Connie Speight My name is Connie Speight. Will you help us save the Asian Elephant from extinction? "We share this planet with many species. It's our respsonsibility to protect them... for their sakes and our own."
She has whittled down her wardrobe to different colored sweatshirts that have a silhouette on the front and back of an elephant with its trunk holding an umbrella. Above are the words: "I buy elephants," and below, "Ask me why."
"I have lighter-weight shirts for the summer and heavier ones for winter. I wear them all over - the market, the mall, walking down State Street. I've become known as The Elephant Lady," she chuckled during an interview with the News-Press in her sprawling home on a hilltop in Santa Barbara.
And when they ask "Why?" Ms. Speight is more han happy to explain what the fund is all about and how she is trying to save the animals for extinction in countries like Laos, Thailand and Malaysia.
"The umbrella in the name and on sweatshirts is symbolic of the protection we give them" she said.
Her crusade began in 2003 when she was walking on a street in Bzangkok during a trip and saw a wounded baby elephant being hit by her owner as she slowly swayed back and forth.
An avid traveler who visited 65 countries and 16 islands before she got involved with elephants, the diminutive widow - "I'm 5 feet tall and have weighed 95 ounds all my life" - now "just commutes to Asia" to check up on her "ellies."
I try to go twice a year," said Ms. Speight, who recently returned from a 16-day trip to Laos
"One of them was a malnourished bull who had terrible head wounds from the hook used by a mahout, which is an elephant handler," to control the elephant, she said. "I was suprised by how badly he was treated because he was a very mellow bull. I could go right up to him and run my hand over his body."
A special thrill was meeting her "grandson," Singa, the first baby elephant born to Wanna, an EUF rescue when she was 6 years old. Singa weighed 132 pounds when he was born Aug. 1, 2011.
"I didn't know how he would react to a new human with a different smell. When he got within a few feet of me, he ran right up and 'trunked' me from feet to head," said Ms. Speight, referring to an elephant's way of exploring or smelling another animal.
"He then ran under his mother's belly, but curiosity soon overcame fear, and he ran back to explore this strange new being. I was able to touch and pat his body while he continued to explore me," wrote Ms. Speight in the most recent issue of the quarterly newsletter she sends to donors and others interested in EUF.
She explained in the newsletter that "the infancy cycle of a calf is not brief. Young elephants can suckle up to 10 years and are totally dependent on their mothers emotionally and physically... However, an elephant's trunk is a learned tool, and through experience, Singa will understand what he can do with it.
- NEXT PAGE
"Right now, though, it is just a strange appendage that he has no control over and occasionally even steps on it."
In another newsletter, Ms. Speight told in horrific detail why EUF rescued Medo, a female elephant, in July 2006.
"Chained and helpless, Medo lay on the ground as a crazed bull gored her repeatedly with his tusks, eventually dislocating her spine. No one came to her rescue as blood gushed from her wounds. This was not an isolated incident, as Medo had endured repeated suffering all of her life.
"As a young elephant, she was forced to work in a logging camp on the Burma-Thailand border. When a large log fell on her back left leg and crippled her, her owner was told by the logging company that she was of no further use to them. Furious at the loss of income, the owner made her walk back to his village without treating her injury.
"He then decided if she could no longer work, he would breed her and sell her calves... She toiled for nearly 15 years, crippled, in pain and in cruel isolation from other elephants..."
After Medo was rescued by EUF, she was taken to the Elephant Nature Park, a nuturing sanctuary in northern Thailand.
"There are many tragic stories like this. EUF is committed to rescuing as many of these physically and emotionally abused elephants and providing them compassionated attention for the rest of their lives,"
She urges tourists not to take elephant rides when they travel abroad.
"The weakest part of an elephant is its back, and that's where the 'howdahs,' or seats, are placed for tourists to ride on. Frequently. there are four overweight tourists riding in the howdahs, which are made of teak, the heaviest wood.
"Not only is the load very heavy but the elephants are forced to stand eight to ten hours
"This poses a dilemma because they support families. They have to work 24/7. They are not given time to breed and raise calves. The gestation time is 22 months, and they shouldn't be working six months and at least a year after. A calf needs to suckle up to four years. You can see why there is not much breeding, and elephants are growing older and dying, which is decimating the population," Ms. Speight said.
Another problem is poachers who kill the animals for heir ivory tusks. In Africa, both bulls and cows have tusks, but in Asia, due to differences in the species, only the bulls grow them, further destryoing the gene pool.
"The major problem in Asia is lack of government control. I could just wring the necks of the officials," said Ms. Speight, her blue eyes snapping as she clenched her fists. "The penalty if poachers are caught is a slap on the wrist and a minimal fine. If there is jail time, it's for two weeks.
