Interview with Jena Gardner, Co-Founder of Bodhi Tree Foundation, on Safeguarding a Future for Africa's Elephants
The world’s elephants are under siege: It is estimated that four elephants an hour are lost across Africa, and over 90% of the elephant population has been decimated in the last 50 years alone. Elephants are hunted primarily for their ivory, feeding an illicit global demand for ivory products that has deadly repercussions. Epic Road sat down with Jena Gardner, Co-founder of the Bodhi Tree Foundation, to learn more about its new S.A.F.E. Campaign, created to heighten awareness among travel providers and their clients about this alarming issue, and the important work the Foundation is doing to protect these beautiful creatures from extinction.
1. What is The Bodhi Tree Foundation and what is its vision for the future of travel and the travel industry?
I co-founded The Bodhi Tree Foundation in 2009 with the idea of harnessing the significant resources of the travel industry and using them to protect places and support cultures in under-served areas around the world. We – as an industry and as individuals – have an important role to play in ensuring that future generations can experience the natural and cultural wonders of our planet, many which are under threat like never before. Since we created the foundation, I am pleased to say we have provided grants to 18 worthy grassroots projects all over the world.
As for the future, there is no shortage of important projects that need funding to continue their incredible work. I would like to see The Bodhi Tree Foundation evolve to become a philanthropic platform where grass roots organizations and travel suppliers can converge and showcase their philanthropic efforts to travelers and industry insiders. Travelers are increasingly seeking authentic and enriching journeys, while travel consultants are looking to become more informed about responsible options. At the same time, conservation-focused suppliers and charities are looking for ways to reach these audiences. The Bodhi Tree Foundation can fill this void, and connect all of these groups.
2. The Bodhi Tree Foundation’s main focus currently is the S.A.F.E. Campaign. What is the goal of this initiative and why is it so critically important now?
S.A.F.E. stands for Safeguarding A Future for Africa’s Elephants. Its spark stems from a conversation I had in summer 2013 with my friends at Singita (one of our JG Black Book clients in Africa), in which I was first made aware of the dire situation facing Africa’s elephants: Elephants are being massacred across all of Africa right now because the desire for ivory, especially from Asia, is insatiable. Over 90% of the elephant population has been decimated in the last 50 years, and 35,000 were killed in 2012 alone—that’s one elephant every fifteen minutes! At this rate experts are predicting that elephants will be extinct by 2025, which is absolutely alarming.
It’s unfathomable that my children may grow up and live in world where wild elephants don’t exist. If we don’t do something now, elephants will be gone—vanished from the planet—and once that happens the population cannot be replenished.
I work in the travel industry, have a number of clients in Africa and have been there numerous times myself, yet until that conversation I had no idea the severity of the poaching crisis. So many of us serve as a reference point for travelers and we still don’t fully understand how the poaching crisis impacts us all. The primary reason people travel to Africa is to go on safari and see wildlife: take the animals away, and you also take away much of the motivation to travel to Africa. Many African countries also rely on tourism for their primary income, so a fall off would be devastating for their economies, and their people. I believe our industry has a responsibility to help avert this, to educate ourselves and our clients on what is happening, and to also make a united commitment as an industry to protect Africa’s remaining elephants: now that would be a powerful thing!
3. The S.A.F.E. Campaign is a fundraising vehicle for beneficiary organizations on the ground in Africa that are already working to save Africa's elephants. Which organizations are you partnering with and why have you chosen them?
After careful review, the Bodhi Tree Foundation Board chose four organizations based on the work they were doing in research, elephant protection and tackling the demand for ivory. Each organization does incredible work, but vary significantly in focus.
African Wildlife Foundation funds and operates wildlife conservation initiatives, particularly zoning in areas where elephants are exceptionally vulnerable and in need of protection.
Save The Elephants conducts critical research and elephant protection initiatives and is seen as one of the foremost experts on this area.
WildAid focuses on public service messages and educational initiatives targeted solely on reducing demand for ivory in Asia.
Of course, there are so many other organizations doing incredible work for elephants. We made a deliberate choice to support only a few partners at first, but as we further enhance our website we will be including other organizations so travelers can learn more and connect to them as well.
4. How will the funds raised be allocated among the various beneficiaries? Can a donor choose how to allocate the funds?
It is important for us to enable donors to have flexibility and ease. If they don’t have a direct preference, we will allocate the funds evenly among our four beneficiary organizations. If they want to donate to a specific organization(s), they can do so through our website or by calling our main office. JG Black Book absorbs most administrative and marketing expenses, and we also rely on the generosity of corporate partners who donate their services, so we can keep our overhead costs low.
5. JG Black Book provides expert sales, marketing, public relations and distribution services to the world’s most exclusive travel experiences. What role does JG Black Book play in the work of The Bodhi Tree Foundation and the S.A.F.E. campaign?
JG Black Book is a for-profit travel marketing, communications and public relations firm, and The Bodhi Tree Foundation is able to harness our assets and long-term relationships to help move our efforts forward. Being global citizens and stewards of the world’s most precious natural and cultural resources is a cornerstone of our company, and everyone on our team sees travel as a vehicle for making the world a better place now and in the future. Many of the vendors we work with are equally passionate about the efforts of Foundation, and through donating their time and expertise they have been instrumental in launching the S.A.F.E. Campaign. We are truly thankful for their generosity and commitment.
6. The S.A.F.E. initiative was launched in December of 2013 and you have been fortunate in already gaining some of the biggest and best names in travel as donors, partners, and sponsors. To what do you attribute this success?
Many of our partners were already familiar with The Bodhi Tree Foundation when we approached them about the S.A.F.E. campaign, so the reception was very encouraging. All of our partner organizations have one thing in common: a commitment to sustainable tourism and to giving back.
We also know there is strength in numbers, and the more who join in S.A.F.E.’s efforts, the more strength we will have to make a difference. We encourage any organization or traveler with ties to African tourism—or who simply cares passionately about the continent and its wildlife—to get involved.
7. How can those who have not yet joined the S.A.F.E Campaign get involved?
There are so many ways! The most immediate is to make a direct donation via our website, the entirety of which will go to support our partner organizations in the field. You can also follow us on Facebook or Twitter--and please retweet and share our updates! If you're a travel provider you can write a blog post about the campaign on your company website, or incorporate our messaging into itineraries, or designate a small percentage of your bookings for contributions to the campaign. And for travellers who are planning a trip to Africa, I would encourage them to make sure to book with a responsible conservation-focused travel company. Anyone who has the opportunity to go on safari, or visit an elephant conservation project, and see these majestic animals in their habitat will understand: elephants share our planet and have a right to live peacefully on it. You will come back transformed, I promise. And then you can start to help S.A.F.E. transform the future for African elephants, and for us all.
Epic Road is a proud partner of the S.A.F.E. Campaign, creating signature travel experiences for travelers to Africa that include once in a lifetime elephant interactions and conservation experiences. Contact Epic Road today to learn more about how we can arrange your visit to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, where you can engage directly with the sweet, orphaned elephants the Trust is working tirelessly to save. Or we can facilitate your private stay at Ithumba Camp where older orphaned elephants are reintroduced into the wild, and you will spend your days surrounded by these gentle giants, protected and thriving in their natural habitat.