Celebrate World Elephant Day! Arkansas Youth Inspires Action for Elephant Conservation

Winner of Every Elephant Counts Contest Returns from Africa with New Appreciation for Wildlife and the Power of Storytelling

WASINGTON, DC. – One year ago, the National Wildlife Federation and Paul G. Allen’s Vulcan Productions asked students ages 9-18 to help find the next big idea that could make a material difference for African elephants. Ben Radke, age 12, from Ozark, AR, came up with the winning idea, “Elephant Pride and Bus Rides.”

“About 3,600 people live in my town. What would it mean for my town if 96 to 100 people were killed in one day? The schools wouldn’t be able to function, and families would collapse. What would happen to the kids whose parents died? Their lives would be destroyed! And this is exactly what has been happening to the elephants!” wrote Ben Radke, in his winning essay.

National Wildlife Federation and Arkansas Wildlife Federation staff surprised Ben in his 6th grade social studies class at Ozark Middle School to break the exciting news.

Radke recently returned from his all-expense-paid trip to Botswana. While there he met Naledi, the famous orphaned elephant who inspired the contest. Radke’s parents reported that spending time with the elephants and their caretakers was an unforgettable learning experience and he has now gained a completely new interest in photography and storytelling.

Ben says the experience was, “The best days of my life! The whole thing was amazing and unbelievable. Getting to be close to the elephants was amazing and getting to touch them or being touched by them was super-amazing!”

We now know that we are losing 96 elephants a day, or 25,000 to 30,000 annually. Data from Paul Allen’s 2016 Great Elephant Census found that we have lost 30 percent of the African savanna elephant population in less than 7 years. The National Wildlife Federation and Vulcan Productions joined forces to launch the Every Elephant Counts Contest to bring attention to the African elephant crisis and engage youth in helping to solve the problem.

“Kids across the nation are showing how much they can do to make a difference for wildlife," explained Collin O'Mara, President and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. "Ben’s winning idea to save elephants by using an everyday experience to build national pride around the species is a perfect example of an innovative, out-of-the-box solution. I believe that if we nurture the creativity of children like Ben, provide repeated outdoor experiences, and prioritize science education we can ensure the conservationists of tomorrow will be passionate, brilliant problem-solvers that can overcome the complex challenges facing wildlife.”

The project was inspired by the real story of Naledi, One Little Elephant, a documentary film produced by Vulcan Productions which premiered on PBS: NATURE’s Season 36 in late 2017. Naledi’s mother died when she was just 6 weeks old and she required a dedicated team of people to step in to save her life. Far from unique, Naledi’s story illustrates the problems that have led to the current elephant crisis. Ben and members of his family travelled to Botswana earlier this summer to meet Naledi as part of their prize package.

Vulcan Productions and NWF encourage parents, teachers and students to continue using  classroom activities to build their knowledge of African elephants and think critically about the issues affecting their survival. By doing activities in the classroom or as part of a club project, students will be better prepared to describe their understanding of the science and human dimensions affecting African elephants’ survival. Parents and students may also symbolically adopt an elephant as another great way to help support wildlife in need!

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