"In Kenyua, Africa, there's a new law that gives rangers the legal right to shoot to kill poachers. The same law should be in all of Africa and Asia.
Ms. Speight blames China and its new wealthy middle class for "fueling pooaching."
"People with money want to collect ivory carvings because they are a status symbol. - NEXT PAGE
"For centuries, only Chinese royalty could own ivory. Chinese officials pound their chests, saying they will do something about banning all ivory, but they won't," she said."
Unfazed by so daunting a task, Ms. Speight is determined to save the animals by providing funds to buy the abused elephants who are found for her by a cadre of friends in Laos, Thailand and Cambodia.
An email is sent to her with details about the animal's history and physical condition, which helps her decide whether a rescue is in order.
"There is no contract. It's all word of mouth. Frequently, the deal falls through at the last minute because the elephant has four owners, and one of them renegs. It drives me crazy," she said, adding that she is never personally involved in the negotiations for purchase of the elephant.
"If I were, the price would be outrageous," he said, since it's assumed all Americans are wealthy. "The first one I rescued cost $6,000, and the prices from the last two were $23,500 each."
Aside from the more than $30,000 of her own money she invested originally, EUF relies on private donations. However, Ms. Speight continues to fund incidental expenses, which can run thousands of dollars a year.
"One woman sends us $10 a month, and some donors give us several thousand dollars," she said.
Every spring and fall, Ms. Speight has a sale of cactuses and succulents she grows on her acre-and-a-half
Whatever it costs in money, time and energy, Ms. Speight is willing to commit.
Her dedication remains the same as it did when she was interviewed for the NEws-PRess about her efforts in 2004:
"It's more important to rescue an elephant than it is for me to have a bank account... I figure that in the time that I'm mentally and phsyically viable - maybe eight, nine, ten years... if I can rescue four elephants a year even, that's going to be 40 elephants that are going to live in dignity."
We are delighted and honored to once again to have our activities featured in the Santa Barbara News-Press. The increasingly dire plight of the Asian elephant makes it necessary for those who hope to preserve these intelligent and precious animals for future generations to act now. We need your support through donations - large or small - 100% of which will be used to ease the suffering of Asian elephants and hopefully preserve them from extinction.
Please click on the Donate tab in the menu at the top of this article to help us in this important work. Thank-you!
Late one night in 2003, Connie Speight saw a young female elephant in a bustling area of Bangkok. Being forced to beg on the crowded streets amid traffic and pollution is a form of slavery that no elephant should have to endure. Yet there are hundreds of elephants forced into this inhumane existence. In these cases, few, if any, of the men handling the elephant actually “own” the animal---it is rented from wealthy businessmen who view the elephants as a commodity to be exploited.
This elephant had been trained to just stand still. As the vibrations from the traffic and street noise traveled through her sensitive foot pads and radiated throughout her body, she could only relieve some of the pressure by swaying back and forth. She had a huge saddle bag slung over her back filled with bananas and sugar cane. Locals and tourists would pay the man beside her a few pennies to feed the miserable animal. This was her only source of food, equal to humans living on junk food with little nutritional value. Her eyes were weeping and she had sores on her body, if she moved too much the man would hit her. She had been forced to walk after dark as many as four or five miles into the city from the garbage dump or freeway underpass where she lived. She had no water in which to bathe and her only source of drinking water was from city fountains.
The Elephants Umbrella Fund was conceived by Connie Speight who could no longer watch the suffering of these animals and was convinced that one person could make a difference--one elephant at a time.
- Loss of habitat--swelling population of villages and farm land has encroached on forest areas, even national parks and reserves.
- Logging (both legal and illegal)
- Owners of working elephants not allowing the cows to mate.
- Continual use for street begging.
- The tourist trade--taxi rides and circus shows.
Working in logging industry, whether legal or illegal, is extremely dangerous for elephants. Chains used to pull the logs can snap or become entangled causing injury to the elephant. Carelessly cut trees can fall, crushing a leg, back or trunk. Because of the remote locations of logging camps and the illegal nature of many of these operations, the majority of these injured elephants do not receive medical care, even for crippling injuries. In 2007, a mobile veterinary unit was put into action in Laos which EUF supports annually. This mobile unit is capable of traveling hundreds of miles over rough terrain to aid wounded elephants--but such a unit is an exception in Asia. In northern Thailand the government has a well-equipped elephant hospital, but finding a way to transport these massive animals often prevents them from receiving much needed critical care. In reality, most elephants are forced to continue working until they become totally incapacitated or die.
