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Tiffany & Co. has been inspired by nature since its earliest days, from the floral motifs of Victorian tabletop to the whimsical insect clips popularized by Jean Schlumberger in the 1950s. Elsa Peretti’s Starfish jewelry and the exotic flora and fauna in the 2017 Blue Book Collection are contemporary examples of the way Tiffany’s reverence for the natural world is woven into the very DNA of its design aesthetic. So it is not surprising that the company is as devoted to protecting the environment as it is to creating beautiful objects. Tiffany does this by promoting responsible diamond, gemstone and precious metal sourcing; working to protect special areas such as Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming and Bristol Bay, Alaska; striving to ensure that its iconic Blue Boxes and bags are made from sustainable or recycled paper; and promoting the health and well-being of the global communities in which it sources materials. Tiffany has also championed the environment via grants awarded through The Tiffany & Co. Foundation, which was established in 2000 to preserve the world’s most treasured landscapes and seascapes.

Tiffany partnered with the Elephant Crisis Fund on the #KnotOnMyPlanet campaign featuring models such as Linda Evangelista, Doutzen Kroes, Christy Turlington Burns and Naomi Campbell tying a knot to never forget elephants and to help raise awareness for the threat posed by ivory poachers. Some good news: China recently announced that they would ban all commercial ivory trading in 2017.

Anisa Kamadoli Costa, chief sustainability officer at Tiffany and chairman and president of The Tiffany & Co. Foundation, sat down with Dr. Iain Douglas-Hamilton, founder of Save the Elephants, to discuss his tireless efforts on behalf of these magnificent creatures and what we can all do to help.

ANISA KAMADOLI COSTA: Iain, I want to start off by saying that I’m a big fan of your work. You have made such a significant impact on wildlife conservation efforts through Save the Elephants and the Knot on My Planet campaign. How did you first become interested in zoology?

DR. DOUGLAS-HAMILTON: Well, my father was killed in the war, and I had a wonderful South African stepfather. We went to live in South Africa, where he read me fascinating stories about wildlife. I knew by the age of 10 that my life was going to be flying around Africa working with animals.

AKC: What was your first experience meeting an elephant in the wild?

IDH: When I was about nine, my mother took me to Kruger National Park, and we saw an elephant about half a mile away, and it was a big thrill. There it was, drinking at the pool. My first real in-depth experience came when I was about 22 and went to the Serengeti as a summer intern working with wildlife.

AKC: And what moved you to establish the elephant survey and the conservation program back in 1976?

IDH: I spent a blissful five years living with the elephants and writing my thesis, but then the price of ivory increased hugely between 1969 and 1970. People had started poaching elephants in Kenya. It was obvious that somebody needed to look at that. So I switched from behavior studies to looking at how many elephants were in Africa, and could they withstand the impact of the increasing ivory trade? Early in the ’80s was really the holocaust for elephants. Then we had the first ivory trade ban from 1989 through 2009 and more or less had a cease-fire for the next 20 years, before the poaching got out of hand once again.

AKC: Why do you think we were able to achieve that degree of success and have these poaching issues come back again in full force decades later?

Top: Doutzen Kroes wears a Tiffany & Co. Schlumberger® Elephant clip. Photograph by Dan Jackson.
Above: Tiffany & Co. Schlumberger® Elephant clip.

“Elephants cannot be manufactured. Once they’re gone, they cannot be replaced.”

Dr. Iain Douglas-Hamilton

IDH: We started a campaign back then to sensitize people to the terrible things that the ivory trade was doing and it had a huge effect to turn people against ivory. What changed after 20 years of cease-fire was a growing ability of people to buy luxury items like ivory with little awareness of what the consequences were on the natural world. So a large part of what we’ve tried to do the last 10 years has been to share our awareness with people about the consequences of buying ivory: that it actually destroys elephants and elephant lives.

AKC: I believe that to affect change, you need to have movement from the top down and the bottom up. It seems to me this is exactly what you’ve been able to help accomplish. You have complemented your work at the government level in the U.S. and in China with your global education efforts such as the Knot on My Planet social media campaign, which is critical to driving change more quickly.

