilient than they were last century.

Q. Can you tell us a little bit about the SAVE African Rhino Gala Dinner?

It’s an opportunity to launch my book and talk about Africa (my favourite subject!) with lots of like-minded people who enjoy the same thing and care about wildlife.  It’s also a great deal - $100 for a 3 course meal at Papaya Thai in Cammeray, including wine and beer – and there are lots of fantastic things to bid on like safaris, wine and photography.  It’s all for a very good cause – stopping the rhino poaching in Africa.  Bookings can be done online here.

Q. Have you ever seen an elephant perform an act of kindness?

Elephants are naturally kind to each other, especially within family groups.  In the breeding herds, a dominant female, the matriarch, is the leader, and she’s surrounded by her female relatives (sisters, aunts, daughters) and young males.  Male elephants leave the herd when they’re teenagers and join other males in small bachelor groups.  I’ve often seen elephants touching trunks, caressing each other, gently helping young ones across rivers or out of muddy wallows.  They’re extremely tactile creatures.

Q. In 2010 you won In Style magazine’s prestigious Women of Style awards for your work on environmental issues! Speaking of style, do you have a favourite ethical fashion designer?

There are two great jewellery designers who are inspired by their love of nature and use only materials that minimise harm to the environment.  They’re also both conservationists!  One is Nicola Markus of Liminal Jewellery and the other is Nadya Hutagalung of Osel Jewllery.

Q. What actions can people take to help protect elephants around the world?

Never buy ivory and spread the word that it’s not cool in any way!  Donate to organisations like The Big Life Foundation  in Africa that are actively fighting poachers every day and TRAFFIC, the global wildlife trade organisation, as they are fighting a huge battle in Asia to stop the illegal flow of ivory from Africa to Asian markets. 

Ivory jewellery and carvings
Q. What brand new adventures are on the horizon for Tammie Matson?

I’m working on an exciting project with TV star and host of ‘Asia’s Next Top Model’ to raise awareness in Asia about the poaching of elephants in Africa and encouraging people not to buy ivory.  We have travelled together with a film crew to both Kenya and Bangkok, going behind the scenes of the poaching and the illegal ivory trade, and in a few months will be producing a series of webisodes for youtube and a public service announcement for the Fox Network Asia about what we discovered along the way! Get on board the “Let Elephants Be Elephants” campaign by joining us on Facebook and following us on Twitter.

“Planet Elephant” will be in bookstores in August! For more information visit Tammie's website.


  1. what an amazing woman! i've always loved watching elephants on video, esp the little ones playing, as she says. really great she's working w/ asian's next top model on poaching, such a shame to see this happen to such majestic animals.
    Cuddly Cacti
    Mitla Moda

    1. Hi Dus! She's such an inspiration isn't she? :D I'm so glad you enjoyed the interview :D x