Saving a species

A Tulsa conservationist fights to protect elephants.



Through online research, Tulsan Phillip Hathaway discovered the troubling impact of poaching on African elephants. In response, he launched the nonprofit ElephantRescue.net in 2015.

John Shoemaker

At first glance, Tulsa seems to be an unusual location for a nonprofit devoted to ending elephant poaching. 

However, the founder of the relatively new ElephantRescue.net, Phillip Hathaway, explains, “The people here are gregariously friendly. You can have a great conversation with a stranger at the grocery checkout. This makes it easy to spread the word.”

Hathaway, who grew up in Oklahoma City, circled the globe twice after spending time in the military and attending Oklahoma City University and the University of Kent in England. He moved to Tulsa to be near family.

Always an animal lover, he says elephants have a special place in his heart because they possess what he calls the “divine traits” of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self-control.”

He learned through online research in 2014 that elephants were in danger of extinction and was shocked to find how quickly the species was disappearing. 

“We’ve lost 780,000 African elephants since 1980 to poachers,” he says. “There were 1.2 million African elephants in 1980 but only 420,000 in 2012.” 

In response to these troubling statistics, he founded ElephantRescue.net, whose mission is to ensure a safe, natural environment for all elephants. It became a 501(c)(3) in 2015.

Hathaway blames corrupt African leaders and the demand for ivory in southeast Asia for the elephant killings. 

“China has 20 percent of the world’s population but only 7 percent of the arable land,” he says. “So, they must import raw material, and they’ve quite literally colonized Africa for this purpose (they barter mining, oil drilling and highway and infrastructure work in Africa for raw material). This gives them a feeling that they can take what they want, including elephant tusks.”

Hathaway hopes to put an end to this dangerous trend with ElephantRescue.net.

“To stop the killing, it is essential to destroy all stockpiles of ivory immediately for they always go to market, which in turn, drives demand and more killing,” he says.

This is part of the plan Hathway has developed to prevent elephant extinction; the entire plan is available on the group’s website. He says efforts will begin in Botswana, which is home to half of the African elephant herds. 

“We will support Botswana through reforestation, water conservation, herd management and other ways” in cooperation with the government, he explains. “From Botswana, our work will spread to elephant ranges in other countries. We also hope to manage and purchase land bordering elephant ranges to control unprecedented human encroachment.” 

Hathway, who is ElephantRescue.net’s sole staff member, says the organization has raised a little more than $2,000. However, saving a species could cost tens of millions of dollars and could take decades.

There are several ways Tulsans can support ElephantRescue.net, including attending a black-tie fundraiser planned for September. Volunteers also are needed. But the most helpful way, he says, is to make a tax-deductible donation on the group’s website. 

“Phillip’s dedication to the welfare and preservation of elephants as naturally wild and free to roam the many miles they travel each day is without question,” says ElephantRescue.net Advisory Board Member Donald Feare, an animal welfare attorney in Arlington, Texas, who has worked with Hathaway for the past year. “He has taken on a David vs. Goliath battle worldwide even knowing he is fighting an uphill battle.”  

Hathaway has another business, which is based on a book he wrote, that helps students discover their talents. Although he has only traveled to Africa once, he expects to eventually live there half the year. He has spent the past 14 months trying to get ElephantRescue.net off the ground from Tulsa. 

“Much of the job of rescuing is done by faxes, emails, letters from attorneys, etc., that I do right from my little home office,” he says. “Traveling is costly and often is not the best use of the elephants’ money — airfare and two weeks of accommodations for one person in Africa costs about $7,500.”

Although elephant conservation has many obstacles, Hathaway is confident that ElephantRescue.net will help end poaching.

“It is a long, hard war,” he says, “but we shall win.”

 

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