IDH: Absolutely. And in this recent spate of trading, the critical year was 2012 that the world suddenly became aware once again of this resurgent trade. It all started with scientific data coming to the fore, which showed that elephants were declining in all four regions of Africa. Then Hillary Clinton announced a policy change in September 2012 on behalf of the American government and she made a statement about the work of conservation groups that I found particularly inspiring. She said: “The truth is they cannot solve this problem alone…. This is a global challenge that spans continents and crosses oceans, and we need to address it with partnerships that are as robust and far-reaching as the criminal networks we seek to dismantle.” This positive shift in U.S. government policy proved to be a significant milestone in the struggle to save elephants.

African elephants photographed by Susan McConnell.

“We’ve tried to share awareness about the consequences of buying ivory, that it actually destroys elephant lives.”

Dr. Iain Douglas-Hamilton

AKC: I was so heartened to see the importance of elephant protections reinforced at CITES this year.

IDH: So was I. We were very encouraged. By the way, I’m not one who sounds an alarm about imminent elephant extinction. I think that extinction can happen in specific countries. But I don’t say that if we do nothing, elephants are going to be extinct in 10 to 15 years, because elephants will not go extinct. They will survive in zoos. They will survive in well-protected national parks. It’s not a kind of absolute extinction that is imminently threatening them. What is very serious is that we could be losing the majority of the elephants in Africa and elsewhere, and that, worse, we could lose the wonderfully habituated elephants that you find in these fabulous national parks, so that people could no longer come to enjoy them because they’d all be so terrified they’d run away from cars. So those sorts of things can happen.

AKC: We’ve seen the increased use of technologies like satellite monitoring and drones in protecting the oceans from illegal fishing. I know that Save the Elephants has been working with chip-enabled collars to help track elephant migration. How does this new technology affect your work?

IDH: We use GPS-enabled radio collars that transmit the information to a vast database that can be accessed by people who use it to help save elephants and maintain the law. We do this in collaboration with African wildlife departments and we’re very careful to keep the information out of the poachers’ hands. We then got into a relationship with Google Earth whereby wardens and national parks people could use the program to see where their elephants were, then send out patrols. The most recent development is that we’re working with Vulcan to establish the DAS (Domain Awareness System) where all of this information can be put onto screens in a central control room. Within that we also have the Save the Elephants Tracking System, which is software designed by Vulcan alongside our own in-house engineers encapsulated on a smartphone or tablet app. It’s quite incredible. We can put this in the hands of a warden out on patrol and he can direct things literally in the field. So this is how technology is helping.

AKC: Taking a step back, how was Save the Elephants established?

IDH: I worked for many years with different wonderful conservation organizations, starting in 1965 and launched Save the Elephants in 1993. At the beginning we started looking at things from an elephant’s point of view, which we tried to learn about by tracking them and seeing what decisions they took in life. So we are a global scientific research organization, amongst other things. But whatever point of view you start off with as a conservationist, you soon realize that if you love animals, it’s not enough. You also have to get involved with local people who share the land with the animals, many of whom are living in very challenging circumstances. At our study area in Samburu we asked the local people what they needed most. And they said education. So Save the Elephants got involved in supporting a local school, building a new girls’ dormitory and awarding scholarships. That is actually one of the most satisfactory programs we have, because you have the enormous ability to change young people’s lives.

AKC: I know that your wife Oria has described the elephant crisis as emblematic of a greater need to sustain the environment and tackle larger conservation challenges like climate change. Do elephants symbolize other environmental challenges for you as well?

IDH: Yes. As far as serious, long-term environmental issues go, I see how all over the world careless development is impinging on the environment so that we’ve got very little nature left. As life goes on and people become more numerous, there’s a steady chipping away at nature and these protected wildlife areas. We need champions to fight for the environment just as much as the elephants. But what we haven’t talked about yet is the Elephant Crisis Fund, which is a joint initiative with Save the Elephants and the Wildlife Conservation Network. This is what we’ve been supporting through the Knot on My Planet campaign and the aid we’ve had from people like Leonardo DiCaprio, Yao Ming and Li Bingbing. And it’s been very successful. We have over 100 projects and partners now in many different countries. We have a no-overhead model, where everything we raise we put 100% into partners that we select who are doing a great job out there in the front. So I don’t want by any means to claim that Save the Elephants is doing a greater job than anyone else. But what we are trying to do is to use our knowledge of who is doing the right work to get the money to the right places. And being a totally collaborative model, we went to the best projects going that had a funding gap. We didn’t try to invent them out of the sky. They were out there already. I think that’s what’s needed for those frontline heroes.

AKC: Absolutely. These collaborations are critical to ensure that we all work together towards the protection of wildlife.