The Go Green Club of Pine Forest Elementary School hosted a special guest Jan. 27. Sabinga Lekalau, who works with Save the Elephants in Kenya and is a current Houston Zoo intern, visited the club to talk about conservation and anti-poaching efforts he is involved with in Africa.

Lekalau described how the Save the Elephants Community Outreach Program is trying to win the battle against the poaching of elephants for their ivory tusks by bringing reformed poachers back in to their communities. Lekalau estimated the tusks fetch $10,000 per kilogram from buyers, but added that the practice also comes at a cost to the poachers.

“Poaching is very dangerous. The poachers are never safe. Even though they may get a lot of money from poaching, they never enjoy it. They cannot be with their family and they cannot go into the town. So the money ends up wasted. They live in the bush, out of the community away from their family. They feel like people hate them,” said Lekalau.

He said they were initially anxious about the prospect of talking to poachers.

“When we go to meet with them, we expect they will hurt us or kill us. But it was not that way. Some of them want to come back to the community to get married and have a family. So we have been talking with the elders of local communities to ask for the men to be able to come back and have told them the poachers are ready to reform. In some cases, the communities have blessed them, and the men have returned,” said Lekalau.

The elephants in Kenya are close to Lekalau’s heart. He told the students that he knows more than 900 elephants by their face and ear markings and said elephants share many human emotions and will mourn the death of one of the elephants in their herd.

David Brady, Houston Zoo chief marketing officer and vice president of advancement, was also on hand to speak to the club about zoo conservation projects, including the protection of Texas wildlife like Attwater’s Prairie Chicken, sea turtles and the Houston Toad. He also spoke about global conservation projects the zoo is involved with in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Brady said the zoo works with its partners to conserve and help protect animals through education and the promotion of sustainable livelihoods in local communities. Brady also discussed issues with vanishing bees, butterflies and other pollinators and talked to the students about conservation activities they can get involved with at home.

Both Brady and Lekalau spoke about the Houston Zoo Staff Conservation Fund. Through the fund, zoo staff contribute a portion of their salary to support individual conservation projects of their fellow employees.

“The staff fascinates me. When I go back home, I might try to convince my people to start a similar fund. To me, this shows they really love the animals,” said Lekalau.

The Go Green Club is mentored by Pine Forest Elementary School science teacher Diane Northam. She said the group is designed to educate students on conservation and environmental issues and promote recycling.

Photo by Susan McFarland

Cutline: Houston Zoo intern Sabinga Lekalau, Pine Forest Elementary science teacher Diane Northam, Houston Zoo Chief Marketing Officer David Brady and Go Green Club members Aidan Stokman, Christian Netardus and Abby Pink.

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