The tourist industry, which is a large part of the economy in Asian countries like Thailand, is also contributing to the demise of the elephant. The majority of “elephant camps” that cater to tourists do not care for their animals responsibly or with compassion. The animals are forced to work all day, seven days a week, frequently when it is extremely hot. Elephants are very strong but their strength is not in their backs. Riding chairs for tourists are often made of dense wood weighing hundreds of pounds, add at least four tourists and the weight can easily rise to over a thousand pounds. It is obvious that carrying over a half of a ton day after day is detrimental to the spine and joints of an elephant. Another factor which is on the rise in camps is the killing of baby elephants by their mothers. It is believed that stress and an unnatural living environment is the major factor contributing to this violent behavior.
Every dollar donated to the Fund goes directly to the elephants.
Elephants are among the most intelligent mammals on the planet. They are sensitive, alert, have excellent parenting skills, engage in a complex social life and live as long as the humans with whom they share the world. For centuries, Asian elephants have served as companions, work animals, religions icons and national symbols. The once close relationship between man and elephant is weakening. Asian elephants are routinely subject to the most unforgivable abuse while mankind turns a blind eye.
Asian elephants are headed towards extinction. The population of these animals, worldwide, is no more than 45,000 at last count. The principle causes of this catastriphic decline in population are habitat loss due to the expansion of agricultural activities and illegal logging, poachers who slaughter and sell elephant ivory and other by-products of this vicious and illegal trade, and abuse and overwork. If the current mortality rate among Asian elephants remains the same or accelerates, they will be extinct within the next three decades. Please help us prevent this tragedy.
Elephants Umbrella Fund (EUF) is the Number One Emergency Response Team Helping Save Asian Elephants in peril from abuse, malnutrition, neglect, or overwork. The Fund is concerned with all aspects of an elephantís well-being, and contributes time and money that will ensure their survival. SUCCESSES:
- Several sections of land have been purchased in Northern Thailand next to the Boon Lott's Elephant Sanctuary. By expanding the sanctuaries land more elephants may be accommodated. Because a large percentage of the elephants diet is through foraging this also increases their feeding range.
- The Elephants Umbrella Fund has rescued 15 elephants they have been put into caring situations with good food, clean water for drinking and bathing and immediate veterinary care. Each elephant has also a Mahout to care specifically for it, in saving the elephant you are also providing a living for the Mahout and their family, save an elephants save a family.
- With your generous donations the EUF is now supporting a mobile veterinary unit in Laos on an annual basis. This unit provides care for both domestic and wild elephants in need of veterinary care and medicine. This is a valuable service for the Mahouts and villagers to aid in keeping their animals healthy.
- Two microchip readers have been purchased to aid veterinarians in keeping track of an elephants history and medical needs.
- Radio collars are purchased by EUF each year for orphaned elephant calves in Sri Lanka to help monitor their return to the wild.
- Six thousand dollars were given to help build retaining walls in an elephant sanctuary subject to monsoon rains.
Their food, water and migration routes are no longer in existence. Where can they go? How can they survive? In the past ten years, EIGHTY percent of Asian elephants are gone. Poaching is on the increase, run by sophisticated crime syndicates fueled by the rising middle class in China and Japan. India, Sri Lanka and Malaysia are the only three countries that have awakened to the urgency of the situation. All are enacting legislation to increase protected areas, recover past migration routes. They are even moving villages and refusing permits for new mines. These recent measures are band-aid laws and must have teeth in them and be promptly enacted. Punishment for wildlife crimes is all too frequently a slap on the wrist. India recently increased jail time from six to seven years. It's not enough. Elephants are fighting a loosing battle and the terrible truth is that we may see only their graveyards in the near future. We must do more. We must not give up hope. Please do all you can to help. Donate through our PayPal link. A donation in any amount will help us save this treasured animal.
Even now they are being SLAUGHTERED, OVER-WORKED, POACHED, STARVED, HIT WITH HOOKS, ELECTROCUTED AND POISONED! When will the world wake-up to the horriffic decline of the Asian Elephant? Elephants are one of the most recognized and beloved animals on the planet. They are religious icons, their strength has built nations, they have won wars, they have logged and plowed fields and sustained millions of families for centuries. Now they are being driven to the point of extinction. Governments and man are ignoring this tsunami-sized crisis. Politicians have allowed villages and towns to develop on centuries-old migration routes. New mines have polluted vast areas, poisoned water supplies, depleted forests and diminished huge habitats. Elephants have retaliated out of necessity. Villages have been trampled, crops destroyed and lives lost. These ordinarily peaceful animals are being traumatized, their societies as they have known them for centuries are being ripped apart. [read more]