A Thirteen-Year-Old Voice for Elephants


Every fifteen minutes an elephant is killed. That’s about 96 elephants per day, and more than 35,000 each year. That’s the bad news. The good news is that one teen from Vermont has decided to take on this incredible problem and put a stop to it.

Poachers are killing elephants for their valuable ivory, which can be sold and made into jewelry and souvenirs. Although the United States has Federal laws banning the sale of ivory, these laws allow for loopholes. In order to truly put a stop to the ivory trade, individual states need to pass their own laws as well.

Enter Taegen Yardley, a thirteen-year-old who loves elephants and is determined to save them by spreading awareness through movie-making. Oh yeah, and she’s organized the Global March for Elephants and Rhinos and testified at the Vermont State House, too. When asked about why she’s so passionate about elephants specifically, Taegen says, “elephants are being killed for their ivory which is being used for carvings and jewelry. Elephants’ lives are much more important than the trinkets people are making from their ivory.” She also explains that elephants can help support the economies of their native countries through ecotourism. “An elephant can live to be 70 years old,” she reminds us. “During that time, one elephant can contribute over a billion and a half dollars to local economies, airlines and travel companies because people want to see elephants in the wild. An elephant killed for its ivory is only worth $21,000.” Taegen argues that, for so many reasons, elephants are worth much more alive than dead.

These incredible animals are being slaughtered each and every day for their ivory, and without proper legislation the elephant population will continue to dwindle. So, what is Taegen doing to save them? In 2012, she volunteered at a screening of a National Geographic documentary on the ivory crisis, entitled “Battle for the Elephants.” Teagen was touched by the movie and she sprung into action.

“After watching the movie, I did a lot of research about elephants and the poaching crisis,” she says. “I then wrote a letter to legislators asking them to support Vermont’s Bill H.297 which would ban the sale of ivory in Vermont.” Since then, she has testified at the Vermont State House, explaining why the ivory trade needs to be banned. After the testimony, she held the Global March for Elephants and Rhinos in Vermont and over 325 people attended. She reached out to friends and other passionate youth to attend, and she found that “there is more power in gathering lots of people than in just one trying to spread the word.”

As a statement for the Global March, Taegen constructed 192 imitation elephant tusks using a combination of pool noodles, wire, and plaster — the exact number of tusks of the elephants poached each day. People held them during the event to bring awareness to the astonishing statistics.

After the Global March, Taegen wasn’t done with her mission to save elephants (and rhinos!). She has created a movie called “A World with Elephants” to spread the word about the fate of the elephants and her work has been incredibly successful.

“My goal is for this movie to be shared around the world and be seen by as many people as possible. I am planning to have it translated into other languages. It has been viewed and shared on social media over 100,000 times so far.” An impressive list of people have shared the video including the Ambassador to Gabon, John Heminway who is the producer of “Battle for the Elephants,” and Gisele Bundchen.

Currently, Taegen is waiting to see if the bill in Vermont will pass to ban the ivory trade, after testifying for the second time. For others who want to make a difference for the elephants, here is Taegen’s suggestion:

“I believe that if we can get the information out to the public, they can spread the word and inform others on how to help ‘be the change.’ In the United States, people should find out if their state has a law banning the sale of ivory. If not, they should contact their legislators and try to get legislation passed. If you find out that your state has a bill that is being considered, fight for it.”

You can learn more about Taegen’s work here.

Feeling inspired? Join Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots and start your own project to help a species that YOU feel a special connection to.

About Author

Olivia is a member of the Roots & Shoots U.S. National Youth Leadership Council (NYLC). As a member of the NYLC, Olivia acts as a youth voice and works to make a positive change in her community — for people, animals and the environment. She is a high school student in Massachusetts and has been the leader of their Roots & Shoots Club since 2013. Olivia is a public speaker, scientist, artist, writer, and Youtuber. Learn more about Olivia here: http://oliviaroseart.com/