By Elizabeth Selmarten
The African Elephant Project
It was a brisk, Friday morning in late November. Leaves were on the ground but the sun shone bright, creating a beautiful day to take your family, or in my case, a certain beloved pachyderm mascot to the zoo.
I escorted Big Al through the Birmingham Zoo straight to where his species, the African elephants, were roaming around. The meeting between the mascot and his real-life counterpart was almost something only to be imagined. It was simply incredible to watch Big Al bond and interact with Callee, one of the three bull elephants at the zoo. The two were like one in the same. Big Al would do one of his signature poses and Callee would follow his lead, mimicking the same poses. I just stood and watched in awe. I have never seen or heard of anything remotely similar to what I just witnessed in my life.
Then I saw that it wasn’t just me watching the elephants and Big Al. We were surrounded by groups of children, teachers and parents, whom were all standing in awe as well. The little kids pointed excited towards Big Al and were yelling excitedly to each other about the presence of Big Al with real elephants and how they were doing the same thing.
It was after that moment that it really hit me: how majestic and smart these large mammals are and if I don’t do something, they really could possibly be gone in as short as my lifetime. Future generations would never be able to have an experience like I had just had. Elephants could become the modern day dinosaur with the rise of poaching among other factors. The University of Alabama could seriously have an extinct mascot in the future. That thought seriously shook me up, as I dearly love elephants.
To be honest, I’ve always loved elephants. My affection towards the tusked creatures started when I was a little girl, long before I had even heard of the University of Alabama. Lucky for me, it was a great coincidence that I ended up attending a school where my favorite animal just happened to be the mascot. My love for elephants eventually led me to pick up and cover a story last semester on a mascot conservation program, Tide for Tusks, for Mosaic Magazine.
In my research and interviews, I quickly realized the horrifying truth about the endangered status of the African elephant. I had no idea prior to this story that every fifteen minutes, an African elephant is killed. I knew as soon as I found out, I had to tell this story to the best of my abilities for the African elephant, for Big Al.
Along with my story designer and photographer, I arranged a photo shoot with Big Al at the Birmingham Zoo. It wasn’t till watching Big Al interact with Callee and seeing the children’s reactions that I changed from being just a writer dedicated to sharing a compelling story she found interesting. I became more than that.
Deciding I could do more, I formally joined the club as well as the spring honors seminar class I had written about. I’ve learned so much in the class the opportunities out there, both field and non-field efforts. One of the biggest key-takeaways I’ve learned so far that I hope to help with in the future is raising awareness through building a brand with a website and active social media accounts. Raising awareness is one of the most crucial parts in order to successfully conserve mascots like the African elephant. This is one of the many ways I can help since I don’t have to travel to Africa or have scientific background to accomplish this. One of the most interesting aspects of mascot conservation is that anyone could contribute something to the cause, regardless of how small the contribution is.
I hope to help Tide For Tusks increase awareness and action so we aren’t the generation that sees the extinction of the African elephant. It’s on us to help do our own part to save the elephants.