Admission fee for elephant talk in Courtenay will fund anti-poaching efforts

You can go on an overseas journey to help elephants without leaving the Comox Valley.

You can go on an overseas journey to help elephants without leaving the Comox Valley.Dag Goering and Maria Coffey, founders of Elephant Earth Initiative, will give a multi-media presentation about their adventures and conservation efforts from 7:30 to 9 p.m. on Tuesday at the Stan Hagen Theatre.Admission to Elephants and Other Adventures is by donation and all proceeds will go to the Hidden Places Anti-Poaching Project in the Kirisia Hills, Kenya.Goering warned that some content of the presentation is graphic, noting the presentation may not be suitable for children.According to Goering, there’s been a lull in poaching for the past 20 years or so, but right now, the numbers are starting to rise again.”There’s suddenly this huge eruption of (poaching) again right across the region,” said Goering. “It’s a new epidemic of poaching similar to what happened in the ’70s and ’80s when African elephant populations were decimated by 80 per cent.The recent epidemic is “so fresh that the numbers are just starting to come in and we’re hearing this from all our friends and conservationists that we know down there.”The money raised from this presentation will help fund 12 scouts in the area to deter poachers. As of mid-March, Goering said about $1,500 had been raised. But the goal is $6,000, which would fund these scouts for about a year, and give them training and tools like boots and cell phones for communication.Goering is a veterinarian and photographer and Coffey is a journalist and award-winning author.In 2007, Goering was asked to examine a new born elephant in India. The mother was nearby when Goering bent over the baby elephant, and she grabbed his wrist with her trunk and pulled him to her until he was eye-to-eye with her.Although the experience was dangerous, Goering said he had an epiphany in that moment, and knew he needed to help elephants. “That (experience) was definitely the seed, you know, that set me off on this path,” he explained. “We also want to do something meaningful — we don’t just want to make a living — we want to make a difference and be involved in the world and be part of the change.”The couple owns a travel business based out of Victoria called Hidden Places, which offers unique travel experiences to various places in the world.In 2008, they created Elephant Earth Initiative, which is a conservation branch of their business. Two per cent of the cost every trip customers go on with Hidden Places goes directly into their conservation projects.  Also, the anti-poaching project is just one facet of their conservation efforts. Hidden Places also does other conservation work in Kenya, and in Thailand, Laos and Myanmar. A few of the other initiatives include: helping to set up a sanctuary for elephants retired from the logging industry in Myanmar; donating to Elephant Orphanage and Rehabilitation Centres; and advocating for humane training techniques for captive elephants.Goering added that advocating for the welfare of captive elephants is a large part of what the couple does, and he noted that a sizable chunk of the presentation is about this issue.”We’re always in the background lobbying elephant tourism operations,” explained Goering. “There’s sometimes simple things that can be done to make it more humane for elephants to be in these captive situations.”According to Goering, only allowing one person to ride an elephant instead of two people is one simple way to make life easier for elephants in the tourism industry.Although Goering said that there’s plenty of work that still needs to be done to protect elephants, he said awareness of the issues is on the rise.”The word about wild elephants and conservation is spreading even among really remote tribal people,” he said, adding that the conservation work is designed to help what’s already in place rather than impose new things.”We’re not trying to come and impose some kind of a conservation ethic on this group of people who are living there — they already have it — you know, we’re just trying basically help give them the tools to carry it out.”For more information on the couple’s travel company, visit www.hiddenplaces.net, and for more information on their conservation efforts, visit www.elephantearth.org.writer@comoxvalleyrecord.com

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