While Nomi Prins is best known as the author of books such as Jacked, Other People’s Money, It Takes a Pillage, and, coming May 2018, Collusion: How Central Bankers Rigged the World, she is also a devoted animal conservationist and member of the advisory board of The Elephant Project, a nonprofit charitable organization dedicated to preserving Myanmar’s timber elephants. The Santa Barbara Independent caught up with Prins ahead of The Elephant Project’s fundraiser on November 9.
How did you become involved in The Elephant Project? For as long as I can remember, I’ve been interested in animal conservation. As a teenager, I passed out leaflets in Grand Central Station to save dolphins from tuna nets. A few years ago, I joined the board of Born Free U.S.A. and worked on the campaign that sought an end to the use of elephants in circuses. That experience led me to this project.
What is the scope of the threat to Burmese elephants? One threat is the overall political and economic situation in Myanmar, one of the poorest nations in Asia. Poaching, loss of habitat, and the use of elephants in illicit logging are the major threats. Our focus is on saving some 3,000 elephants that are owned by the government timber entity and then loaned on a subsidized basis to handlers. As the government phases out the subsidies, the squeeze is put on the handlers. The elephants, obviously through no fault of their own, are caught between these forces.
Talk about how the project’s financial structure differs from donor-based funding. A big challenge is to create a framework that is economically sustainable, that has a reliable flow of funding to keep the conservation and education work going but also mitigates the very real impact of removing elephants from the economic chain. That’s key. The initial focus is raising money through fundraising so we can identify and secure land that can be used as [elephant] sanctuaries, and then collaborate with other local groups to build facilities for ecotourism and other revenue-generating activities. The goal is to reach a place where a protected elephant has more value than a dead one.
I should point out that the Elephant Project is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. We are working with civil organizations in Myanmar, but we have no involvement with the military government.
The Elephant Project has attracted a number of accomplished individuals from a variety of fields. What makes elephants so compelling? I think elephants are similar to whales, beautiful giants that are intelligent, social creatures. The people involved in this project come from diverse backgrounds — politics, law, journalism, business, and humanitarian work — with varied political affiliations. But when it comes to elephants, we’re apolitical and united in our determination to preserve these beautiful animals.
The Elephant Project event takes place Thursday, November 9, 6-9:30 p.m. at Belmond El Encanto (800 Alvarado Pl.). Register online by November 5 at theelephantproject.net/events. Space is limited. Tickets are $120 per person.