The magnificent elephant is under threat. Around 55 African elephants are killed a day for their tusks while the species remains in decline from poaching, and more African elephants are now being poached than born. While the creatures’ future seems uncertain, there are a number of initiatives and brands who are working to save them.
We turned to Elephant Gin is one of the brands creating a product that not only serves as a profitable piece for the consumer but delves deeper into helping solve wildlife issues such, like ensuring the welfare of elephants.
Elephants always fascinated co-founder Tessa Gerlach, and with horror, she realised during her travels in South Africa that poaching, and ultimately the poverty there, drives the African elephant to extinction. It was ultimately an encounter at an evening campfire, where Tessa met the late Digs Pascoe, former CEO of Space For Elephants Foundation, that made her determined to help support the foundation and wildlife conservation not only on a personal, but a business level. “I had never heard anyone speak with such passion about the intelligence of these animals, their importance in the ecosystem and the intricate ivory trade (…I even saw Digs’ eyes well up with tears which broke my heart). I doubt I will ever meet someone again who will leave such a mark on me as Digs did that evening. I truly believe that I left the campfire a different person – and this encounter changed my whole life around as since that day.”
Elephant Gin supports three foundations: Space for Elephants Foundation, Big Life Foundation and the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. With Space For Elephants Foundation, Elephant Gin has funded and opened an education centre focused on elephants. The aim of the program is to teach locals as well as tourists about the threats elephants face today, the important ecological role of elephants, and the demand for conservation. The education centre was built and is run by members of the Zulu community; providing jobs for people who otherwise would be tempted to work or trade on the black market. Tessa highlights the clear link between poaching and poverty which is the first hurdle to overcome when addressing elephant conservation: “Unemployment is rife in the area, which is attractive for poachers in getting information and assistance from the local communities. We realised that even with strong anti-poaching units, community members will assist poachers for a small amount of money where they can – think about it, if you were so poor and unable to provide for your family, it would be unbelievably tempting to go hunt wildlife in exchange for great sums of money.”
Space for Elephants involves the community and clearly shows them the value of wildlife – and how they can better their lives by protecting it rather than killing it; consider conservation a long-term investment in their prosperity. “This strategy is coming to fruition as people are taught how to attract tourists, and offer tours around the landscape. By educating them that living elephants could be a source of income for the long term, they start to listen and even protect the elephants from other dangers. Ultimately, poachers nowadays find it more difficult to make use of these communities to assist them,” Tessa adds.
At Big Life Foundation in Kenya, Elephant Gin has been supporting 35 anti-poaching rangers. These brave individuals are out in the wild every day, working tirelessly to protect elephants and other animals from poaching and retaliatory killing due to human-wildlife conflict. Through the funds, Elephant Gin is directly contributing to their salaries, rations and equipment (such as tents, rucksacks, sleeping bags etc.).
Since the launch of their 50ml miniature bottles last year, Elephant Gin have also been supporting a third organisation that is close to their hearts, the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, known as the most successful orphan-elephant rescue and rehabilitation program in the world. Its elephant orphanage near Nairobi nurtures baby elephants who have been found in the wild, often either left behind when their mothers die due to poaching or other human intervention. Each baby elephant has a dedicated team member to nurse them back to strength and to rear them to join their own herd of former orphans. Fifteen percent of the profits from Elephant Gin’s new miniature bottles go to the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust to support these initiatives.
The best part? While working towards their commitments, the brand has raised €500,000 to date towards their projects, which Tessa lists as one of the best wow moments for her brand. “It makes us incredibly proud and grateful to make a real difference in the elephant conservation projects that we set out to support. With that, we have been funding 35 anti-poaching rangers in Kenya, built and opened a wildlife education centre in South Africa, helped to translocate an elephant herd from one area to another – and much more.” The money goes to a select project within the Foundation itself, and Robin and Tessa fly out at least once a year to oversee where funds are being put to use, as well as giving them the chance to meet new members and learn from each unique African trip.
“We all have an obligation to protect this planet – as individuals and businesses,” Tessa says of her mission to protect the planet. “People are more and more conscious these days and actively search and choose sustainable brands. Especially luxury products – as today it’s less about how shiny the material or expensive the price tag, but more about what values the products or services stand for. In fact, some of the very values people around the world are currently fighting for – whether sustainable living, fighting for equality or addressing climate change – is reflected in today’s products, especially in luxury market.”
What’s next for Elephant Gin? They’ve just launched their NFC tagging initiative, which allows customers to find out information about the elephant name adorning the label, Elephant Strength Gin flavour profile, production methods, conservation work and much more. Utilising existing technology to bring about change in the way we interact with the animals – and indeed our luxury purchases – Elephant Gin’s labels are hand-written by a calligrapher and carry the name of a past great tusker or elephant that its partner foundations currently help to protect. Telling the stories of a species, Robin and Tessa will continue to raise awareness of an animal and country they love. “Some of the very values people around the world are currently fighting for – whether sustainable living, fighting for equality or addressing climate change – is reflected in today’s products, especially in luxury market; here’s to the next 500k!”
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Written by - Katie Stalker