The Brink of Extinction
With a chance trip to Africa Lynn Frankel-Fleetwood learned first-hand about the near extinction of a species we can’t live without. Hidden Hills Magazine will be hosting a special event this Thursday, October 27th to raise awareness for this important cause.
Written by: Champ Clark
Ever since she was a young girl growing up in New York, Lynn Frankel Fleetwood has had a passion for elephants, though until recently, her only real exposure to the majestic and now threatened species was through the occasional childhood trip to the zoo, the circus and viewings of Walt Disney’s animated Dumbo. “I’ve always had a thing about elephants,” says Lynn, former wife of Fleetwood Mac drummer and co-founder Mick Fleetwood. “I was fascinated by their size, their beauty, their intelligence and their emotions. They are these incredible gentle giants and I am in awe of them.”
In the summer of 2015, Lynn was exploring vacation possibilities for the time when her 14-year-old twin daughters, Ruby and Tessa, were to be away at camp. A friend suggested, “Africa? You want to go to Africa?” Lynn’s response was immediate…“Absolutely!” The ensuing trip was to have a life-changing effect on Lynn’s life, while adding a passionate and powerful voice to elephant conservation.
Lynn’s two week September sojourn to Africa began with an up-close-and-personal visit to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust elephant orphanage in Kenya, home to young elephants primarily orphaned through the illegal practice of poaching. “It was an experience unlike anything I’ve had before in my life,” says Lynn. “When I got there, all these young elephants literally trumpeted in. It was more than I could have dreamed of and I actually started to cry. I just knew I was in the presence of greatness. So many people use the word ‘majestic’ to describe elephants, and that’s exactly what they are … majestic. I spent the day watching the babies play in the mud and get hand fed bottles from their human keepers. Watching this extraordinary bond between animal and human brought tears to my eyes (yet again).”
Lynn was quick to educate herself on the importance of the elephant to Africa’s ecosystem and to the world’s. “I learned that elephants are considered a ‘keystone’ species,” she says. “This is an animal or a plant that plays a key role in the existence of all the other species in the community, keeping an ecosystem alive. For instance, when an elephant knocks down a tree that gets in his way, he is ultimately creating more grasslands for other animals in their habitat to feed off of. Elephants use their tusks to dig waterholes in dry land, which then create a water source for themselves and other animals, as well as for the people living in that community. Many species of animals feed off the undigested seeds in the elephant dung and the nutrients in the dung fertilize the land for crops. It is this cycle that makes a keystone species like the elephant so integral to many others’ survival. So in the end, what I now understand is that if we lose a keystone species, we then risk losing an entire ecosystem. If they go, we go. It’s a domino effect that can have a major global impact…and most people are just simply not aware of this.
Lynn Fleetwood’s education continued while on safari at the Amboseli National Park, also in Kenya, accompanied by staff from the International Fund For Animal Welfare, also known as IFAW (www.ifaw.org). “Meeting and spending time with the people of IFAW was the icing on the cake for me. This organization rescues and protects animals around the world. They rescue individual animals, work to prevent cruelty to animals and advocate for the protection of wildlife. It’s everything I now saw myself wanting to be involved with,” says Lynn. In Amboseli, Lynn was mostly exposed to IFAW’s Save the Elephants of Ambosseli project which includes preserving critical elephant habitat, securing migration corridors to protected areas in Tanzania, promoting sustainable development for Maasai communities and tenBoma, IFAW’s innovative anti-poaching project that stops poachers before they kill. While in Amboseli, Lynn also had the opportunity to ride off road with elephant scientist Dr. Vicki Fishlock and go straight up to the many herds. “It was a mind-blowing experience to be able to drive right up to them. Sometimes it was just a mama and her baby, and others were groups of 20. You couldn’t help but feel humbled just to be in their presence … and all I kept thinking was, ‘I have loved you for so long – and now I’m here to help’.” Fleetwood says, “I know that sounds incredibly corny and scripted, but it’s truly what I felt in my heart. It was all so magical and surreal, and at that moment I just knew I owed it to them and to myself to do something to contribute.”
Upon her return home, Lynn felt inspired and driven to a personal activism on behalf of Africa’s elephants. “For me, the trip was life changing,” she says. “I realized how unimportant I am in the scheme of things and that there were bigger things I could do to better this world. This trip gave me both an education and a renewed sense of passion to be able to do something.” Though not a professional photographer, Lynn had kept a photo journal of her African experience; pictures of which she now realized might move others to action in the same way she had been moved.
“At the time I was part owner of a restaurant in Maui, Hawaii, that has a small art gallery,” says Lynn. “I had lived on Maui for many years and was just as shocked as most other people when I learned that Hawaii was the third largest market in the U.S. for illegal ivory trade. Ironically, it was right around this time that IFAW and other wildlife conservation organizations were gearing up to try and get legislation passed in Hawaii to stop this practice. I thought, ‘Here’s my opportunity’ and put up a small gallery showing of my African photos to start an awareness and get the ball rolling.”
Lynn’s small exhibit turned into more Hawaii events and in April she accompanied representatives of IFAW and other conservation NGOs to the state capital to meet with officials, lobbying for legislation to ban the trade of illegal ivory and other products of 17 different endangered species in Hawaii. “I’ve never done anything like that in my life,” says Lynn. “I was shaking, but I felt like I was making a difference.”
In June 2016, Hawaii passed into law the nation’s broadest wildlife trafficking ban, an important step in stopping the African elephant’s race toward extinction. “It was just fantastic,” Lynn says of the law’s passage. “Everything just sort of all fell into place and I was beyond honored to feel like I was even a small part in this important change.”
“My goal is to go back to Africa,” Lynn says of her future elephant conservation plans. “To learn more about the magnificent elephant, to continue to meet the people that live amongst them, and to further educate myself so that I can continue to spread the word. The key for me is education because with education comes knowledge, and with knowledge comes power, and with power you can make change.”