Can an Elephant Called Penelope Petunia Save Her Own Kind?

Elephants in the Dzanga-Ndoki National Park. Photograph by Remi Pognante.

By Tracy Tullis

Adults often say that today’s children will inherit the problems that previous generations have created—especially our degraded environment­—and that it’ll be up to them to find solutions and make things right.

Students at PS 107, an elementary school in Brooklyn, New York, are getting a head start.

This spring, the fifth graders at PS 107 researched, wrote, and illustrated a book about African forest elephants and the poaching crisis that has devastated their herds.

The book, called One Special Elephant: The Story of Penelope Petunia, is told from the perspective of an elephant calf who lives with her extended family in Dzanga-Ndoki National Park, in the Central African Republic.

Penelope describes the everyday pleasures of her life in Dzanga Bai, a clearing in the forest where elephants gather, sometimes more than a hundred at a time. Locals call it “the village of elephants.”

She explains the critical role of elephants in the ecology of the forest, and the ever-present threat of poachers.

“My family, friends and I are in great danger,” Penelope warns. “Humans called poachers are hunting and killing us for our beautiful ivory tusks, just to make statues and figurines. We have a whole world out here, and some people are trying to destroy it.”

Elephants in the Dzanga-Ndoki National Park. Photograph by Remi Pognante.

The project was organized by Katherine Eban, a journalist and mother of two girls at PS 107. Three years ago Eban was feeling anguished about the poaching crisis and decided she had to find some tangible way to help—“or else,” she says, “I was going to lose my mind.”

A Think-Local Solution

Her think-local solution was the Beast Relief committee, whose mission is to educate students about endangered species.

The Beasties, as members call themselves (I’m one), began organizing various conservation-related activities at the school, but Eban wanted to —> Read More