The Liverpool grandma who is saving a species

International March for Elephants and Rhinos – Saturday 4 October, Liverpool

In three weeks time On October 4th people in cities throughout the world will march to save Elephants and Rhinos.  With an elephant being killed for its ivory every 15 minutes the species could be extinct in a few years.

From San Francisco to Sri Lanka, and Abu Dhabi to Australia, people around the world are marching to save the species. Celebrity supporters include Richard Branson, Stephen Fry, Ricky Gervais, Joanna Lumley, Michaela Strachan, Bill Bailey, and more.

And in Liverpool the March is going ahead thanks to the tireless determination of one ordinary grandma, Hazel Jones.

Hazel, 54, works as an NHS pharmacy technician at Royal Liverpool Hospital and has two children and two grandchildren.  Yet in between the day job and the childminding she is the force behind the only march in the North West.

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Only two years ago this advocate for elephants knew nothing about them and had never been involved in any sort of activism. Hazel – who admits her favourite animal is actually a giraffe – first learned about elephants two years ago when she was planning a trip to Thailand.  Looking forward to the holiday, she told a junior house doctor at work that she was planning to ride an elephant, and was surprised at her response.

The colleague sent Hazel a video and asked her to watch it. She explains. “It was about how elephants are trained to make them docile for tourists.  It is called Phajaan, and involves starving and beating them – it is truly horrific.  I was really upset and told her I would never ride an elephant after seeing that.  She recommended a humane alternative, Elephant Nature Park (ENP), and things developed from there.”

Although Hazel was not able to visit ENP on her first visit, researching it sparked an interest in elephant welfare and the following year, after much anticipation – and spending the year reading up on the plight of elephants – she finally visited the sanctuary in Chang Mai.

Elephant Nature Park is a rehabilitation centre in Northern Thailand where you can volunteer to help the dozens of rescued elephants which have been saved from a life of street begging.   The park provides a natural environment for elephants, dogs, cats, buffaloes and many other animals, and also works with the local community.

So last year, armed with bulging ‘Scouse suitcases’ full of donations including everything from children’s clothes to medical equipment, dog collars and wellies, Hazel and her husband Martyn arrived at the park.

Hazel says, “My family were worried sick because I’d been so excited building it up all year they thought I might be disappointed.  I wasn’t though – it was incredible.  We stayed overnight and washed and fed the elephants – one of which was newly rescued. It was a really special time, and we are going back next year.”

In the meantime back home in Liverpool, Hazel has not been idle.  In between working and caring for her family, she has become a tireless campaigner.  Last October Hazel travelled to London to be a marshal for the first International March for Elephants and met a cohort of like-minded people who subsequently formed the group Action4Elephants UK which works to stop the slaughter of elephants and ensure their survival as a species.

Since then Hazel has conducted a peaceful protest at the Chinese Embassy – as China is the main market for illicit ivory – and written to bishops and museums to ask them what they intend to do with their ivory stocks and ask them to help raise awareness of the cruelty behind the trinkets.

Then earlier this year this one-woman whirlwind of activity took it upon herself to organise a March for Elephants and Rhinos in Liverpool and in doing so has gained support from all over the world, with a poster for the Liverpool march designed and sent to Hazel by a supporter from South Africa.

Despite having no experience of organising such a large scale event, in the last few months Hazel has managed a social media campaign, dealt with the council and police to agree a route, raised public liability insurance, and galvanised support from everyone from students at LJMU and Liverpool University to Chester Zoo and Knowsley Safari Park.  She has written to celebrities and organised a bag pack in Sainsburys, leaving no stone unturned in her crusade to save a species.

So far over 200 people have pledged to join the march – but with posters springing up all over the city centre and a growing band of advocates, Hazel hopes there will be many more on the day.

She says, “I have never done anything like this before and it has been a huge challenge, but there is a lot of support out there.  Going to Thailand was wonderful, but there is a lot to be done here on our doorstep.

“All of us in Action4Elephants are just everyday people.  We are not professional activists, just a group of people who are in this together.  From never doing anything like this I am now a dab hand at risk assessments and land use agreements, and I will talk to anyone.  I’ve even taken my grandchildren to meetings with the council and the Thai consulate just to get things done.

“I would love everyone in Liverpool and across the North West to join our march on October 4th.  We start at the bombed out church and will have speakers and face painting and children’s crafts – it is a day for everyone.  The route finishes at the Queen Victoria monument in Derby Square.  It’s a large area but I am hoping to fill it.

“I am just an ordinary person, but I am not prepared to stand back and let elephants and rhinos die out.  If we don’t act now to stop the slaughter they will be gone in 15 years, and I refuse to be part of a world that just stands by to watch these magnificent creatures disappear.”

On 4 October 2014  Liverpool will participate in The Global March for Elephants and Rhinos to draw attention to the crisis facing these two species and to call for an end to the ivory and rhino horn trade that is pushing them rapidly towards extinction.

Will you join Liverpool’s March? There has never been a more critical time for these two endangered species, as an unprecedented poaching frenzy now puts their very existence in to question.

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