Epicocity Team member and National Geographic Explorer Trip Jennings is going head to head with fellow explorer, Ben Horton, to compete for funding to venture to the Democratic Republic of Congo to save elephants from illegal poaching. The National Geographic Channel is featuring videos from each explorer about his expedition on-air and online, and it’s up to viewers to choose which explorer should have his Expedition Granted. National Geographic will award the explorer with the most votes funding for their expedition next year.
With elephant poaching at unprecedented levels, ivory selling at record prices and elephant populations plummeting, Trip hopes to use his expedition to protect endangered elephants. He has proposed to complete a map of African elephant DNA for conservation biologist Samuel Wasser by traveling to the Congo, which is considered too dangerous and remote for scientists to travel. Jennings plans to complete the DNA map in the Congo by collecting elephant scat, which Wasser will use to identify poaching hotspots by analyzing ivory seizures from around the world. He is able to locate where each poached elephant lived and help direct resources to regions where they are most needed.
In 2009, the price of ivory reached record highs—in many cases exceeding the price of drugs, which has lead to poachers hammering elephant herds. According to Trip’s National Geographic blog post Sam Wasser said, “we’re not talking about poor people trying to feed their family, we’re talking about very wealthy poachers here.” And as in the drug industry, with wealth comes guns.
Something Trip and Epicocity crew are all-to familiar with…
From Trip’s National Geographic blog post:
Midway through our 4 day journey downstream we were surrounded at a campsite by men carrying AK-47 rifles and yelling in Lingala, a local language. Finally, thanks to official documentation from the highest ministry in the country and lots of pantomiming, we were able to paddle downstream unscathed and “with our dignity.” A full recount of our terrifying hold up is available from Canoe and Kayak Magazine here.
This experience underscored the potential for disaster and the difficulty of working in a country like the DR Congo…
This risks are, however, very avoidable if we are conservative, responsible and not over confident. We’ll travel with local guides into all areas that could be dangerous. The locals live there day in and day out. They know the dangerous areas and they know how to avoid them. In many cases, we’ll travel with armed park guards since elephants are easiest to find in national parks, although sadly they are often not protected.
What we won’t do under any circumstances, though, is carry guns ourselves. If our experience on the banks of the Congo taught us anything it was that we can talk ourselves out of a conflict much easier that we can shoot ourselves out of it, even if we don’t share a common language.
So, what can you do to help? Vote for Trip and Team Elephant!