And the ‘Golden Tusk’ Award goes to…

Hi! It’s Olivia from OMG here.

Each week, I get to interview some amazing people from around the world and this week is no exception.

Animal conservation is a big thing to me and my brother, so whenever we hear about someone doing something special to save animals, it makes us feel better because we know we are not the only ones helping to save endangered species.

I don’t know if there is such a thing as a ‘Golden Tusk Award‘ but after meeting Taegen Yardley, I am convinced there needs to be one.

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Taegen speaking out for elephants. Photo courtesy Taegen Yardley

Taegen is a 13-year-old powerhouse and if the salvation of all elephants were riding on her efforts, we would never need to worry about the species going extinct. Taegen has one of those rare and special qualities about her and her resolve is unstoppable.

Taegen basically got interested in saving elephants back in 2013 after she was invited to help at a bake sale during a screening of the film Battle for the Elephants at the University of Vermont. Taegen was then asked to testify at the Vermont State House, which is where she first realized the power her voice had to affect change.

Taegen has since produced her own movie, Kids Battle for a World with Elephants, which is actually being looked at by the folks at the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival. She had some help from some amazingly gifted and generous people, which you can learn more about in our interview below.

One of the things that struck me the most was when Taegen expressed her concerns, saying that she wishes everyone knew that this is not just merely an animal conservation issue but also a humanitarian issue… and she is so right. Taegen said that some people do not believe that conservation issues are enough of a reason to take action. If people knew about the humanitarian issues, she believes that more people would take action and support conservation efforts. She also said that most people have no clue as to the effects poaching has on our planet and its ecosystems… not to mention on the poor elephants.

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Taegen with the pile of 192 tusks, which represents the 96 elephants killed every day by poachers. The tusks were made by Taegen and many other students at schools in Vermont. Photo courtesy Taegen Yardley

Taegen also gave some great advice as to what teachers and students can do to start making a difference for elephants. She said “Teachers can educate their students by teaching about the importance of wildlife conservation and about all of the animals that are on the brink of extinction because of us. They can encourage students to do research projects about the issue and to get involved with efforts in their cities, towns and states,” and we so agree with her. In my next article, I will actually be featuring an amazing new educational program being introduced by the folks at The Captain Planet Foundation called “Project Hero“, which does exactly what Taegen is proposing.  We are also recommending that The Captain Planet Foundation consider adding Taegen as one of their resident experts on the subject of elephant conservation.

Tageen’s efforts have reached students around the world and she said she will not be satisfied until everyone has been made aware of the severity of the problem and also realises that we all need to get involved and be part of the solution. Her recently released movie has been shared and viewed on social media by the Ambassador to Gabon, Senator Ray Lesniak of New Jersey, actress Kristin Davis, the Africa and Asia program chief for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Many government and conservation organizations from around the world have shared it as well.

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Taegen, right, relaxes at the Burlington, Vermont, event for the Global March for Elephants and Rhinos. with her friends Jasmine Crowe (left) and Luisa Louchheim. Photo courtesy Taegen Yardley

When asked about her biggest challenges and about what excites her the most, Taegen said “The hardest part is getting everyone at the same table for organizational meetings and not knowing if what I am doing is making a difference. The easiest part is implementing the change. I get so excited about anything I can do to make a difference.”

Finally, I got to ask Taegen a question that Carter and I get asked all the time: What is one thing I can do to make a difference? I love Taegen’s answer—”I would love for readers to contact their state legislators. So few states have passed similar legislation to Vermont’s Bill H.297 [which bans the import of ivory and rhino horn products]. Unless each state passes legislation, there will be loopholes which will allow for the trade and sale of ivory to continue. We do not have much time so please find out who represents you and contact them.”

Here are all the questions I asked Taegen during our interview and her amazing responses:

Taegen Yardley Interview

Check out Taegen’s awesome video:

The video is the most recent version of the movie which emphasizes the Vermont bill. Taegen’s mom also put together a Facebook page (Kids Battle for a World with Elephants) where you can learn more about Taegen’s effort. You can also view their latest photo album (Celebration of World Wildlife Day 2016) there and see all the amazing pictures of their recent trip to attend the World Wildlife Day events in Washington, D.C., and the UN event in New York.

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Taegen in Washington, D.C., with founders of The Perfect World Foundation (Rags on left and Lards on right)—along with their traveling companion, Angelo 😉 Photo courtesy Taegen Yardley

Taegen even got to meet up with Ragnhild (Rags) and Lars Jacobsson, the founders of the amazing organization The Perfect World Foundation. Carter and I also met with them during a recent stopover here in Atlanta and I will actually be featuring them in one of my future articles.

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Taegen surfing in Costa Rica. Photo courtesy Taegen Yardley

BTW, besides being such an advocate for animals, Taegen is also an accomplished downhill skier and even likes surfing. She competes when she can and often races from her elephant events to the slopes for more downhill practice.

After returning from the World Wildlife Day at the UN, Taegen left from the airport to head to the mountains for some more slope time. 😉

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Taegen at a ski race. Photo courtesy Taegen Yardley

BTW, I did Google ‘Golden Tusk Award‘ and there is one but it has nothing to do with elephants! So if anyone out there is looking to give out a special award for someone who is truly making a difference for elephants, this would be your opportunity to create such an award and consider Taegen as the first recipient 😉

Stay tuned for my next article, “Can Technology Save Endangered Species?” and please be sure to reach out to Taegen and show her your support.

Olivia Ries is our National Geographic Society Youth Empowerment writer. Together with her brother Carter, she hopes to inspire others to realize that “Anybody can make a difference… if they can, you can too.” Make sure to check out their website at OneMoreGeneration.org

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