by Emily Sugarman
Published September 18, 2017
Four years ago, when Lori DuVall-Jackson picked up the book Behemoth: The History of the Elephant in America by Ronald Tobias, she was already an elephant lover. She had no idea then, however, that she would become an elephant awareness ambassador, a world traveling conservation advocate, and an inspiration to her students.
On August 10, 2017, in celebration of World Elephant Day, DuVall-Jackson, graduate secretary of the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering (CBE), shared her love of elephants with UB students who gathered together to complete an important mission: to transform UB’s bull statue outside of the north campus Student Union into an elephant.
The focus of the event was to raise awareness of elephant endangerment, but it came with a side benefit—a chance for graduate students to get out of the lab and join together for an extraordinary cause.
DuVall-Jackson began rallying her students to join the celebration weeks before.“They were very enthused and offered to help, encouraging me to put out a call for volunteers. The department was also incredibly supportive,” she said.
DuVall-Jackson’s passion for elephants is a family affair. Her husband, an engineer, and her niece, an artist, helped DuVall-Jackson construct an elaborate elephant head — replete with giant ears, tusks, and of course, a trunk. During the main event, they placed the head on the bull. Dozens of students joined in to help paint the bull and complete its transformation.
“It was a productive, spirited awareness-raising day that brought the students together,” DuVall-Jackson said.
In group photos featured on the international World Elephant Day organization’s website, DuVall-Jackson's World Elephant Day flag catches the eye. The large flag incorporates smaller flags representing the nationalities of all of CBE’s students and faculty, some of whom live in countries with endangered elephant populations.
“One of our students posted on Facebook, ‘thank you to our department staff for holding this meaningful event,’ which was very cool to hear from one of our Chinese students because China is a place where we’re working to raise awareness,” DuVall-Jackson said. “It really encapsulated the meaning of the project."
DuVall-Jackson reflects on the initial inspiration for her work — “The Elephant Sanctuary” located in Hohenwald, Tennessee, featured in Tobias’ book. DuVall-Jackson was curious about the Sanctuary and did some research on it, even observing the elephants living there through a live-web camera. She discovered the Sanctuary’s volunteer ambassador program and realized she absolutely had to get involved.
As an ambassador, DuVall-Jackson reaches out to a variety of audiences to teach them about elephant awareness. She shares information and stories about the magnificence of elephants, how ivory poaching endangers them, and what people can do to help save the elephant. She shares The Elephant Sanctuary’s publication “Trunk Lines.” She has attended conservation conferences across the country.
DuVall-Jackson’s most memorable experience, perhaps, occurred on a trip to South Africa. There, DuVall-Jackson monitored different endangered species for fourteen hours a day in TEMBE Elephant Park, a 300 square kilometer reserve and home to Africa’s largest elephants and the rest of the “big five” — lion, leopard, rhinoceros, and buffalo —as well as 340 bird species.
DuVall-Jackson was awed by the silent and majestic style of the elephants: “They can be right next to you behind the trees, and you may not know it,” she explained. “At one point, an elephant slowly walked right towards us. It’s hard to convey how spectacular that experience was.”
DuVall-Jackson also explored and assisted at other wildlife reserves within South Africa, and in her travels, took in the beauty and diversity of the country. Dedicated to her cause, she is thrilled to be visiting South Africa once again to monitor endangered species this coming winter.
DuVall-Jackson advises: “It’s important for students to know that they can do something like this, too. Amazing, life-changing adventures are definitely possible and not necessarily expensive if you plan carefully. Think about what you’re interested in and passionate about —and explore.”