Protecting elephants on another continent can be a mean feat.
Even teams of armed guards on the ground in Africa couldn’t prevent an estimated 2,500 elephant poaching deaths in 2011, according to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
The same organization reports that investigators seized a record 24 tons of poached elephant ivory last year, more than the U.N. has seized since it started keeping records in 1990.
Numbers like those don’t deter Centennial Hills resident Stacy James.
Two years ago, James went to Africa with a handful of friends and came back determined to save Zambia’s elephants, armed only with six board members and a couple dozen volunteers.
Today her nonprofit, Dazzle Africa, looks to protect one of the world’s most endangered species through community education and development — by mixing scholarships for local college students and grants to hire local veterinarians with more traditional funding streams for antipoaching campaigns aimed at local trappers and wire snare poachers.
James’ group put more than $26,000 toward those antipoaching and economic development efforts last year alone.
Not bad, she said, for a 501(c)(3) organization that won IRS recognition only last June.
“We’re mostly single moms, but it’s international now. We have a member in France,” James said. “We all have a passion for this. We go over there and cut snare traps by hand, but we have community enhancement projects as well.
“So what we’re doing is really creating a change in (Zambia), and it’s so important for (the community).”
Dazzle Africa’s community-based animal protection model isn’t styled on the approach of some other, better known area nonprofit. In fact, according to board member Joanne Hardy, there isn’t another group like theirs in town.
The idea of building up elephant protection efforts at the village level came, she said, from a broader, more practical sense of the ivory market.
Hardy said the group’s long-term push to fund new veterinarians and educate local teenagers can help mitigate the supply of ivory smuggled out of Zambia, but only if letter-writing and poaching awareness campaigns are working to deflate ballooning demand for the exotic commodity in China.
That’s why her group plans to squeeze the problem from both ends.
“There are many aspects to saving elephants,” Hardy said. “We’re always working on raising more money to hire more veterinarians, more scouts to protect them.
“But awareness and education go hand-in-hand with protection. So we’re at a critical point with elephants — where they’re 10 or 12 years from extinction — but the massive problem right now is how to stop the ivory trade in China.”
Dazzle Africa, named for the plural noun form of zebras, is still in its infancy but has already attracted interest from professional poker player and volunteer Michael Binger, who chipped in with a benefit poker tournament to help the group get off the ground this year. Board members hope to build on that early success with Compassion Happens, a member-guided Zambian safari scheduled in November.
The group doesn’t plan to stock away any of its proceeds. Board members don’t collect a salary and said every dollar they’ve seen so far has gone straight to South Luangwa National Park. South Luangwa Conservation Society CEO Rachel McRobb — whom the group recently nominated for a CNN Heroes Award — tries to spend the money as quickly as possible on veterinary medical supplies and anti-poaching surveillance equipment.
That keeps Hardy and James on a near-constant lookout for funding, though they hope not for long.
“There’s a big call to action right now, and I’m hoping that will come through for people because we’re in dire straits at this point with elephants,” James said. “Whether it’s writing the Chinese ambassador or donating money to help hire more scouts, we’ve all got to do something.
“I feel that they’re globally loved animals. We all get to take responsibility for them.”
For more information on Dazzle Africa, contact James at 702-332-1501 or visit www.dazzleafrica.org.
Contact Centennial and North Las Vegas View reporter James DeHaven at email@example.com or 702-477-3839.